What’s a worthy target for divestment?

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement needs to choose targets more strategically

by Jasper Johnson

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a contentious issue among certain circles here at the University of Minnesota. Students for Justice in Palestine have been pushing for the University to divest from companies that support what they deem to be Israeli injustices, and opponents of the movement have penned acrid pieces denouncing BDS.
I’ll avoid rehashing an opinion on the Israel-Palestine debate. Instead, I’d like to examine what exactly qualifies a corporation or state to deserve divestment.
Divestment choices, in my mind, need specificity. They either ought to target corporations that hold large stakes in a particular regional issue (ideally one with governmental ties), or they should serve to deter other organizations from investing in the targeted region. 
Alternatively, divestment could denounce a state wholesale by condemning all business done within its borders. However, this is only feasible when interactions between two states are already limited. 
More specifically, targets of divestment should be groups that maintain a significant regional presence and governmental ties. Any targets must also connect directly to the behaviors divestment seeks to condemn. 
One corporation suggested for University divestment, Raytheon, seems like an inauspicious and unnecessary target. Raytheon is a massive corporation — in fact, it’s currently one of the largest global producers of guided missiles. With respect to Israel-Palestine, though, the company’s regional involvement centers on supporting Israel’s rocket-and-mortar-intercepting Iron Dome system, something it’s very hard to argue constitutes anything other than a humanitarian and purely defensive initiative. 
Divestment could also aim to deter corporate investments. This can be impactful, as it’s much easier to deter a company from investing in a region in the first place than it is to make a company withdraw its existing operations. 
In 2005, for example, when Harvard University partially divested from two oil holdings tied to Sudan, other oil companies reconsidered planned projects. Oil provided much of the Sudanese government’s revenue for Darfur military campaigns.
Here at the University, I find comparisons between BDS and divestment from Apartheid-era South Africa to be unfounded. Relations between the U.S. and South Africa were fairly dynamic under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. However, U.S. support for Israel has been more steadfast. Additionally, South African divestment targeted a specific regime policy: Apartheid. The BDS movement, however, is a matter concerned with the fundamental legitimacy of Israel’s statehood. 
Overall, if we are to use divestment with any efficacy as a strategy for reform — as opposed to just moral grandstanding — we need to be extremely strategic, focusing on companies deeply entrenched with certain offenses or as a method of deterring future investments.
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].