HOROWITZ: Gary Ackerman blasts NYU divestment campaign – NYU students and faculty blast back 27Oct11 October 28, 2011

by Adam Horowitz  -  MONDOWEISS  -  20 October 2011

Gary Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, has issued a statement attacking an effort by New York University students and faculty to divest from TIAA-CREF over its investments in companies benefiting from the Israeli occupation. An open letter to TIAA-CREF CEO and President Roger W. Ferguson from NYU faculty and staff has already received over 130 signatures. Ackerman’s statement reads in part:

“I strongly condemn the ill-conceived and dangerous effort by some of the professors and staff at NYU to instigate divestment from American and Israeli companies by TIAA-CREF. While they have managed to assemble a pastiche of smears and falsehoods against Israel, they have not actually come up with anything resembling a sound rationale for divestment.

The faculty and staff who signed the open letter to TIAA-CREF claim the companies they list are profiting from the so-called ‘occupation of Palestinian territories.’ What they actually seem to be most upset about is that these companies and the goods they produce, enable Israel, the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East and a staunch American ally, to defend itself, protect its citizens and fight back against relentless terrorist assault targeting Israeli civilians . . .

Moreover, blinded by their ill-informed and self-righteous rage, these want-to-be divesters also blithely overlook the obvious moral failure inherent in punishing American companies because of the way Israel allegedly used their products. Perhaps Ford, GM and Chrysler should be held accountable if their cars are used for drive-by shootings, or bank heists? Maybe Dell and Apple should be punished too for their products use in activities with which the professors disapprove?

It would take a great deal of education to rationalize such utter nonsense. But somehow, I feel sure this bunch at NYU will manage it.”

NYU students and professors have been quick to respond. The NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine has sent out a press release with responses from students and faculty as well as a point-by-point rebuttal to Ackerman’s claims. Here are two responses:

Representative Ackerman’s apparent denial that Israel is occupying Palestinian territories and systematically violating basic Palestinian rights is simply shocking. This kind of moral blindness has long been an impediment to peace-making between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s one of the reasons why so many people of conscience have decided to hold corporations to account which profit from the Israeli occupation–we do not trust U.S. politicians to support and defend Palestinian rights.

- Jeff Goodwin, Professor of Sociology, New York University

The U.S. general public remains one of the most uninformed in the world regarding the brutality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. Rep. Ackerman, in his attempt to deface a just and democratic cause, could not have more perfectly exemplified why.

- Alaa Yousef, SJP NYU organizer

And here’s the rebuttal:

House Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), ranking Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, recently issued a  statement  attacking the actions of over one hundred New York University (NYU) professors.

The professors have signed an Open Letter to TIAA-CREF, drafted by Students for Justice in Palestine at NYU (SJP @ NYU), calling for divestment from five corporations – Motorola Systems, Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, Elbit, and Veolia – whose equipment facilitates the oppression of Palestinians and the continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

The position taken by these faculty members, and their willingness to speak out, deserve praise, not condemnation. 

Rep. Ackerman’s comments are saturated with misunderstandings and misrepresentations, of both the campaign these professors are supporting and the plight of the Palestinian people. Additionally, the references to the campaign as “dangerous” and a form of “warfare on Israel” are chilling in tone.

His comments suggest a desire to preserve the brutal status quo and protect corporate interests, rather than genuine interest in promoting justice and international law in the region.


Rep. Ackerman writes that “many thousands of Israelis … have been murdered or maimed by rockets falling on their homes, bombs going off on their buses or by suicide bombers slipping into restaurants and religious celebrations.”

According to the respected human rights organization B’Tselem, exactly 753 Israeli civilians and 342 military personnel were been killed by Palestinians between September 2000 and September 2011. During that same period, the Israeli army killed6,487 Palestinians, at least half of whom were civilians. During Operation Cast Lead – Israel’s most recent illegal assault on the people of Gaza – the Israeli military killed 1,397 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Three Israeli civilians were killed in the operation.

Clearly this is not a war between two equal parties. This is a vicious occupation against an oppressed and impoverished people, carried out by a powerful, nuclear armed state (Israel), and backed by the world’s strongest military power (the U.S.). Despite the overwhelming evidence, Rep. Ackerman – unlike President Obama, the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, all major human rights organizations, and the international community at large – refuses even to acknowledge that the occupation exists.

Rep. Ackerman questions whether the NYU faculty signers have international law on their side. But to name one of countless examples, the July 9, 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that “all States are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory … [and] to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination is brought to an end.”

The ICJ’s advisory opinion is consistent with repeated United Nations resolutions recognizing that the Palestinian territories are under occupation, and calling for that occupation to end. The NYU faculty signers have therefore not called for anything beyond the implementation of international law.


First, concerning the Open Letter to TIAA-CREF, Rep. Ackerman writes that 72 NYU Professors and staff “have managed to assemble a pastiche of smears and falsehoods against Israel.” In fact, SJP @ NYU created the letter, which 132 professors and staff have signed thus far.

Rep. Ackerman fails to point out a single inaccuracy in the letter.

Second, Rep. Ackerman describes the campaign as “unjustified economic warfare on Israel.” The opposite is true: the campaign is a non-violent means of opposing Israel’s warfare on the Palestinian people.

Third, Rep. Ackerman writes that NYU faculty members are unfairly “punishing American companies because of the way Israel allegedly uses their products.” These are not “allegations” but readily demonstrable facts. And surely Rep. Ackerman does not believe that Caterpillar, for example, is unaware of how Israel weaponizes its bulldozers and uses them to demolish Palestinian homes. We wonder if Rep. Ackerman would publicly support the sale of Caterpillar bulldozers to Palestinians to be used for the unlawful demolition of Israeli homes.

Finally, Rep. Ackerman asks rhetorically whether “Ford, GM and Chrysler should be held accountable if their cars are used for drive-by shootings, or bank heists.” Such an analogy is nonsensical. These are not anonymous sales to random individuals who happen to commit a crime. They are massive contracts that provide Israel with the equipment necessary to perpetuate an occupation that is illegal under international law.


Four million Palestinians suffer daily under the occupation Rep. Ackerman defends. The occupation is an infringement on the most basic rights of the Palestinian people, such as freedom of movement and self-determination. The occupation systematically impoverishes them and denies millions access to adequate healthcare, education, water, and sanitation. In addition, occupied Palestinians are routinely arrested, assaulted, or killed; non-violent demonstrators have been among those targeted.

The reason that 132 NYU faculty and staff have signed the Open Letter to TIAA-CREF is not that they are “blinded by their ill-informed and self-righteous rage,” but because they stand in opposition to these violations of international law. This position is at odds with that of the U.S. government and congresspersons like Rep. Ackerman who prefer to defend Israel’s crimes.

SJP @ NYU reiterates its strong support for the conscientious faculty members who have signed the Open Letter to TIAA-CREF. These professors have taken an important and courageous public stance, openly demanding that their retirement savings not be used to oppress the Palestinian people. For this they deserve our respect.

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