This has become an important issue since, in most instances when the BDSers sent out a press release announcing their most recent “triumph” (certainly any one that involved boycott or divestment decisions with a financial impact climbing above three figures), these announcements tended to be maddeningly ambiguous (read MSCI and the Quakers) or outright frauds (read Blackrock and HampshireCollege).
Fortunately, there is precedent for what a genuine divestment victory looks like. For instance, if you think back to the actual Anti-Apartheid movement from the 1980s (the one the boycotters insist we accept them as a successor to), when colleges and universities, churches and even state governments pulled the plug on their South African investments, this involved:
1. Selling off thousands or even millions of dollars worth of equities – sometimes at a loss – in order to take a moral stand; and
2. Accompanying that moral stand with a clear, unambiguous statement from the leader or leaders of the institution doing the divesting which made it crystal clear what they were doing and why
To cite one example, in 1986 the state of New Jersey (following the lead of other states) pulled $4.3 billion of their pension fund out of companies that maintained ties with Apartheid South Africa (that’s billion with a “B”). And this decision was accompanied by a proud and public statement by then Governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean, in which he said: ”We will not countenance the brutality that is apartheid by nourishing it with our investments.”
Notice the total lack of need to have anyone interpret the political and financial decision of the State of New Jersey in this instance of genuine divestment. No single-issue partisan hacks were required to “explain” to us how we should interpret New Jersey’s action. And no spin doctors had to be on hand to read us the tea leaves regarding why the institution (in this case, the state) was doing what it was doing.
For when genuine, political divestment takes place, it is accompanied by a clear moral pronouncement by those actually doing the divesting which leaves no ambiguity whatsoever. In fact, since the type of divestment we’re talking about (selling stock for political vs. financial reasons) is a political act, the lack of an unambiguous announcement means such a political divestment act has not taken place.
You don’t even need to go back two-and-a-half decades to see what I’m talking about. For during the BDS era, there have been other divestment projects (notably ones targeting Sudan and Iran) that have been wildly successful, even as anti-Israel BDSers ricocheted between defeat and fiasco.
To again cite just one example, when in 2007 the University of Massachusetts pulled the plug on Sudan-related investment (in this case to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars), the head of the school’s Investment Committee stated “We are taking this action because we believe that it is the right thing to do.” And the school’s President celebrated the decision as “consistent with the University’s traditions and values.”
Contrast this to BDS hoax at Hampshire College in 2009 when the boycotters were firing off one press release after another claiming that Hampshire had become the first US college in the country to divest from “Apartheid Israel,” even as the President of the college and Chair of its Board of Trustees were announcing that “No other college or university should use Hampshire as a precedent for divesting from Israel, since Hampshire has refused to divest from Israel. Anyone who claims otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting Hampshire’s decision and has no right to speak for the college.”
And this is just one example of statements just as clear as those made in the New Jersey or UMass cases noted above, except that this time they unambiguously state that the school has done nothing like what is being claimed by the BDSers.
Keep these quotes and dollar figures in mind the next time the forces of boycott and divestment insist that votes taken by a student council somewhere (often taken in the dead of night behind the backs of students, which are immediately condemned or ignored by financial decision makers) mean victory is within their grasp.
And keep it especially in mind when you are confronted by a BDS press release filled with unattributed quotes and ambiguous wording regarding what someone else was supposed to have done. And if said press release lacks a statement as clear as what we’ve seen with every genuine boycott or divestment victory in history, you can safely assume that this “win” exists only in the BDSers own heated fantasies.