Last Thursday, NYU’s Student Government Assembly voted on a bill titled “Resolution on the Human Rights of Palestinians,” calling for NYU to divest from companies that supply products “used by the State of Israel in the violation of human rights.” It passed by a supermajority — 35 for, 14 against, 14 abstentions.
As a senior, a concerned NYU student and the treasurer of the Pro-Israel student-run group Realize Israel, it is very troubling that such a problematic bill that is factually unsound, morally ambiguous and operationally infeasible passed.
While Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions proponents had over 46 minutes of airtime, 34 in presenting a bill that had already been both presented and circulated and 12 in short speeches, ours only had a tightly monitored 12, an SGA tactic to purposely limit thoughtful debate. Since I was not allowed to speak on Thursday, I would like to point out some of the inconsistencies within the bill.
If this bill’s aim was primarily about divesting from the companies whose products violate human rights, its authors would have done better research to ensure its claims were factually correct. The claim that General Electric engines are used in Israel’s F16 jets is just wrong. While GE makes the engines for many models of the F16, Israel outfits their jets with Pratt and Whitney engines. The bill also references Sa’ar 5 Israeli Naval ships. These are in fact made by Huntington Ingalls Industries, a public company not targeted by the bill. While GE does produce their engines, targeting Huntington’s suppliers seems nonsensical.
If this bill’s aim was primarily about “responsible investing” as presented by its proponents, they would have recommended a far broader approach, like the ones enforced by Yale or Georgetown, covering many important issues at once. Commonly known as Environmental, Social, Governance, abbreviated as ESG, factors, widely accepted responsible investing guidelines exist, yet they bear slim resemblance to this bill.
If this bill’s aim was really to help Palestinians, they would have come up with a strategy more productive than divestment. Divestment has not been empirically proven to work. To hold a company accountable for how its tools are being used is morally questionable: Does a spoon make people fat? In some ways, yes, but we aren’t divesting from spoon manufacturers to end obesity. Along that same vein, can Caterpillar really be held accountable for how their tools are used? Even if Caterpillar stops allowing Israel to use its tools as BDS calls for, there are other companies machines Israel could use to carry on its operations. In fact, Israel uses Hyundai as well to carry out similar operations, but the bill doesn’t mention them. Yes, there is an issue with demolitions, but divestment will not achieve the results this bill pretends.
Throughout the entirety of the meeting, the proponents claimed that Israel was merely a “case study” for socially responsible investments, implying that once this bill passed, SGA would consider divesting other companies that don’t follow its moral standards, such as those engaged with fossil fuels. Yet, before and after the win, the authors chalked it up only as victory for BDS — “responsible investing” nowhere to be found. You have to ask yourself, is this really a case study and not a false pretense to push the BDS narrative?
Evidently, this bill isn’t about social issues or about responsible investing, because it doesn’t target the right companies or go about it as an ESG bill — the commonly accepted way. It seems as if the divestment portion of the resolution was merely an afterthought to the authors’ goal. Instead, it is clearly focused on demonizing Israel — for the second time in less than a year — rather than achieving meaningful results to aid Palestinian suffering. Signing BDS is a clear indicator that SGA is against the country that many NYU students call home.
I am very disappointed with my student government for being fooled by this bill and hope that they work toward an effective, responsible investing bill for all.
Lastly, I would like to thank all of the senators who voted no, the community who came to support them and the university who announced its opposition to the bill.
Email Gabe Hoffman at [email protected]