Well over 100 senior faculty members at Stanford last week signed a petition urging the administration of the California university to reject calls to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
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Among the 135 faculty signatories were four Nobel Prize laureates and prominent Israeli professors such as Anat Admati, Avner Greif and Yoav Shoham.
The unusual demand came in response to a resolution passed in February by the student senate that calls on the university to divest from companies involved in “maintaining the illegal infrastructure of the Israeli occupation.”
What makes the petition unusual is, first of all, the identity of the signatories, who include not only professors prominently affiliated with the left, but even some who actually support economic sanctions on Israel. Moreover, until now, faculty opponents of the boycott, divestments and sanctions movement have generally refrained from taking steps to actively counter BDS activities on college campuses, on the grounds that such activities are mere student politics devoid of influence, and that any countermeasures would merely grant BDS increased legitimacy and media exposure.
In recent weeks, however, there has been a change in this approach, as many universities have started to realize that BDS campaigns are in fact gaining influence.
“We understood that it’s impossible to continue separating the student votes from the BDS movement,” explained Larry Diamond, a professor of sociology and political science and one of the driving forces behind the faculty petition. “Granted, the students only voted to refrain from investing in certain companies, and the university won’t adopt this, but the movement takes every such victory and uses it in international campaigns that advance the broader goals of BDS.”
“We aren’t devoid of criticism of Israel,” Diamond continued. “I, admittedly, am against an economic boycott, but at least one of the signatories told me he could have supported a narrow economic boycott of Israel. What bothered him, and others, is the movement’s anti-Israel campaign.”
This new approach comes against the background of several recent anti-Semitic incidents on California campuses. Last month, swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity at the University of California, Davis, in northern California, and a confirmation hearing for a Jewish student’s position on the UCLA Student Council’s Judicial Board turned into a debate over whether her participation in Jewish organizations constituted a conflict of interest.