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Thinking Critically About Divestment

By Rima Arnaout and Eun J. Lee

One of the chief reasons the editorial gives against divestment is that it would be difficult and impractical for MIT to undertake. Undoubtedly, divesting from companies that sell military equipment to Israel, support settlement building or base their businesses in occupied territories, or financially support a government that has displaced and killed Palestinian civilians, would be difficult. If divestment was not a matter of re-investing millions of dollars, it wouldn’t be a statement worth making. That said, it is not sufficient to reject the divestment campaign simply because it would inconvenience MIT. Attention must be paid, as the editorial implies, to whether the need to speak out against an injustice merits the inconvenience.

On this matter, the editorial says that MIT should not divest from Israel because the situation is morally ambiguous, that divestment would be tantamount to placing the sole blame for Mideast violence on Israel, although there are transgressions on both sides. There certainly are grave crimes committed on both sides; Palestinian suicide bombers set out to murder Israeli civilians, and those who support them must be stopped. The petitioners for divestment agree, saying in their statement that they “find the recent attacks on Israeli citizens unacceptable and abhorrent.” MIT students, faculty, and staff should do what they can to denounce and prevent suicide bombing.

However as far as is known, MIT is already uninvolved in funding suicide bombers, compensating their families, or doing business with the terrorist organizations that may support the bombers. MIT does, however, seem to invest in the Israeli side of the aggression: violation of international law and murder, displacement, and occupation that has been documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations inside and outside Israel. Divesting would not be placing blame solely on Israel, it would just be withdrawing from the part of the aggression MIT is involved in. MIT should not have anything to do with aggression and killings of Israelis or Palestinians.

It is not yet clear to us whether divesting is the best way for MIT to make a statement against the Israeli government’s military aggression against Palestinians. But in considering it, one must recognize that divestment isn’t a bad idea simply because it is difficult, divesting doesn’t mean that Israel is the sole perpetrator of aggression, and that MIT can also make a statement against forms of Palestinian aggression against civilians.

We support the editorial’s call for all interested members of the MIT community to engage in open, academic dialogue on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that goes deeper than the usual emotional, reactionary exchanges on this topic. Petitioners, counterpetitioners, column writers, you’ve caught our attention. Now it’s time to turn this into an honest, fearless debate worthy of MIT.