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Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine Holds Inaugural Event, Invites BDS Founder

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine held their launch event in Emerson Hall.
Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine held their launch event in Emerson Hall. By Michael Shao
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

A new student group demanded the University disclose and divest its investments in companies tied to Israel’s presence in Palestine during the organization’s Thursday launch event.

The group — Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — is pursuing “a campaign centered around the actualization of Palestinian liberation,” according to a mission statement posted to Medium.

Drawing more than 200 attendees, the Thursday evening launch event featured a panel of guest speakers, including two student organizers from Brown University — Yara Doumani and Anchita Dasgupta — Harvard professor Cornel R. West ’74, and Harvard Divinity School fellow Rami Younis.

Omar Barghouti — a founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement — also spoke to event attendees via Skype.

BDS is an international movement seeking to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law,” according to its website.

During the event, Barghouti criticized Harvard for being “complicit” in supporting the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

“Stopping complicity in Israel's crimes is not heroic. It's not charitable,” he said. “We're not asking Harvard to drop everything and stand with the Palestinians. We're just asking them to stop aiding our oppressors.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain did not respond to a request for comment on the allegation that Harvard is “complicit” in human rights abuses in Palestine. The extent of Harvard’s ties to Israel and companies that operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is unknown.

Panelists also discussed how different human rights causes are interconnected and said they believe mutual support across movements is important.

“We believe that Palestinian rights are part of justices for indigenous people across the world, for black people, for women, and for LGBT communities, for progressive choice, against discrimination, against racism of all the types,” Barghouti said. “We are proud to be part of this progressive way around the world.”

West said he believes intersectional advocacy also necessarily entails advocating against anti-Semitism.

“We want to be consistent,” he said. “We make sure we are in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters — when they're trashed, when they’re dehumanized, when they're degraded.”

The HOOP kickoff event came a day after the first meeting of Harvard Jewish Coalition for Peace, a new student group that bills itself as an “anti-Zionist Jewish organization.”

The Harvard Jewish Coalition for Peace, Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, and Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard have endorsed HOOP’s mission, according to statements on their respective Facebook pages.

West said he was encouraged to see current Harvard students pressuring the University to align its investments with their priorities.

“We got similar things going on with fossil fuel. Beautiful. Some of the things going on with prison investment. Beautiful. Now Harvard has to disinvest — should disinvest — in terms of its complicity with the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” he added.

Barghouti said the BDS movement’s mission is to condemn oppression, not oppressors.

“You want to take out the oppression from the oppressor. You don't want to take the humanity out of him or her,” Barghouti said. “We're fighting complicity and oppression. We're not fighting any identity. We're not against any group of people.”

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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