The Yudof Doctrine: No divestment from Israel until genocide

“The U.S. has not made any declaration regarding the State of Israel and, therefore, we will not bring a recommendation before the Board to divest from companies doing business with the State of Israel.”

– UC President Mark Yudof, UC Regents Chairman Russell Gould, and UC Regents Vice Chair Sherry Lansing

UC President Mark Yudof — who the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has called “an unabashed Israel supporter” and who has previously compared the UC to a cemetery — has weighed in against UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, laying out a bizarre formula for UC investments that sets the bar so low it would have prevented UC divestment from South Africa during the apartheid era.

Under the Yudof doctrine, the UC Regents would only divest from a foreign country if the United States government had decided that the country had engaged in acts of genocide. Apparently that is the only standard under which Israel can continue to escape scrutiny by the UC Regents. But the policy has implications beyond the Israeli occupation of Palestine, for under this rule the UC Regents would not be able to modify its investment policy in order to alleviate a host of other social harms, such as the occupation of Tibet, slave labor, human trafficking, any government practices that are racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise dehumanizing. It clearly leaves much to be desired in the human rights arena.

Worst of all, it seems that the Yudof doctrine has no potential to prevent harms before they occur, as it would not allow divestment from genocide until it had actually happened. Indeed, the Yudof doctrine would have even barred divestment from Nazi Germany until it was too late — unforgivably ignoring any warning signs before the fact, and limiting the preventative positive impact divestment measures with proper vigilance can have.

On top of arbitrarily limiting investor activism to genocide, the Yudof doctrine leaves the decision to the unreliable political whims of Washington DC — which, nearly a century later, has yet to even recognize the Armenian genocide.

The Yudof doctrine — which contradicts UC history, since UC divested from South Africa for apartheid over two decades ago — also neglects the fact that the US government’s position on foreign relations often lags behind the consensus of the human rights community on what is socially just and ethically imperative.

The US Congress did not pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act until 1986, even though the bill was first introduced by Ron Dellums in 1972. Though apartheid had been in place since 1948 and Nelson Mandela had been in prison since 1962, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the law for political reasons, since the United States was a close economic partner of the apartheid regime in South Africa, trading upwards of $1.6 billion per year. Yet despite the clear moral imperative for divestment from South Africa at the time, under the Yudof doctrine divestment would have been forbidden not only because apartheid was not genocide, but also because the US government had yet to express its disapproval. Leaving moral judgments to politicians is an idea so bad its dangers can only be understated.

Under the Yudof doctrine, even if the international community had come to a consensus that Israel was engaging in genocide against the Palestinian people, the UC Regents would dodge the question so long as the US government lacked the political will to confront it. That scenario is not inconceivable given the lengths to which the US has gone to whitewash its relations with repressive governments like the Shah’s Iran, Pinochet’s Chile, and, of course, Israel’s apartheid.

Oddly, the Yudof doctrine does not even respond to UC Berkeley’s divestment resolution, which did not suggest divestment from the Israeli government or from all companies in Israel — even though such expansive measures were justified given the nature of Israel’s egregious wrongs. Instead it narrowly applied widely held norms on socially responsible investing to divest from 2 specific American corporations that had been shown to profit from Israeli war crimes and occupation. Under the Yudof policy it seems that the UC ¬†would not divest from a company for any activity in Israel whatsoever, short of a genocide recognized by the US government. The Yudof policy in effect creates a safe haven in Israel for corporations to profit from human rights abuses or any other undesirable corporate behavior — even if the same egregious activity would be cognizable under any other sound investment policy.

UC investments are overseen by a Board of Regents, who are unelected and unaccountable to the people of California. Instead, they are political appointees of the governor and heavyweight businessmen. Its members include Russell Gould, the President of Wachovia Bank, who joined Yudof in issuing the statement, and investment banker Richald Blum (husband of California Senator Diane Feinstein). Suffice it to say that these are not people known for their moral authority or their willingness to act against injustice in spite of powerful interests when the public good demands it. Many of the problems with the Yudof investment doctrine stem from a corrupt University governance system that students, faculty, and workers have been protesting against for the past year, amidst layoffs, budget cuts, tuition hikes, and furloughs.

Nevertheless the Yudof policy sets a new low for UC investment policies in general, but in particular, continues to deliberately turn a blind eye to the violence of Israel’s apartheid system against Palestinians struggling for their freedom and equality.

Nothing short of genocide, apparently, can move the UC Regents to act against Israel. Under that formula, let us hope that the UC will never have to divest from Israel — current warning signs of precisely such a disaster notwithstanding.

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