By Luke Money
Published: Monday, May 3, 2010
More than 50 members of the UA and Tucson medical community have signed a letter calling for the UA to end its contracts with the Motorola and Caterpillar corporations because of their alleged roles in health and human rights violations in Palestine and Israel.
The open letter was publicly issued as part of the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee Day of Action, which marks “Land Day” in Palestine.
“Land Day” memorializes March 30, 1976 when Palestinians protested Israeli seizures of land, motivated by the contents of the Koenig Report. The report is an internal Israeli government document outlining tactical plans for reducing the number and influence of Arab citizens of Israel, particularly in the Galilee region of the country.
The UA and Tucson medical community sent the letter to solicit aid to “expose the alarming business relationships between the University of Arizona and the Caterpillar and Motorola corporations for their roles in perpetuating, and profiting from, the global humanitarian and health crisis in Palestine/Israel.”
The letter targets the $203,000 contract University of Arizona Police Department has with Motorola to provide radio and communications equipment since 1999 and the UA’s 2004 contract with Caterpillar to provide software for the College of Engineering. Both of these contracts remain active today.
The letter cites Section II of the UA’s “Policy on Corporations,” which states in part that the “name of the university should never be used to endorse any products or corporations whose products are instruments of destruction or known to cause harm to humans.”
“We do not believe that the UA can be true to its mission of promoting health with the knowledge that the very worst aspects of this global crisis continue through the UA’s business relationships with Caterpillar and Motorola,” the letter reads.
UA Vice President of Communications Johnny Cruz said the university has received the letter, along with other similar calls to end the contracts, though he could not comment on what steps the university is taking to address the issue.
Some university affiliates question the motives and effectiveness of divestment campaigns.
“Divestment is not the way you go about bringing change or peace to the Middle East,” said Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the UA Hillel Foundation. “On a whole variety of fronts that doesn’t make any sense. If what you care about are human rights abuses and peace between people then there are ways you can do that, but what do you get by ostracizing Israel?”
Blumenberg also questioned how much the UA community supports the letter, calculating that out of a campus community of 50,000 faculty, students and staff, the 54 signatures on the letter made up only 0.1 percent of the UA community.
“If 0.1 percent of the campus signs something what does that tell you about the campus feeling about it?” she asked.
Blumenberg also contrasted the 0.1 percent with the Jewish population on campus, which she estimated as about 10 percent.
“You want to talk about human rights abuses and you want to talk about corporations, then make it a broader issue,” Blumenberg said.
Hannah Hafter is a UA public health and Mexican-American studies graduate student who signed the letter. Hafter expressed her belief that divestment is an effective means of protest.
“The U.S. provides more military aid to Israel than any other country in the world, and anticipates strengthening it to $3 billion per year for this purpose through the next 10 years. This is our tax money and it represents us, so it is important that as a people we get the facts and decide for ourselves if we are in agreement with this use of tax money or not,” Hafter said.
Hafter also stressed that this divestment campaign does not endorse any one side of the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“When it comes to divestment, though, we aren’t talking about or asking the university to talk a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overall,” Hafter said. “We are looking at two specific companies whose technology is used to commit war crimes against innocent civilians, and when they profit from it then it benefits us. Those of us supporting divestment here actually come from a whole range of views about Israel and Palestine but this is something we all agree on.”
The UA is not the only university facing divestment rhetoric at the moment. On March 18, the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley, passed a resolution in support of their campus ending contracts with General Electric and United Technologies, two companies that produce aircrafts for the Israeli Army, according to the Berkeley Daily Planet. The resolution was vetoed by Berkeley Student Senate President Will Smelko on the grounds that it “singled out Israel.” The senate voted to override his veto but the motion did not pass by one vote.
The student government of the University of Michigan, Dearborn, approved a similar, though non-binding, measure on Feb. 25 and last year Hampshire College became the first college to completely divest itself financially from companies with ties in Israel and Palestine.
Critics of divestment, however, are quick to point out that the above examples are exceptions to the general failures of the movement.
“The fact that proposals for companies, corporations, universities, cities, all these entities to divest from Israel that movement is out there and it’s always rejected must say something about the validity of the movement. So you have to wonder ‘is there antisemitism there?” Blumenberg asked.
Group members deny any anti-Semitism motivation.
“If I felt there was anti-Semitism discrimination in any group I worked with, I would confront it or leave because that isn’t acceptable to the vast majority of us working on divestment — we want acceptance and fairness for all,” Hafter said.