April 8, 2004

C.U. Rejects 'Divestment'

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Over the past few years, there has been a significant rise in anti-Israel sentiment across college campuses. “Divestment” campaigns, in which students and faculty petition to have their university withdraw funds from Israel, were active at MIT, Harvard, Rutgers, University of California at Berkeley and dozens of other schools across the country. Cornell, historically a politically active campus often at the forefront of social and political movements, is an anomaly because it has no significant divestment campaign. Since MIT Prof. Noam Chomsky created the first university divestment petition, Cornell has only continued its investment in Israeli research organizations and other institutions.

“As last year’s Invest in Israel petition showed, at Cornell there is wide support among all quarters for Israel and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” said Jamie Weinstein, vice president for political affairs of Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC). The Invest in Israel petition was a grassroots campaign that asked students to donate money to show their support for Israel. A dollar at a time, the petition raised awareness across campus, as well as $1,000 for the purchase of an Israel bond. This bond was recently presented to President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 at an awards ceremony for Jewish student leaders on March 15.

Although many other universities have seen investment campaigns to support Israel, they have often been in response to divestment movements. Harvard, which has a particularly vocal divestment movement, has had more people sign pro-Israel petitions than divestment petitions. At Cornell, however, investment activities like Invest in Israel grew on their own, not as reactions to specific threats.

One of the most significant investments in which Cornell has participated is the Bridging the Rift Center on the border of Israel and Jordan. The Student Assembly passed a resolution in early March supporting the Center as a sound University investment. The Center, which is the first joint educational venture between Jordan and Israel since they signed a 1994 peace treaty, will “help to facilitate an environment of peaceful interaction between Arabs and Jews,” according to the resolution.

Jennie Berger ’04, CIPAC president, said in a March 4 address to the S.A., “We should be incredibly proud of the bold step that our University has taken … to sponsor a joint Israeli-Jordanian research facility.”

The S.A. resolution maintained that “the Assembly applauds Cornell for doing its part in helping foster an environment of peace in a troubled region of the world.”

Lehman attended the groundbreaking ceremony on March 9 to show the University’s support for the project and a lasting peace. At the March 15 awards ceremony, Lehman discussed his visit to the Bridging the Rift site.

“In the Bridging the Rift ceremony I was able to talk about the frequent collaboration between Jewish and Muslim students [at Cornell] as an example for the world,” Lehman said. “One of the great things about Cornell is that it is a university where students are involved and engaged, and they make the campus work.” Weinstein explained that there are ways to invest in Israel without getting involved in the more sensitive issues. With projects like Bridging the Rift, Cornell has been able to continue its support for Israel without controversy. “The Bridging the Rift project is just another example of Cornell making a difference in the world. It is not a political project; it simply seeks to bring students together from all over a troubled region for the purpose of education and learning. It is bewildering to me to think that anyone would oppose that,” Weinstein said.

In early March, the Jewish Student Union sponsored a forum for students running in the S.A. election. One of the questions asked to each candidate was how they stood on the issue of divestment. At the forum, every single student running for a position stated his or her opposition to divestment programs.

Michelle Wong ’05, who was recently a candidate for Minority Liaison seat on the S.A., stated that although she does not think divestment will ever become an issue at Cornell, “we should take proactive measures. … If we wait too long for the issue to surface on our own campus, we are not living up to our role as a model institution for other schools.”

Tim Lim ’06, president of the College Democrats and a member of the S.A., said, “The issue of divestment is one I have always taken a clear, uncompromising stance against, and will continue to vehemently fight against ever reaching our campus.”

Jin Hae Shon ’06, who recently ran for S.A., said in her statement, “It is appalling that a leading educational institution like Cornell should even consider taking funds from the only democracy in the Middle East. Cornell should be embracing democracy on campus and abroad and teaching students to form positive ideas and beliefs rather than setting an example of discrimination.”

With student and administrative efforts promoting Cornell’s continued investment in Israel, there does not seem to be any impending threat of a movement to withdraw support, financial or otherwise, from the country.

“However one views the conflict in the Middle East, it is simply intellectually dishonest to single out Israel as the only country in the world where no university money is allowed to be directed,” Weinstein said.

Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Writer