President Nan Keohane issued a strongly worded rebuttal Tuesday afternoon to the DukeDivest group's call for University divestment from companies with military ties to Israel.
Calling the situation between Israel and Palestine a "complex issue" on a different level from the apartheid of South Africa, Keohane argued that the divestment tactic is poorly designed for the circumstances.
"It is of course appropriate for members of the Duke community to express their opposition to the policies of the government of Israel, and for others to make clear their own support for those policies," Keohane said in the statement. "But divestment is not the right response; it is too blunt an instrument to use in a situation where there are good arguments to be made about responsibility and complicity on both sides of this conflict."
Keohane said that in the case of South Africa in the 1980s, where many people and institutions, including Duke, came to believe that divestment was warranted, "there was an extraordinary level of moral clarity about questions of responsibility" as well as systems in place to monitor whether the campaign was achieving results.
"Finally, the complicated issues around whether and how ethical investing policies can override our fundamental duties of fiduciary responsibility to our institution had been thoughtfully worked through at many institutions," Keohane said. "None of these factors is present in this situation."
DukeDivest members said they were very disappointed by Keohane's decision and that they were confident that they will eventually change her mind.
"The effort will continue full-fledged, without a doubt," said organizer Yousuf Al-Bulushi, a junior. "We will continue to make the call for divestment through teach-ins, rallies and meetings with the president." He added that he believes there is certainly "moral clarity" in the situation in the Middle East.
Fellow organizer Jessica Rutter said Keohane is dismissing a tactic that could be potentially useful in working toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
"She acted too quickly without understanding what our campaign really is about," said Rutter, a junior. "What we have to remember here is that Israel has the military, financial and diplomatic power, and they really are the ones that need to take the first step."
But Keohane countered that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is far too multi-faceted to treat as a simple issue of Israeli responsibility and non-compliance.
"The divestment petition targets only one side in this tragic situation," she said. "There is no question, however, that a serious, thoughtful discussion of this conflict on campus will give all of us a chance to understand these issues better, and to form our own well-founded judgments."
DukeDivest held a teach-in and forum Jan. 29 at which nine faculty members discussed why they advocated divestment. The event turned into a fiery debate between panelists and audience members, some of whom booed between panelists' speeches and then fired directed comments during the question-and-answer session. Rutter said DukeDivest members said they have since received many anonymous hate e-mails.
Both Al-Bulushi and Rutter said they were also disappointed that Keohane did not address DukeDivest's call for the creation of an ethical investment committee.
"The No. 1 step that Duke should take is fall in step behind institutions like Yale, Harvard and Columbia [universities] that already have ethical investment committees," Al-Bulushi said.
No other university has adopted a divestment policy.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.