The Palestine Solidarity Movement’s annual conference draws closer. While university officials are to be commended for their application of Georgetown’s “Speech and Expression Policy,” they were wrong to dismiss divestment from Israel without full consideration.

University spokesperson Erik Smulson recently stated, “Georgetown University does not use its endowment portfolio to pressure governments or create political or social action.” Yet, the president’s Web site suggests his administration puts a “special emphasis on sustaining and strengthening Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identity and its responsibility to serve as a voice and an instrument for justice.” How can justice be served if Georgetown invests in injustice?

While those in power do not see it, the parallels between apartheid South Africa and Israel are fully apparent to the victims. In former Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s own words, “Yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the Occupied Territories.”

Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky, both legendary anti-apartheid activists of Jewish origin, compare Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians to South African apartheid. According to South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Committee, “South Africans who have lived through apartheid cannot be silent as another entire people are treated as non-human beings.”

The South African system of territorial segregation consisted of an unequal division of land based on race. While 87 percent of the country was ruled by whites only, the majority blacks were forced on the remaining 13 percent. Black territory consisted of Bantustans built on barren land on the nation’s outskirts.

The “Afrikaner state” ruled blacks in their own homeland. The “Jewish state” rules Palestinians in theirs. Prior to the construction of Israel’s illegal separation wall, Israel unjustly commanded 78 percent of original Palestine. Thanks to the wall’s construction, Palestinians now only reside, according to, in 12 percent of historic Palestine – which is still controlled by Israel.

This is the direct result of Israel’s brutal military occupation, construction of an internationally condemned apartheid barrier, and continued expansion of Jewish settlements, which are linked by Israeli-only bypass roads. Palestinians in the West Bank, like their South African counterparts, often need special permits for travel, work, going to pray, and even building homes. Their movement is policed by the most extensive array of checkpoints and roadblocks ever seen.

President DeGioia, despite his own personal involvement in activism against South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s, stated his opposition to divestment. This contravenes the experience of the many South Africans who needed global support to win equality.

Catholic social teaching also points towards divestment. As an expert on ethics and human rights, DeGioia should know that since the Church’s earliest days, it called for a tearing down of walls between peoples (Gal. 3:28). Yet Israel defies international law by dividing the holy land with a grotesque apartheid wall. Notably, the same wall suffocates Bethlehem, Christ’s birthplace, and is resulting in an alarming emigration of the Palestinian Christian population.

Catholic social teaching asserts that the “recognition, respect, safeguarding, and promotion of the rights of the human person” is “fundamental.” (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, 148). Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., former canon of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem), argued that states bear the responsibility to assure and safeguard human rights.

What are these inherent rights we are taught? One is the right to establish and be unified with family. Under a 2003 Israeli law, Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian Territories married to Israeli citizens had no recognized residency rights.

Another is the right to livable housing. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, since 1967 Israel demolished almost 12,000 Palestinian homes, leaving some 70,000 Palestinians homeless.

The analogy with South African apartheid is apt in that its most objectionable traits are found in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Like the Afrikaner regime, Israel wants the land, but not the natives. Divestment is a strategy for peace because it pressures the oppressive government to grant equality to the oppressed. Georgetown should not profit from policies that subjugate the Palestinians. The only way to implement Catholic values is to divest.

Zara Khan is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.