Student protesters call for universities to 'divest' from companies involved in Israel-Hamas War

Protests against Israel's war in Gaza continue to spread to college campuses around the country.
Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 26, 2024

From the campus of Columbia University in New York to the University of Texas in Austin, students protesting Israel's war against Hamas are calling for universities to "divest." It's a call for universities to remove their investments from companies tied to Israel's government and military.

"The divestment campaign that we're launching is one of the main demands," said Jenna Homsi with the Palestine Solidarity Committee at UT Austin.

How would universities go about doing that, though? Experts said it's possible, but not easy.

"It's not simple at all. The idea is simple - and not taking away from those kinds of desires or intentions, certainly, when I say that - but very often that process is very complex," said Joshua Dobi, a certified financial planner with North Main Financial.

He said one complication universities face with divestments are large financial gifts, some of which come with their own set of restrictions.

"Often, those kinds of gifts will come with some level of expectation that perhaps, in this example, that that stock would be maintained by the university that they would continue to hold on to it and not sell it," Dobi said.

He added that divesting could also have potential financial implications not just for the university, but for students and faculty there.

"Then you get into say, endowments for particular professorships or other employees that are in endowed positions, which especially at some of our larger universities that often is the case, that there is some intentionality of a gift to endow a certain chair or a certain position. Then you're talking about literally a very direct effect on folks' lives and their employment," Dobi said.

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It's a complicated financial picture and one that some of the student protesters don't necessarily fully understand, either.

"Divest, I mean, that being said, I don't personally know. I'm not the person to speak to about that," said Mia Cisco, a University of Texas student. "My forte is not what the university is doing."

"Well, I'm not too caught up with my facts on it," said Ash Zayed, pro-Palestinian protester in Austin.

The national "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement, or BDS, is an effort that says it's working for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians and urging universities to withdraw investments from Israel and Israeli companies connected to its military.

However, the Anti-Defamation League has said it "believes that many of the founding goals of the BDS movement are antisemitic."

At Columbia University, students want the school to divest from Google, Amazon and Microsoft — three companies that they say conduct business with Israel's government. At Cornell University, students want the school to cut ties with weapons manufacturers also tied to the war. At Washington University in St. Louis, protesters have targeted Boeing, which makes military aircraft as well as passenger jets.

So far, the schools have not made those moves, but there is precedent to do so.

At Columbia University, the board of trustees previously moved for the school's endowment to stop investing in tobacco, fossil fuels and private prison operators.

There is also precedent for universities choosing to not invest in certain countries. For 14 years, up until 2020, Columbia would not invest in companies operating out of Sudan. Now though, the student protesters have a different country in their sights with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.