Monday, November 22, 2010

DePaul divests from Israeli hummus product

Today marks another win for the global boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement against corporations that profit from severe human rights violations. Chicago’s very own DePaul University just announced that their dining services will be discontinuing the sale of hummus manufactured by Sabra, an Israeli brand known for its vocal and material support of Israeli Defense Forces. The administration has temporarily suspended the sale of Sabra products and will likely move towards permanently banning the brand from campus.

A little over two weeks ago, members of DePaul’s Students for Justice in Palestine expressed concern over the sale of Sabra products after discovering that Chartwells, which provides dining services to the university, had introduced the Israeli-brand hummus to food and dining facilities throughout campus.  Acting on their concern, the students compiled research and revealed that the Strauss Group, co-owner of Sabra, has direct monetary ties with elite Israeli military forces currently and historically involved in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. One week after bringing the issue to the attention of campus administrators, the university informed campaign organizers that Sabra products are set to be removed from shelves for the remainder of the school quarter and will most likely not be sold on campus in the future. (Read the email sent to administrators at the end of the post.)

The ultimate success of this modest divestment campaign isn’t that it resulted in the removal of a product from campus cafeteria shelves but, rather, that it has undoubtedly set the framework for future campaigns in college campuses throughout the United States. With exactly 156 colleges and universities using Chartwells for their campus dining needs, the BDS movement against IDF-sponsoring companies like Strauss Group and Sabra can potentially reach national heights. By discontinuing the sale of Sabra products, DePaul University has made its stance clear: Any product or company involved with flagrant human rights violations against Palestinians or any other people does not mirror the principles on which the university is founded and is therefore not welcome on campus. The administration’s quick response indicates the importance of preserving and respecting Palestinian rights by divesting from companies that do the exact opposite.

DePaul’s divestment from Strauss Group-owned Sabra products comes less than a month after a similar attempt at divestment hit the streets of Philadelphia. Over two dozen activists gathered at a supermarket near the University of Pennsylvania to protest the sale of Sabra hummus. A video of the action was released to the public via YouTube where it quickly grew in popularity and eventually prompted Strauss Group to remove all references supporting the Israeli military from its English-translated website. However, the Hebrew version of the website still maintains the corporation’s public support of IDF activity.

Major BDS campaigns generally take years of concentrated grassroots efforts before any significant progress is made but that did not deter the small group of DePaul students from voicing their concern and offering alternative solutions that fell in line with the university’s code of ethics. The efforts put into this divestment campaign, both at DePaul and in Philadelphia, serve as a model for future college BDS movements. Any institution of higher learning that promotes morality, justice, and respect must make sure to abide by its principles. If it doesn’t, it is up to the students to make sure things change for the better.

Sami Kishawi

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Email sent to DePaul administrators:
Hello Stephanie and Joe,

My name is Shirien and I’m part of Students for Justice in Palestine at DePaul. I’m writing you because it has recently come to our attention that Chartwells has started selling Sabra hummus products at DePaul. Many SJP members, as well as several other students, are deeply disturbed about this development. SGA President Ross R., as well as DePaul alumni Ben M. (both CC’d) recommended that we get in contact with you both in order to assist us with this matter.

The reason why we are concerned is because the company which manufactures Sabra hummus, the Strauss Group, has been a voice of support for the ongoing Israeli occupation through its ties with Israel’s military.  This is apparent in their vocal support and material sustenance of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), namely the Golani Brigade.  The Golani Brigade, Israel’s elite force, is known for its history of severe human rights violations. Many instances of these violations are well documented, from the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin to the torture and humiliation of Palestinian detainees. Because of this, a boycott campaign against Sabra is happening at many universities in cities across the nation.

Many of us students are concerned about DePaul affiliating with a company with such strong military and political ties. We feel that continuing the sale of Sabra products at DePaul is in violation of our Vincentian values, which require us to stand against injustice. This goes for any other companies affiliated with human suffering.

We would like to meet with you both so that we can discuss this matter more in-depth. CC’d to this email are key board members from SJP, as well as Erez, who is on the Fair Business Practices Committee. We want to voice our concerns and perhaps present alternative hummus brands that are more socially conscious. We hope that you can hear us out and help steer us in the right direction of how to go about addressing this.

Would it be possible to set up a meeting some time next week? I included everyone in one email thread so we can all be in the loop. Please let us know what you think. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Sincerely,
Shirien

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Prominent film, television artists join boycott of West Bank arts center

Workers readying the Ariel cultural center for its opening.
Photo by: Alon Ron
Media personalities sign on to internet petition protesting the threat to revoke funding for artists that refuse to perform in the newly opened cultural center in Ariel.By City Mouse Online Tags: Israel news Israel settlements West Bank Israel boycott settlement boycott

A group of leading Israeli film and television artists have signed onto an online petition supporting the right of theater actors to refuse to perform in the newly opened arts center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

"A number of Knesset members and ministers from Yisrael Beitenu and Likud and other right-wing figures are calling for cutting off funding to artists that this week called for a boycott of the cultural center in Ariel," the online petition said.

"Threats of this type by these Knesset Members do not scare us," the petition continued. "As Israeli citizens, the refusal of these theater actors to perform in Ariel, which is not within the borders of Israeli sovereignty, is a democratic right."

"It is unconscionable that the resistance to the settlement enterprise, a belief shared by a substantial amount of the Israeli public, has turned into an illegitimate position that leads to slandering, silencing, and funding cuts," said the petition.

The Ariel cultural center celebrated its official opening last week, including a performance by the Be'er Sheva theater group.

Dozens of Israeli theater figures had sent a letter to Be'er Sheva Theater actors on November 5, urging them to join their battle and boycott the newly built arts center.

In September, a group of theater actors and public figures signed a petition saying they would not perform in the new Ariel center as a protest of Israel's settlement policies. The protest was supported by over 150 academics.

Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that he will act against the boycotting artists by halting direct funding of their travel expenses for shows abroad and by preventing their appearances before state bodies.

 

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