Tufts, it’s Time: Boycott and Divest from israeli Apartheid
ART BY UMA EDULBEHRAM
What’s Happening in Palestine?
Over the past month, we have witnessed israel violently bomb hospitals, refugee camps, churches, and schools that are sheltering tens of thousands of Gazans. israel is cutting off electricity, fuel, and internet service, intentionally starving Gazans and forcing media blackouts. As we write this article, over 600 Palestinian families have been wiped from the civil registry—this means that every single family member from every generation was murdered by israel. Between October 7 and November 11, over 11,000 Gazans were slaughtered, over 4,000 of whom are children, not counting the thousands of Gazans still trapped under rubble. israel has forcefully expelled over 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza from their homes—more than half the entire population. In the West Bank, the israeli government has forcefully displaced over 900 Palestinians and is also arming settlers to commit violence against Palestinians. There is only one word to describe this dehumanization and targeted murder: genocide.
Let us be clear: this genocide did not begin in the days following October 7. The zionist colonial project began over 75 years ago, even before the 1948 Nakba—which means “the catastrophe”—when zionist militias ethnically cleansed over 750,000 Palestinians from their homelands. The Nakba has continued since 1948 as israel has depopulated villages, imprisoned Palestinians, and enforced a system of apartheid through segregated conditions, separation walls, and checkpoints. israel has forcefully removed indigenous Palestinians to establish a settler colonial state on stolen Palestinian land. These conditions have led organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to deem israel an apartheid state and an occupying power.
Due to israel’s violent repression of journalists in Palestine and the imperial interests of dominant western controlled media outlets, the numbers we are seeing do not capture the extent of this devastation. In addition to indiscriminately targeting journalists, israel has doubled its number of Palestinian political prisoners since October 7. Right now, over 10,000 political hostages are being held by israel. Over 2,000 of the prisoners are being held without trial. By the time this piece is published, thousands more Palestinians will be murdered and displaced.
What is BDS?
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society, calls for an international, targeted boycott of goods, services, and initiatives that provide economic, social and political support to apartheid israel. BDS seeks to make it economically and politically unviable for israel to continue its violent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land by compelling governments, institutions, and corporations to withdraw their support from israel. This can be practiced on an individual level as a consumer by boycotting goods and companies that are complicit in israeli colonization, on an institutional level by demanding that institutions divest their holdings in corporations that fund and aid israeli apartheid, and on a governmental level by advocating for states to impose sanctions on israel for its actions.
The Palestinian call to BDS is modeled after international boycotts of goods and campaigns for divestment and sanctions that were used in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Historically, collective boycotts of goods and divestment campaigns mark shifts in public opinion and make it unprofitable for states and companies to keep funding violent oppression.
How to Boycott
The Palestinian BDS National Committee supports all boycotts of complicit entities but urges people to focus on companies that most directly support israel. As of November 5, the BDS National Committee has called on the international community to boycott a specific list of targets. This list includes companies like Sabra, Puma, Sodastream, AirBnB, Ahava, and HP as “consumer targets” on an individual level. It also includes institutional boycotts of Elbit, Hyundai, CAT (Caterpillar), Google and Amazon, AirBnb, Expedia, and RE/Max. Elbit Systems is an israeli weapons manufacturer with an office in Cambridge, MA that builds the bombs and munitions being used to bomb Gaza right now. HP and Amazon’s technologies are used at checkpoints and for facial recognition to surveille and uphold systems of apartheid. Travel companies like AirBnB and Expedia support israel’s tourism industry and profit off the displacement of Palestinians. These companies do not just support israeli occupation rhetorically. Their operation and existence actively displace and perpetuate violence against Palestinians every day.
Targeted boycotts are most effective, as they display a unified front against the companies that are most complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. BDS also urges people to be involved in long-term campaigns for divestment from holdings that support israel’s genocidal regime.
BDS additionally encourages “grassroots” boycotts that have emerged against corporations like McDonald’s and Burger King, which have provided support to the israeli occupation forces since October 7. In short, it is encouraged to boycott all complicit entities, but collectively, we should focus on boycotting those companies strategically chosen by the BDS movement.
In 2022, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine launched our own BDS campaign, specific to this campus. Our boycott list includes Pillsbury and Sabra products sold at campus dining locations; clubs that materially or politically support israel, including Friends of israel, J Street U, the TAMID Group, the Tisch Summer Fellowship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and the Ex-College class “Visions of Peace Palestine/Israel”; and university-endorsed programs such as studying abroad in israel and Birthright trips.
Groups and Initiatives to Boycott at Tufts
Friends of israel (FOI), a self-described “pro-Israel advocacy community,” has shown unequivocal support for israel’s terror against Palestinians. In response to israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza following October 7, FOI asserted they “will continue to support Israel’s justified response against Hamas.” More disturbingly, they also wrote, “We similarly recognize the pain and suffering this will cause innocent Palestinian citizens.” Fully knowing the human consequences, FOI continues to defend israel’s genocidal collective punishment of Gazans, which is a war crime under international humanitarian law.
J Street, a political organization that presents itself as an alternative to more overtly zionist groups, claims to be “pro-peace,” yet they ultimately have not demonstrated support for Palestinian freedom. As of November 13, J Street U at Tufts has not yet publicly called for the bare minimum of a ceasefire. Last year, J Street U Tufts cosponsored an event featuring Sarah Mandel, an israeli settler living in the occupied West Bank, whose presence on the land is illegal, according to international law. This event legitimized illegal settlement on stolen Palestinian land and normalized the ongoing occupation of Palestine. The actions of J Street U Tufts and their silence on Palestine this past month make it clear that they are not dedicated to ending the occupation.
TAMID, a financial consulting group that claims to be “apolitical,” materially contributes to israel’s economic growth by consulting and interning for israeli companies. Furthermore, the organization contradicts its own claim of being “apolitical” with its engagement in “Israel-related advocacy and contributions.”
The Tisch Summer Fellowship offers internships with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a zionist advocacy nonprofit. While the ADL claims to specialize in civil rights and fight against antisemitism in the US, they have sponsored trips for US law enforcement officers to train with israeli police, intelligence agents, and military officials, and have a history of spying on and sabotaging progressive movements. Since October 7th, the ADL has remained steadfast in their support for israel’s genocidal bombardment of Gaza, writing “We Stand with Israel” on the homepage of their website.
The Ex-College class “Visions of Peace Israel/Palestine” is a liberal zionist initiative that normalizes israeli colonization through the harmful rhetoric of pacifism. This class invites zionist speakers and maintains that the solution to settler violence lies in mere “dialogue.” This class completely refuses to acknowledge that occupation is the ultimate source of injustice and violence.
Finally, Birthright trips, which are supported by the university, give Jewish young adults around the world the opportunity to take a free trip to israel while exiled Palestinians in diaspora are forbidden from returning to their homeland. These propaganda trips paint israel as a safe-haven for Jewish people globally, hiding the daily violence israel commits against Palestinians. They serve to encourage Jewish young adults to settle in israel and justify israel’s expansion.
The powerful pro-israel lobby and western media have spent decades normalizing israel’s crimes and manufacturing broad support for the apartheid state among the American public. Similarly, all of these programs, clubs, and initiatives provide the ideological, political, and economic support that is necessary for israel to expand its colonial project. We call on Tufts community members who stand with Palestinians to join the BDS call and boycott these products, clubs, and initiatives on our campus.
Tufts’ Complicity and Years of Student Activism
Tufts has yet to disclose its investments, but we know a few things about the university. Tufts still sells products like Sabra at dining locations, provides university support to initiatives like TAMID and Birthright israel, approves school credit for study abroad in israel, and uses HP printers and ink products. Tufts has hosted weapons manufacturers like Raytheon, General Dynamics, and more at career fairs.
Tufts has a long history of ignoring student activist demands with regards to Palestine, even when pursued through official channels. For example, Tufts refused to honor the overwhelming 2020 vote by the student body to end Tufts’ participation in the Deadly Exchange, a police exchange where u.s. police officers go to israel to exchange “worst practices” with the israeli military on how to use violent tactics against oppressed people. Tufts also refused to apologize for sending former TUPD chief Kevin Maguire on one of these trips or to ban these exchange trips altogether.
Additionally, in 2017, Tufts SJP successfully passed a resolution through the Tufts Community Union Senate that encouraged Tufts to divest from G4S, Elbit Systems, Northrop Grumman, and HP, all of which are involved in the direct arming, funding, and aiding of genocide in Palestine. Although students overwhelmingly supported the divestment effort, the Board of Trustees repeatedly refused to meet with SJP to even discuss divestment. This refusal indicates the presence of shady investments that likely include weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and more. Tufts’ lack of transparency implies they do have something to hide regarding the funding of genocide—if they didn’t, they would have no reason not to disclose their investments.
Call to Action: Demanding Divestment
The fight for Palestinian liberation did not start on October 7, and it does not stop after attending one rally. To practice daily support for Palestinian liberation, we must practice BDS on all levels. As students in the u.s., our tax dollars directly fund israel’s atrocities in the billions. The u.s. continues to use its veto power within the United Nations to shut down internationally-supported resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza, and the u.s. House of Representatives voted on November 2 to send $14 billion in extra aid to israel, with zero dollars going to humanitarian aid in Gaza. Instead of going toward housing, healthcare, or education, our tax dollars are funding genocide.
Through our tuition, tax dollars, and consumption, we are directly and indirectly financing the white phosphorus, bombs, and missiles that israel uses to kill Palestinians. Each of us has a responsibility to unequivocally stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. As beneficiaries living in “the belly of the beast,” we have an obligation to follow Palestinian leadership. By engaging in their call for BDS, we can partially counter this complicity by pressuring corporations and institutions to end their involvement in the occupation. Boycotts have always been most powerful when we act together. We all have a collective responsibility to stand unified for liberation in Palestine. The struggle for Palestinian liberation is one with the struggle against capitalism, settler-colonialism, anti-Blackness, racism, patriarchy, and all other forms of oppression.
In 1989, Tufts finally divested its holdings from companies that were still doing business in apartheid South Africa, claiming it to be “a symbolic act in many ways” but “an important statement about what we believe about equality.” This statement and the decision to divest were only made possible by 12 years of strong student activism that the university—and the world—could no longer ignore. This included sit-ins, camp outs, and more. The struggle for divestment is a long-term process, and each one of us must continue to sustain pressure on the university as students and future alumni.
Across the world, millions of people have taken to the streets in support of Palestinian liberation. Activists have shown up in Oakland and Portland to physically block arms shipments from the u.s. to israel. In Spain, port workers have pledged to not allow weapon shipments to israel to leave. At Tufts, hundreds of students have repeatedly shown up to rallies and walked out of class to demand action, even shutting down the campus center for 10 hours. This is a beautiful moment of international solidarity. Palestinian survival and resistance on the ground must inspire us to do everything we can here to support their struggle.
The urgency of this moment demands immediate action. On an individual level, refuse to let your money go to companies that support this genocide. On a collective and community level, labor unions and other organizations can pass BDS resolutions to affirm their commitment to Palestinian liberation. On a university level, continue to pressure Tufts to divest. On a national level, call your representatives to demand an immediate ceasefire, and an end to blockade, occupation, and apartheid. Our individual actions are not enough if they are not met with institutional and governmental action. We call on all Tufts students and faculty to pressure the university to immediately divest by signing our divestment petition. It is our moral responsibility to practice BDS until Palestine is free, from the river to the sea.
The Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine Divestment petition can be found on Instagram @SJPTufts.
The decision to lowercase “u.s.” and “israel” is meant to encourage the reader to consider the colonial conditions through which the settler states of israel and the u.s. were founded and frame such processes as illegitimate.