The 130 professors are joining NYU students in their growing campaign to demand that tuition dollars not be spent to systematically deny Palestinians their rights.
Zachary Lockman, a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and history at NYU, told The Electronic Intifada that faculty and students began talking about divestment at the beginning of the academic year.
“Strategically, it was decided to try to pursue this through the established institutional channels, through the faculty senate — which represents, at least formally, the NYU faculty,” Lockman said. “This is a statement which calls on our faculty senators to engage with NYU’s board of trustees.”
Lockman added that the petition also demands transparency from the university. As a private institution, NYU’s investment portfolio is kept secret. “But we’re pretty sure that NYU, like other universities, is invested in a lot of companies which profit from and help perpetuate the Israeli occupation,” he said.
“We want to know what’s in that portfolio, and we want to apply to those investments the same kinds of human rights standards that students and faculty at NYU and elsewhere have demanded in other kinds of contexts.”
Listen to the interview with Zachary Lockman via the media player above.
Strengthening the movement
NYU English professor and divestment supporter Elaine Freedgood told The Electronic Intifada that she joined the campaign because she opposes Israeli apartheid. “Here, at NYU, ever since the students have been running a campaign, I’ve supported them,” she said.
Freedgood explained that faculty involvement in student-led divestment campaigns is enormously important. “It gives the movement additional heft,” she added.
Following a spate of repressive actions against student Palestine solidarity organizers by the NYU administration — including threatening severe punishment against students who engaged in a mock eviction notice action last year — students say they wanted to design a community-wide campaign that would strengthen divestment efforts in the New York City area.
“We thought that we really need to involve faculty if we wanted to get more pull with the administration, because student voices would not count quite as much on our own,” said Maya Wind, NYU graduate student and organizer with NYU Students for Justice in Palestine (NYU-SJP).
NYU-SJP organizers reached out to students, staff and faculty “across the university to leverage support and to approach the administration with demands that would actually be taken seriously,” Wind added.
Wind said it was exciting to see the outpouring of support by professors for the divestment campaign.
“This year has been about laying the groundwork for this campaign,” she said. “The next step is to gather much more faculty support.”
Student activists are also working within the graduate student union and the undergraduate student body to raise awareness of the divestment campaign, with plans to keep building a massive pro-divestment coalition. “There’s still some work ahead for us,” Wind said.
In 2012, NYU student activists initiated a similar campaign to demand that pension fund giant TIAA-CREF pull its investments in companies that do business with the Israeli occupation. Approximately 200 members of NYU faculty and staff supported that campaign.
“We realized there was potential at NYU to really have a faculty-student coalition,” Wind explained. “We already knew there was some faculty support for divestment.”
“Members of faculty realized that now is the time, and it’s great to see how much support we received,” she added.
The Electronic Intifada podcast is available on iTunes! Click here to view the podcast archive, or subscribe via the iTunes interface (search for The Electronic Intifada).