Alumni Respond to Professor’s Letter Against Faculty Divestment Motion

Dear Faculty of Amherst College,

We will begin by sharing with you some of the facts that are easily available online, should you choose to search for them. Facts can be comforting in a time of crisis. They make us feel like we have something concrete to hold onto.

For instance: Rafah is a densely populated Palestinian city in the southern Gaza Strip. Before Oct. 7, it was home to about 171,000 Palestinians, including many who had been displaced by previous conflicts. Since the beginning of Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian civilians have been corralled into Rafah and southern Gaza, which was purported by the Israeli Defense Forces to be a “safe zone.” By February of this year, over 1.4 million Gazans, roughly two-thirds of Gaza’s population, had been displaced into this same small area. The Israeli military is now relentlessly bombing this region and threatening both a siege and a large-scale ground invasion. The occupation army wields American-made weapons, drives American-made tanks, and drops tons upon tons of American-made bombs.

The near-total destruction of Gaza is continuously and shamefully laundered by the American press and media at large. News outlets downplay the violence of Israel’s 75-year occupation and genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people, casting the Israeli apartheid state and the indigenous resistance as two sides of an evenly matched conflict. This conflict is not evenly matched; it is a massacre of an indigenous people by a militarized occupying force, backed up by a blank check from the United States treasury.

The precise Palestinian death toll from the past seven months of this genocide is impossible to precisely determine because the Palestinian Ministry of Health, along with all of Gaza’s health and nearly all civilian infrastructure — including every university — has been leveled by the occupation. As of this writing, approximately 34,262 Palestinians are confirmed to have been murdered by the Israeli military, most of them women and children. The real death toll is likely much higher, as thousands of bodies still lie buried under the rubble of bombed-out buildings. Recently, a search through the rubble at the destroyed Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis uncovered three mass graves containing almost 400 bodies, some of them still wearing surgical gowns.

Many people of conscience in the U.S. oppose this violence. Contrary to the prevailing narrative in the media, many of us are Jewish people who do not wish to see this genocide carried out supposedly in our name. Unfortunately, those of us who are committed to advocating against genocide and the military-industrial complex must contend with the likes of James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought Lawrence Douglas. Douglas, in a letter to the head of the Faculty Executive Committee, spectacularly fails to understand this historical moment, instead downplaying the global mass working people’s movement to end Israeli settler colonialism as “division” that can only play out rhetorically and procedurally. This limited worldview fails to include the fact that it is concrete actions by Palestinians and their allies that have brought us to our current political and cultural reckoning.

Those who are complicit in and seek to normalize the status quo would draw our attention away from Gaza and into the safe and comfortable realm of theory, where we might discuss the so-called “complexity” of the situation at our leisure; meanwhile, bombs are falling, mass graves are being uncovered, and over a million people are on the verge of an entirely preventable famine. The time to hedge, dissect, and prevaricate was yesterday. The time to act is now.

In response to the faculty letter calling for a divestment vote, Douglas writes, “What does this motion invite us to discuss? Whether Israel has committed war crimes and acts of atrocity? Clearly, we are not qualified to do so.”

It is unfortunate that someone who makes his living as a scholar feels he is unqualified to grasp the basic facts of a genocidal campaign waged by settlers against an indigenous population with the express purpose of removing them from their land in order to clear it for settlement. If Douglas truly needs a governing body to tell him what his opinion ought to be, we are happy to point him to the 1970 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2625, which explicitly endorses a right to resist ”subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.” We are glad that this statute exists, and that even 50 years ago, there was such a clear global consensus about the right of an oppressed people to mount an organized resistance against their oppressors. That being said, the people of Gaza and the Palestinian people need no legal statute to justify their resistance. The reality of genocide against Palestinians is clear to all people of conscience, including the many members of the faculty of Amherst College who have called for the divestment vote.

Palestinian labor groups have explicitly called for workers to refuse to continue arming Israel in any way possible, including stopping the flow of money to arms dealers. This is a concrete means by which to sanction the Israeli army and make their genocidal campaign, if not completely impossible, at the very least more difficult to carry out. The admittedly unqualified Douglas has some notes on the tactic of divestment and boycott. “Let’s be clear,” Douglas reassures us, “A vote in support will do nothing to save Palestinian lives.” We are left to conclude, we suppose, that doing nothing would somehow be better than doing something. If a vote in support of allocating less money towards bombing Palestinians does nothing in the way of saving Palestinian lives, then what other actions can we possibly take?

Douglas continues, “[A vote in support] will simply serve as virtue signaling and make us look like a privileged and naive group of scholars passing judgment.” In light of this bewildering statement, we are left wondering: who, if not a group of scholars like Douglas, is supposed to pass judgment on a genocide? Is it not scholars like Douglas who supposedly spend their lives studying social thought and its applications in order to draw meaningful conclusions about conflicts such as this one? Douglas, when you wrote about making law and history in the trials of the Holocaust, were you speaking metaphorically?

We, alumni of Amherst College, call on the faculty to vote in support of divestment. We encourage those in favor of normalization and complicity to continue to write letters detailing the extent of their naivety and privilege as bombs continue to fall on Gaza.


Amherst College Alumni for Palestine