On Sunday the Oberlin College Student Senate voted to adopt the Oberlin Divestment Resolution, which instructs the college's investment managers to "divest fully" from six companies — Caterpillar, HP, G4S, SodaStream, Elbit, and Veolia — citing the fact that they directly profit from Israel's "ongoing violations of international law and human rights and have an economic stake in the continuation of these violations."
The victory makes Oberlin the latest in a growing list of American universities to pass such a resolution, with three — UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Berkeley — doing so in California alone in the last year.
The move is part of a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign — a discussion on which at Brooklyn College earlier this year was mired in controversy — which aims to echo a similar campaign against South Africa's apartheid system by pressuring Israel into complying with its obligations under international law and recognizing Palestinian rights by engaging in a targeted campaign of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. Students at Oberlin in Ohio, the largest university in America to pass such a resolution, can be justifiably proud of their actions, taking a stand to support justice for the Palestinian people.
After Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine (SFP) put forward the resolution calling for divestment, a three hour debate followed before the resolution was adopted by majority with some modifications. In a press release, SFP said:
"Oberlin’s divestment campaign provides students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members with an opportunity to raise the cost of the Israeli government’s human rights violations in a non-violent initiative to effect change...Four modifications were made to the resolution by the Senate. First, “Palestinian Territories” was defined as The West Bank, The Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Second, the Palestinian BDS Call was removed from the stated reasons for divesting. Third, a clause stating that the list would be updated to include other companies doing similar actions was removed, and senators asked SFP to write a detailed plan forming a committee to update the list, which will be voted on in the fall. Finally, senates added the word “directly” to the clauses giving criteria for divestment."
The resolution notes that Oberlin currently has "no formal policies of socially responsible investment" and "minimal investment transparency," allowing it to "invest in, and thereby profit from, companies which have an active role in the human rights abuses and institutionalized structural violence against the Palestinian people, making it a complicit third-party." It then goes on to highlight the ways in which the aforementioned companies support the Israeli occupation, such as Caterpillar's provision of tools and bulldozers that are used to expand the illegal settlements, help build the separation wall, and demolish Palestinian homes.
The resolution will be taken to the Oberlin College Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee next semester, which will decide if the College will adopt the policies outlined in the resolution.
While Hampshire College became the first college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies supporting the Israeli occupation back in 2009, the divestment movement in the U.S. has grown significantly in the past year and is also making important strides in Britain and Canada, as well as in other countries around the world. Hopefully more students across the U.S., and indeed the world, will follow those at Oberlin and make a stand in support of justice in Palestine, further raising the costs of the Israeli occupation.