Stanford professors take stand against divestment

Dozens of Stanford University faculty members, former professors and researchers have signed one of two petitions opposing the student senate’s action in passing an Israel divestment resolution last month.

As of early this week, more than 150 current and emeritus faculty members and researchers, with a range of views on Israel’s Palestinian policies, had signed a nine-paragraph statement criticizing the divestment campaign for fomenting “one-sided condemnation of Israel.” The statement also cites concern about the “single-minded ferocity” of the divestment campaign on campus.

Steven Zipperstein

“The goal of our campus’ recent anti-Israel campaign wasn’t to open up discussion on these complex matters but to dictate simple, outright excoriation,” the statement reads. “In this respect divestment was less its goal than a tactic, a deceptively benign way to bring to fruition an anti-Israel resolution.”

It’s unusual for faculty members to criticizea student resolution, but some at Stanford found the divestment campaign to be particularly heated. At a faculty senate meeting last month, university president John Hennessy issued a statement regarding the campaign; he said that in his 30 years at Stanford he has “never seen a topic that has been more divisive within the university community.”

The nonbinding student resolution passed 10-4 with one abstention on Feb. 17, seven days after it had narrowly failed to achieve a two-thirds majority in a 9-5 vote with one abstention.

“I understand why Israeli politics would enrage. I’m enraged by many of the politics in Israel,” said Stanford professor Steven Zipperstein, who helped draft the statement. “But the fact that outrage against Israeli politics is the one issue that captured more attention at Stanford than any other political issue in the last 30 years, as stated by our president — that’s bizarre.”

Zipperstein, professor of Jewish culture and history, said that the tenor of the debate, which at times segued into claims that police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were Israeli-trained, seemed to question Israel’s very legitimacy.

Larry Diamond

Four Jewish faculty members worked together to draft the statement: Zipperstein, Avner Greif, an economics professor, Larry Marshall, a law professor, and Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. They then circulated it broadly among other faculty, and posted it online at, where members of the public also can sign it.

Another group of faculty members then wrote an alternative statement, which had been signed by 21 faculty members as of early this week.

The alternative statement reads, in part, “While the undersigned wish to ally ourselves with the general conclusions of [the original] statement, there are portions of it with which we do not agree.” Notably, the alternative statement takes a hard stand against Stanford “undertaking or endorsing the divestment activities,” adding that such actions “have no positive impact” and that they actually “undermine efforts” for an Israeli-Palestinian compromise. The alternative petition is not available online.

The student resolution calls for the university to divest from companies it says violate international humanitarian law in Israel and the Palestinian territories, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Elbit Systems.

Zipperstein called the resolution itself “relatively benign,” reiterating that his — and many of his fellow signers’ — objection lay with the campaign itself.

“The proponents of divestment against Israel know well that Stanford is not going to divest from Israel,” Zipperstein said. “The actual goal is certainly not the stated goal.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.