Stanford Divestment Campaign: Bill Fails, Despite Support From Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker


UPDATE: (6:45 AM EST) After a long night of debate, the divestment bill ultimately did not pass the student senate. However, students passed a separate resolution expressing its firm stance against investment in companies that cause “substantial social injury.”

Here's the full press release: In a powerful show of solidarity, over 75 Stanford students turned out Tuesday evening to express support for the campaign calling for Stanford University’s Board of Trustees to divest from a set of companies that violate international law and abuse human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The students hailed over the two dozen student groups, including the NAACP, Stanford Students for Queer Liberation, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), Stanford Says No to War, Asian American Student Association, the Stanford Labor Action Coalition, and the Black Student Union. These were among the 10 student groups that spoke strongly in favor of divestment at a Senate meeting the previous week.

While the divestment bill put forward by Students for Palestinian Equal Rights did not pass, the Associated Students of Stanford University Undergraduate Senate passed a separate resolution expressing its firm stance against investment in companies that cause “substantial social injury.” It further called on the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing to review the University’s investments to ensure compliance with the University’s Statement on Investment Responsibility.

Inspired by the words of support they received from all corners of the globe, including from Nobel Peace Laureates Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, Rogers Waters of Pink Floyd, Alice Walker, Jewish Voice for Peace, and a coalition of 86 Palestinian university elected student councils and youth organizations, the 1500 individuals, including over 1000 students, who have signed the Stanford divestment petition will continue to push forward in their efforts to end Stanford’s complicity in human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

In moments like this, we recall the wise words of Nelson Mandela: “there is no easy walk to


Today at 7 p.m. Pacific Time, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) will vote on a divestment bill that calls on the Board of Trustees to specifically reevaluate investments in companies that violate international law and abuse human rights in Israel/Palestine.

The bill is sponsored by Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights and is a criteria-based, ethical investment campaign focused on multinational companies which violate human rights and humanitarian law in Palestine. 

What is our bill?

We target Stanford’s $17 billion endowment – the fourth largest of any American educational institution. The university allegedly maintains a commitment to ethical investment, wherein “when the Trustees determine that the corporate policies or practices of a company Stanford may invest in could cause substantial social injury they, as responsible and ethical investors, shall give independent weight to this factor in determining Investment Responsibility Policies and Proxy Voting Guidelines for corporate securities.”

Our bill calls for the Board of Trustees to use four criteria for deciding whether to invest with a particular company:

1. Does the company facilitate acts of collective punishment? (illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention)

2. Does the company operate in Israeli-only settlements in the West Bank? (The UN and even the United States recognize these settlements as illegal)

3. Does the company construct or maintain the “separation barrier” that annexes Palestinian land in the West Bank? (similarly illegal under international law)

4. Does the company engage in practices that institutionally discriminate against individuals or groups? (This one is a no-brainer).

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then Stanford should take its money out of the offending companies.

While the administration has not confirmed whether the university has investments in any of these companies, they have stated that with such a large endowment, we should expect that Stanford has investments in everything — especially when it comes to Fortune 500 companies (Lockheed, Caterpillar, Motorola).

If the university finds that the endowment is not invested in these companies, we will feel undoubtedly relieved. In fact, our bill will simply call for the Board to keep it that way.

It is standard that we do not do business with human rights violators nor do we invest heavily in regions where conflict is taking place; often times, sanctions are put in place in order to heed this legal and moral weight. 

The status quo of our university endowment does no such thing.

Who is supporting us?

Our group and so many communities on our campus and around the world have come together in these past few weeks to push our university towards accountability to its own standards for ethical investment.

The campaign has support from the Asian American Students’ Association, Black Student Union, MEChA, Muslim Student Awareness Network, NAACP, National Lawyers Guild, Occupy Stanford, Stanford Asian American Activism Committee, Stanford Friends of Tibet, Stanford Immigrant Rights Project, Stanford Labor Action Coalition, Stanford Students for Queer Liberation and Stanford Says No to War.

At the ASSU meeting on February 26, there was a powerful show of support from students from more than 10 different student groups. Perhaps for the first time, SPER activists realized that this bill was no longer just a dream, but a reality. Momentum has continued to build, with amazing international support from prominent activists and Palestinian students.

In the last few days we have received numerous statements of support for our selective divestment campaign and for the bill in front of the ASSU UG Senate. These displays of solidarity come from some of the most prominent social justice advocates and heroes hailing from all corners of the world: from Northern Ireland to South Africa, Palestine to the Bay Area. 

Most excitedly, we present letters written to the ASSU Senateover the last couple of days from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the recipient of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple and civil rights activist, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, and Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland. You will also find a letter to you signed by our peers from over 86 Palestinian university student councils and youth organizations.

The letters are deeply personal and moving. On our website you'll find, in addition to the statements above, additional letters written to our Senate by Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity Director David Palumbo-Liu, Israeli Professor Ilan Pappe, founder of Independent Jewish Voices Jacqueline Rose, Professor Alan Wieder, former ASSU Senator Karl Kumodzi, students at the the University of Cape Town, Stanford History Professor Joel Beinin, and Miko Peled, an Israeli peace activist, among others.

Since our initial publication of these statements Monday afternoon, we have received further letters coming from Clayborne Carson, the world's preeminent scholar on Martin Luther King, Jr., the Palestine Solidarity Campaign of South Africa, a recent alum who served ASSU President, Vice President and Senate Chair during his time at Stanford, and the US Campaign to End Israeli Occupation.

In the last 24 hours, we have also seen a flurry of Jewish voices endorsing our campaign. Jewish and queer activist Sherry Wolf, the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, and a group of Israeli citizens representing Boycott from Within all expressed their strong support for the bill.

What do we want from this campaign?

Nearly every statement we’ve received from South Africa – from Desmond Tutu to the University of Cape Town’s Palestine Solidarity Forum – mentioned the important role our university played in the struggle to end South African apartheid through ethical investment and divestment.

Just as Stanford stood as a vanguard in the battle for human rights and dignity 30 years ago, we seek to be trailblazers in today’s struggle for respect and justice in Palestine and Israel.

Stanford students are standing up. We are standing with our fellow activists at University of California-San Diego who will vote on their own divestment bill this week. We are following in the footsteps of our peers at University of California-Irvine, whose student council unanimously voted for divestment last November. We are standing with Stanford allies who know that an injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Most importantly, we are standing with the Palestinian people who are fighting every day for a better world.