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March 19, 2019 5:04 pm

Swarthmore College President Responds to Anti-Israel Divestment Resolution

avatar by Shiri Moshe

A view of Magill Walk and Parrish Hall at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. Photo: Adam Fagen.

The president of Swarthmore College responded last week to a resolution calling on the Pennsylvania school to divest from companies over their ties to Israel.

The measure was adopted by Swarthmore’s student government earlier this month, after it was initially rejected several weeks prior. Introduced by the anti-Zionist Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) club, it called on the college and its Board of Managers to divest from companies accused of involvement in violations of international law in Israel and the Palestinian territories, ranging from American aerospace manufacturer Boeing to Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim.

In a March 12 message to the campus community, President Valerie Smith reiterated that the school’s investment policy “states that we have a responsibility to manage the endowment to yield the best long-term financial results in order to fulfill Swarthmore’s educational mission, rather than to pursue other social objectives.”

“Swarthmore relies on our strong endowment for more than half of our operating revenue; it subsidizes a significant portion of the costs of educating every student and allows us to provide the robust financial aid that brings to Swarthmore students of all backgrounds,” she pointed out.

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Smith also addressed tensions surrounding the campus debate on divestment.

“[There] is no question that conversations around Israel and Palestine are polarizing and difficult,” she wrote. “As I have stated previously, when issues of religious identity, historical injustice, and present-day human rights concerns are involved, the real-life stakes are high.”

“As an intellectual community, we have a special obligation to welcome these and other difficult conversations,” Smith continued. “We must do so in ways that respect the dignity of all members of our community.”

Smith was first presented with a petition calling for divestment on Dec. 12. Around 100 students who rallied outside her office in support of the measure were recorded marching while repeatedly chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

The slogan — often used by Islamist groups like Hamas and other Palestinian nationalists to refer to the establishment of an Arab state in the territory between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, in place of Israel — also featured prominently on several of the marcher’s posters, some which depicted an image of a Palestinian state overlaying all of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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