Students for Palestinian Equal Rights Banner

Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is divestment? What is the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) Movement?

2) Isn't the comparison between South African apartheid and the situation in Israel and Palestine misguided, and denigrating to blacks in South Africa who actually experienced real apartheid?

3) Why single out Israel? Don't a lot of Arab countries have equally bad or worse human rights records, especially concerning the status of Jews and women?

4) Are you calling for divestment from everything Israeli?

5) The situation seems complex, with both Israelis and Palestinians committing violence. Why are you only blaming Israel and not placing any demands on the Palestinians?

6) Won't divestment from Israel hurt Palestinians, who depend on the Israeli economy?

7) Doesn't divestment hamper progress because it polarizes rather than encouraging dialogue and diplomacy?

8) Divestment is opposed by many Israelis who support an end to the Occupation. By calling for divestment, aren't we alienating those Israeli allies and in effect strengthening the right wing?

9) Isn't a push to divest from Israel anti-Semitic?

10) All the U.N. resolutions and conventions your group cites were supported by the Arab voting block and not representative of an international consensus.

11) Isn't the role of the separation barrier to promote Israeli security in the face of terrorist attacks?

12) Doesn't USAID give more money to the Palestinians than many Arab countries? How can you claim that the United States is biased towards Israel when it provides plenty of aid to Egypt as well?


1) What is divestment? What is the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) Movement?

Divestment, or disinvestment, in this case means ending the university's ties with companies engaged in apartheid practices by Israel. On July 9, 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a historic call for "international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era" and to pressure "states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel" until Israel "meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194."

The call was made by over 170 Palestinian organizations, unions, movements, and political parties representing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Palestinians in the Diaspora. Read the full text here.

The call has been endorsed by hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals around the world, including the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, and Naomi Klein. Specific BDS Campaigns have been endorsed by Noam Chomsky, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Norman Finkelstein, Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, and Neve Gordon, among many others.

2) Isn't the comparison between South African apartheid and the situation in Israel and Palestine misguided, and denigrating to blacks in South Africa who actually experienced real apartheid?

While there are differences between Israeli & South African Apartheid, the similarities are huge. Former US President Jimmy Carter describes Israel's policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as apartheid. South Africans like the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and members of the ANC have unequivocally confirmed that this is apartheid (and in some ways even worse than South African Apartheid). A legal academic study sponsored by the South African government reached a decisive conclusion that Israel's policies constituted "occupation, colonization and apartheid."

Like black South Africans, Palestinians are subject to a different system of law—one that denies them freedom of movement, equal access to resources like water, land, and electricity, and the right to establish residence in Israel, a right which is granted to Jews from anywhere in the world through the Law of Return, but denied to Palestinians who were born and raised there.

In addition, defining Israel as an apartheid state depends not on analogy to South Africa but whether or not Israel's policies fit the UN definition of the crime of apartheid. Apartheid—as stipulated in the 1973 UN International Convention on Apartheid—is defined as any systematic oppression, segregation, and discrimination to maintain domination by one racial group—'demographic group,' in Israeli parlance—over another, as through denial of basic human rights and freedoms, including the right to work, education, movement, and nationality; torture or inhuman treatment; arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment; and "any measures designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, … the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group … or to members thereof."

3) Why single out Israel? Don't a lot of Arab countries have equally bad or worse human rights records, especially concerning the status of Jews and women?

We recognize that Israel is not the only perpetrator of human rights violations in the region. However, the existence of other unjust regimes does not excuse the oppressive practices of the Israeli state. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu notes, "Divestment from apartheid South Africa was certainly no less justified because there was repression elsewhere on the African continent." As students of an American university, we feel a responsibility to act as residents and taxpayers of this nation, given how vital the financial contributions of American companies and the American government are to sustaining human rights violations and oppression in the Occupied Territories. Further, the United States sends more foreign aid to Israel than any other nation, and thus we are in a position to push for change.

4) Are you calling for divestment from everything Israeli?

No. We are pushing for selective divestment from companies engaged in specific practices that violate human rights and support apartheid. We are not advocating the end of the state of Israel; rather, we are advocating an end to the state of apartheid that Israel enforces.

5) The situation seems complex, with both Israelis and Palestinians committing violence. Why are you only blaming Israel and not placing any demands on the Palestinians?

While both sides have been violent towards each other, Israel is the occupier in this conflict and has used its advanced military and economy to take over Palestinian land and inflict pain and desperation upon the stateless Palestinian people. There is no moral symmetry between the violence that the occupier commits and the violence that the occupied commit. We must remember that the ANC also used violence in its struggle against apartheid in South Africa. This recognition does not excuse violence, but its use by some Palestinians cannot invalidate their right to freedom or justify Israel's brutal occupation and use of collective punishment. Furthermore, our criteria do not prevent us from divesting from companies that are guilty of engaging in the same crimes in the name of the Palestinians.

6) Won't divestment from Israel hurt Palestinians, who depend on the Israeli economy?

In 2005 a coalition of 171 Palestinian groups themselves put out a call asking for the world community to employ divestment from Israel in order to end their suffering. The divestment would not heavily impact local jobs as they are largely targeted on foreign weapons manufacturers and companies engaged in very specific actions.

7) Doesn't divestment hamper progress because it polarizes rather than encouraging dialogue and diplomacy?

Divestment threatens the status quo more than any diplomatic effort has in a long time by taking the profit out of occupation & apartheid. The role of boycott and divestment in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Anti-Apartheid South Africa Movement showed that rather than hindering change, pressure from boycotts and divestment brought political leaders to the negotiating table, not to haggle over whether or not to end oppression, but to figure out how best to do so on the basis of universal human rights and international law. Divestment doesn't stifle change; it accelerates it.

8) Divestment is opposed by many Israelis who support an end to the Occupation. By calling for divestment, aren't we alienating those Israeli allies and in effect strengthening the right wing?

A growing number of Israelis support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, including academics, activists, cultural workers, and more. The Coalition of Women for Peace and 'Boycott!: Supporting the Palestinian Call from Within' are just some of many Israeli groups and individuals who support some form of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

And while the views of Israeli supporters should be taken into consideration, Palestinians have the ultimate right to decide on the best method for attaining their own freedom. It is not the role of international and Israeli supporters to dictate the terms of the struggle, especially when Palestinians' chosen form of resistance is nonviolent, as is the case with Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

As in the South African case, at first external pressure may indeed bolster the shift to the right in Israel, but only at first. When the boycott starts biting, many Israelis—like their Afrikaner predecessors—will rethink whether occupation and apartheid are worth maintaining.

Divestment is a morally sound and effective means of struggle and it is already exerting more pressure on Israel than the Israeli Left or UN resolutions ever have. In short, unlike anything else, it's working. These factors should be the most important consideration for morally consistent individuals supporting genuine peace.

9) Isn't a push to divest from Israel anti-Semitic?

Our only aim is to end apartheid policies and practices by Israel. We strongly condemn anti-Semitism, which is contrary to the principles of equality, justice, and human rights for which we are fighting.

10) Do the U.N. resolutions and conventions your group cites really represent an international consensus? Weren't these resolutions onlysupported by the Arab voting block, and thus not representative of the international community as a whole?

Actually, the U.N. General Assembly resolutions do represent an international consensus, with every nation except the US and Israel voting in support of nearly all of these resolutions (see this State Department document, for example).

So it is incorrect to say that these resolutions were only supported by the Arab voting bloc. Most of the resolutions were supported by over 190 Asian, European, American, and African countries.

In the Security Council (the only UN body with enforcement rights), the United States has time and time again vetoed any resolutions against Israel. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Convention on Apartheid, which are cited in our call for divestment, were both endorsed by nearly every country on earth, including the US and Israel. As a signatory, Israel has an obligation to adhere to the provisions of these Conventions.

11) Isn't the role of the separation barrier to promote Israeli security in the face of terrorist attacks?

We support Israel's efforts to ensure the security of its citizens. The problem with the separation barrier is that 99% of the current and planned Wall construction is on Palestinian land, and the route of the Wall effectively annexes over 30% of the West Bank, including its major aquifers, for Israel. As Prof. Noam Chomsky of MIT points out in his New York Times op-ed of February 23, 2004, "What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also … helping turn Palestinian communities into dungeons, next to which the bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination … The wall has already claimed some of the most fertile lands of the West Bank. And, crucially, it extends Israel's control of critical water resources."

12) Doesn't USAID give more money to the Palestinians than many Arab countries? How can you claim that the United States is biased towards Israel when it provides plenty of aid to Egypt as well?

Since 1993, USAID has given $1.7 billion dollars to the Palestinians through humanitarian programs; in the same period, however, the US government has given over $30 billion in mostly military funding to Israel. Israel takes in 30% of all American foreign aid—a disproportionately large amount for its population, more than all of sub-Saharan Africa and South America combined. The US Congress voted overwhelmingly in December 2010 to guarantee $30 billion in aid to Israel over the next ten years. This is in addition to the $3 billion dollars in annual loan guarantees to Israel—loans which, unlike other loans, are not expected to be paid back.

And this is a conservative estimate of the amount of money that the US gives to Israel. According to an analysis by economist Thomas Stauffer, support for Israel adds up to $1.8 trillion dollars when you include special trade advantages, preferential contracts, or aid buried in other accounts. By his analysis, U.S. aid to Israel costs some 275,000 American jobs each year.

A big difference between US aid to Israel and US aid to the Palestinian Authority is that aid to Israel is unrestricted, while aid to the Palestinian Authority is funneled through US-based non-governmental organizations with very strict guidelines on distribution—and none of it is military aid.

As for U.S. aid to Egypt, the amount is currently around half the amount given to Israel each year. Although after recent events in Egypt, in which the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak was brought to an end by a popular uprising, this is likely to change. This aid to Egypt began with the signing of the Camp David peace accords in 1979, which were hailed as a diplomatic coup at the time as it took Egypt "off the block" of Soviet influence. This money has done little besides serve as an incentive for ensuring peace between Egypt and Israel.

Since the Nixon administration, the primary, state objective in the Middle East has been to promote stability, to maintain 'spheres of influence', and to ensure a steady flow of oil. During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the US tried to keep a 'detente' in which it propped up regimes that were far from democratic in order to keep those countries from going to the Communist side.

Even though the Cold War is twenty years past, US policy toward the Middle East has continued to maintain these same principles—supporting dictatorships in the Arab world, and propping up the military in Israel, in order to—supposedly—keep things stable.


This FAQ page contains excerpts from the US Campaign to End the Occupation's FAQ on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Click Here to Read our Divestment Petition!

Are you interested in getting involved with SPER?

→ Come to our next
meeting!

→ Join our mailing list!

→ Come to our next
event!