Breaking the Zero Sum Game

[the following is the speech by Ariel Beery at the Columbia University Committee on Socially Responsible Investment hearing on Nov. 13th, 2002]
Breaking the Zero-Sum Game of the Middle East
Divestment in Israel will do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians. The Divestment petition is not even relevant in an age post-Oslo, when even the symbol of the Israeli Right wing, PM Ariel Sharon, says openly that there will be a Palestinian State.
I must admit, however, that I understand where the signers of the petition are coming from–and I say this as someone who experienced a terrorist attack first-hand. I understand that the situation seems hopeless, and that the violence seems relentless, and that this sense of powerlessness can lead to irrational action.
But emotions do not make a good argument, and, although the Palestinians have very justifiable feelings, it should be made clear that divestment would only work to entrench the Israeli public and leadership, and will only continue the zero-sum game of hatred and violence that will only serve the extremists on both sides. Columbia University, as an institution, should not allow emotions to hide the truth.
The truth is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is part of a larger problem of tyranny and hatred in the Middle East. One cannot focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without taking into account the history of the Arabs and Israel, the wars they have fought in the past, and the cross-border financing of hatred and terror, exemplified by the Saudi Telethon to raise money to finance the families of suicide bombers, and the Egyptian broadcasting of the Jewish-conspiracy classic “Elders of Zion” during Ramadan. One should also take into account the Peace Process that has existed for the past decade, and the numerous attempts at negotiations by Israel reaching as far back as 1948 and including the far-reaching concessions offered by Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David II.
We also cannot focus on the Israeli-Palestinian problem without remembering that some of the most repressive regimes in the world are in the Middle East and are not Israel. The atrocities taking place this very moment in Sudan, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, to say the least, are incomprehensible, and, without belittling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have all claimed hundreds and thousands of times more lives.
We should make it very clear to the signers of the petition that we understand their position, while divestment is not the answer. We too, all of us, want to see the end of human suffering. We should work towards putting an end to these repressive regimes, and their policies of terrorist and hatred, which are all financed by our very own petrodollars. In order for us to work together to break free from this cycle of blame and violence, we should strive towards changing the game played with human lives across the world.
Columbia University should lead by example and encouragement to free the world from this tyranny by freeing itself from its oil addiction, and by working towards energy sufficiency. Columbia University, the original home of the Manhattan Project, should heed Thomas Friedman’s call to start a new Manhattan Project, to work against the oppression in the Middle East and deal with the greatest threat to civilization currently facing us: the emergence of trans-national actors with a global agenda based on hatred and destruction.
These trans-national actors, who have struck and continue to strike around the world, be it in New York, Bali or Tel Aviv, are backed by the massive wealth that is a direct product of our dependence on Oil as our primary energy source. This wealth has also enabled tyrannical regimes around the world, and specifically in the Middle East and Africa, to carry out horrendous repression and genocidal acts. Without this oil wealth, these countries would not be able to do either. It is our responsibility, as consumers of a product that does so much harm to so many people, to stop purchasing it.
And, although I mention only in passing the serious and somewhat irreversible damage our dependence on Oil has caused and continues to cause our environment, it does not take away from the issue’s importance.
I call the Columbia University Committee on Socially Responsible Investment to recommend to the Trustees of Columbia University to withdraw the University’s investments from oil companies and oil related products, and reinvest them in this quest for energy-independence.
I call the Columbia University Trustees to form an advisory committee to research the University’s stake in oil and oil related products, and to provide recommendations on the optimal way the University will be able to reinvest in the alternative energy sector. The two stocks Columbia should immediately transfer funds from are Exxon Mobile Corp. of which we own 121,298 shares worth, as of June 30th, 2002, 4,963,514.16, and Nissan Mobile Corp. with 25,000 shares worth, as of June 30th, 2002, 173,118.64.
I call the Columbia Trustees to reinvest some of this money into the University’s newly created Earth Institute, and to charge the Earth Institute and our Engineering School to focus on the advancement of alternative energy sources. I call the Columbia Trustees to enable this committee to work with the University’s administration to formulate a strategy for energy self-sufficiency, harnessing the energy of renewable natural resources–including the wind and water surrounding Columbia–to meet its energy needs.
This might have seemed but a dream in the past, but, with the advance of alternative energy sources such as Gorlov Helical Turbine and wave-harnessing power generators developed in England, it is very possible that Columbia could lead the way as a non-oil consuming Institution.
Socially responsible investment in the energy sector is our responsibility as educated members of society. We should address the injustices done by our dependence on oil, and do the right thing for all of humanity by taking the mantel of leadership. As all of humanity stands at this historical gateway between the old and new worlds, we should be the ones to take the first step to make a difference for our children and our children’s children.


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