Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER) hosted a divestment campaign event Wednesday evening in the Oak Lounge at Tresidder, attended by approximately 30 Stanford students, affiliates and community members.
The divestment campaign calls for Stanford to stop investing its endowment in companies that contribute to what the group labels “the oppression of the Palestinian people.”
“Divestment is a tried and true tactic,” said founder and co-president Omar Shakir ’07. “It is a powerful symbol and the best non-violent method to effectuate change.”
The date of the event, Jan. 25, marked the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian Arab Spring revolution.
“This choice of date was not a coincidence,” Shakir said, who is currently studying at Stanford Law School. “It fits in with our idea of grassroots movements and tackling human rights violations from the ground.”
The event started with a tribute to the Egyptian revolution followed by a PowerPoint presentation outlining the history of the conflict and the aims of the campaign.
The campaign calls on Stanford University to divest from eight specific companies: Ahava, Motorola, Roadstone Holdings, Riwal, Lockheed Martin, Mekorot, Caterpillar and Veolia Transportation, all of whom SPER claims either facilitate or support institutional discrimination, collective punishment, operation of Israeli-only settlements and maintenance of the separation barrier in the Palestinian territory.
Shakir founded the group, originally called Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI), in the fall of 2006. They changed their name this year.
“The new name reflects a new strategic aim we have,” Shakir said. “There is now more of an awareness of the apartheid in Israel, so we have decided to focus on the rights of the Palestinians.”
SPER’s divestment campaign petition has over 1,000 signatures from Stanford students, faculty, alumni, affiliates and student organizations.
Shakir stated that Stanford has a policy to not invest in companies that engage in substantial social injury and claims the University has a history of divesting from companies that do.
Examples include divesting from Sinopec and PetroChina in May 2005 due to their involvement in the Darfur conflict and adopting an ethical investment policy toward conflict minerals in May 2010 due to the conflict in Congo.
Stanford students launched a successful divestment campaign during the apartheid in South Africa.
According to Shakir, the Board of Trustees has been receptive toward SPER’s message, and the group is preparing to make its first formal presentation to the Board at an undecided time this year.
Shakir emphasized that the organization’s current focus is to build awareness and mobilize different segments of the Stanford community before proceeding with the formal presentation to the Board.
The event ended with candid conversation and debate between audience members who posed questions and challenged each other.
“It was a very powerful presentation but definitely more than that; it’s a really important way that Stanford students can get involved in direct action,” said Anna McConnell ’14. “This is certainly something that we have the power and responsibility to do.”
“It educated me and inspired me to take action to help the campaign,” said audience member Karl Kumodzi ’14.