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‘Complicit in genocide’: A look at the BDS movement targeting UH

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

Last month, University of Houston’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine revived their Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign on campus. The UH BDS movement is a part of the global effort that began in 2005 and parallels the movement on campuses all around the country.

“It is a movement that is global and worldwide which began in 2005 and probably prior to that in an unofficial capacity that brings attention to the occupation of historic Palestine by the modern state of Israel,” middle eastern studies program director Emran El-Badawi said.

The BDS movement calls for people to boycott divest and sanction, the state of Israel itself and all businesses, entities, persons and interests that benefit the state of Israel, he said.

The SJP campaign calls for the University to divest from companies involved in the state of Israel and the replacement for food chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and Sabra on campus. The revival of the BDS campaign comes after protests held by SJP in December calling for the removal of Starbucks and McDonalds from campus.

“The responsibility also extends to the companies the University of Houston platforms on campus including McDonalds, Starbucks, and Sabra who have supported, silenced opposition to, or directly funded violent brigades of the Israeli army,” SJP said in a social media post.

In addition to boycotting the products of companies that are allegedly involved in funding or supporting Israel, SJP has also called for students to refuse to intern or work for companies that supply the Israeli military with weapons.

Among calls for boycott, the organization is also asking UH to divest from companies that: “benefit from Israeli occupation and genocide of Palestine, including the aforementioned weapons manufacturers.”

Since 2016 UH has invested over $7 million in arms manufacturing and Israeli companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Electric and Raytheon that have been complacent in funding Israel, according to a social media post by SJP. 

With UH’s large and diverse population, students like biochemical and biophysical sciences senior Rael Memnon find the University’s continued support for these entities to be a slap in the face.

“I think it’s hypocritical if we have those stores here because they are very complicit in the genocide of Palestinians and we have a huge Palestinian population in Houston. And we want to make everyone feel at home here,” Memnon said.

For a school that supposedly stands for the diversity of its student population, by continuing to invest in these companies UH is not standing up for its values, Memnon said.

“Are you really the school that thrives on saying we welcome everyone and we thrive on diversity? Because if you’re doing that, you’re going against the very value that we just sell our school for,” Memnon said.

In the 2024 Student Government Association election, more than 60% of the students voted for the removal of Starbucks and McDonalds from campus and for the Creation of Palestine Rights and Liberation Action Committee.

This is not the first time SGA has shown solidarity with SJP. In 2022, SGA and UH Divest passed a resolution that asked UH to cease their involvement with multiple weapons manufacturing companies.

Texas has anti-boycott laws that prohibit state agencies and Governmental entities from contracting business from companies that boycott energy companies, discriminating against firearm entities or associations or boycott Israel. These are the three things that are cherry picked by the attorney general and the state of Texas that have aligned themselves with the conservative political platform, El-Badawi said.

“So, if there’s any business or individual that is gonna boycott those three things, that’s  illegal, that’s against the law essentially,” El-Badawi said. “The two parallel each other, BDS is a global movement to divest from Israel, and then we have Texas no boycott laws, which are meant to essentially protect Israel.”

The revival of the BDS campaign came after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israeli onslaught in Gaza.

In Gaza at least 31,988 people have been killed and  74,188 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack on Oct.7 and says that 251 soldiers have been killed since it started its military operation in Gaza.

“As any institution with conscience, UH also has an ethical responsibility to divest from weapons manufacturers and Israeli companies as they actively commit these heinous crimes of genocide and apartheid,” SJP said in an Instagram post. 

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