Alsheikh: The Student Case for Divestment

Students are pushing for the College to divest from apartheid — here’s why.

by Ramsey Alsheikh | 11/2/23 4:15am

It’s official — Dartmouth students were sent to jail in protest against the College’s investments in Israeli apartheid. These arrests come as the culmination of a week’s worth of activism aiming to raise awareness about the College’s connections to apartheid and the need to divest as part of the Dartmouth New Deal. For the uninformed, these events raise several questions, particularly: What is apartheid, and why should the school divest from it? 

Though I only speak for myself, as the president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, I will outline our basic beliefs and arguments here.

First, definitions: Apartheid is the crime against humanity of an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination, by one racial group over another, with the intention to maintain that system,” according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The United Nations defines it similarly to the ICC, saying that the term apartheid is used to describe any system which perpetuates “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group.” Though the term emerged in the history of South Africa, apartheid has become a universal legal concept which is much more than a historical analogy, similarly to how the broad legal concept of genocide was created after the particular historical case of the Holocaust. 

Does Israel today practice apartheid? Yes, according to all major international human rights organizations in Israel and around the world. 

To quote the pre-eminent Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, “The Israeli regime, which controls all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, seeks to advance and cement Jewish supremacy throughout the entire area … These accumulated measures, their pervasiveness in legislation and political practice, and the public and judicial support they receive — all form the basis for our conclusion that the bar for labeling the Israeli regime as apartheid has been met.” 

Other leading Israeli human rights organizations, such as Yesh Din, concur, as well as the two foremost international human rights organizations today: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about how the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians qualifies as apartheid; the reports linked above go into such detail in extraordinary depth. In a nutshell, the designation of Israeli policies as apartheid centers on the government’s long-standing pattern of discrimination against Palestinian Arabs, especially in light of their effective segregation into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There, Arabs are granted nominal national self-autonomy in the form of the Palestinian Authority and municipal task management, but are in reality governed under a discriminatory body of Israeli law that removes them from normal democratic society, reserved for Jews under the 2018 Jewish Nation-State law — a segregation eerily similar to South Africa’s “bantustans.” 

Human rights organizations unanimously categorize this pattern of segregation and discrimination as apartheid — to quote Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, from his Jan. 31, 2023 speech at Dartmouth: “It is undeniable that millions of Palestinians live today a reality of apartheid.” 

Thus, the question facing us is no longer whether Israel practices apartheid; rather, the question is how we, as a College, should respond.

As a student movement pushing for divestment, we insist that, as the overarching system of oppression and discrimination in that region, apartheid is what enables the vicious cycle of violence in Israel-Palestine to exist. Because of the institutionalized, systemic domination of Jews over Arabs in an oppressive, racialized ethnostate, the conditions for nearly seven decades of nonstop violence and bloodshed have been created. Though we can, and should, hold all political actors accountable for their role in furthering that vicious cycle, if we do not identify apartheid as the root cause of the violence, we are only setting ourselves up for more tragic loss of Israeli and Palestinian life. 

On that principle, students are calling for Dartmouth to officially recognize the 2022 Amnesty International report on apartheid, and for the College to comply with its recommendations. Particularly, we call on the College to comply with the recommendation for businesses to “adopt adequate procedures and codes of conduct in accordance with international standards to ensure that your own activities in Israel and the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] are not contributing to or benefiting from the system of apartheid” — or in other words, to divest from apartheid.

Divestment would consist of withdrawing the College’s endowment from all companies which are known to play a role in supporting apartheid and its infrastructure. As it stands, the endowment is known to be invested in several corporations which directly fund apartheid. One example of an apartheid-connected company which the university invests in is Amazon, which actively provides Israeli apartheid with AI facial-recognition technology, spyware, drones and AI-assisted turrets as well as the cloud technology it uses to plan illegal settlements. The university should not invest our endowment into such corporations, and should publicly commit to withdrawing all such investments.

Our student movement insists that Dartmouth must play an active role in building a future for Israelis and Palestinians by divesting from apartheid. There is a time and a place for universities to serve as mere facilitators for dialogue, and a time and a place to take firm, decisive action against injustice. The time for action is now. It is no longer appropriate for Dartmouth to “stay neutral” on the simple fact of apartheid. Would anyone now declare that the College should have “stayed neutral” in the Civil Rights struggle or the Free South Africa Movement? In such grave situations as these, there is no such thing as neutrality — only complicity. 

By recognizing and complying with the recommendations of international human rights organizations, the national discourse on Israel-Palestine can begin to change, from one which has failed to bring any just resolution to Israel-Palestine to one which promises a better, democratic future for all. Prioritizing human rights over ethnonational fantasies must be at the center of this new discourse — and who better to lead the way than Dartmouth, a national leader in education with a unique history in anti-apartheid activism given students’ past activism during the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

This is our student movement to make Dartmouth College divest from apartheid. The administration cannot make us go away by ignoring us, and they cannot make us go away by arresting us. We, the students, will be heard, whether it is comfortable or not — we are knocking at the doors of Parkhurst with our demands, and we will not go away until the College opens the door.

As a final message to President Beilock, I would like to point out that President emeritus David McLaughlin stringently opposed divestment from South Africa to the bitter end; yet, even he defended the right of students to protest, and opposed the destruction of their encampment by writers of the Dartmouth Review. In his words, that destruction “was an uncivil act, the likes of which cannot be condoned on a college campus or anywhere else in a free society.”

Fast-forward to 2023, and we find ourselves in much the same situation, except that now the Review is now cheering on as the administration destroys student encampments for them. If this strange repeat of history is any indication, divestment is on its way. Just a year after the destruction of student encampments, the Board of Trustees voted to divest from South African apartheid. I sincerely hope that this present administration will not find themselves on the wrong side of history in a year’s time. 

Regardless of whatever path they choose, the students won’t — we stand on the side of divestment!

Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.