Earlham College students organize for divestment
Can changing hummus change the world?
This may seem like a lot to ask of the tasty concoction of garbanzo beans, tahini, and garlic, but to several Earlham College students dedicated to promoting peace and justice for the people of Palestine and Israel, hummus is the perfect place to start.
The hummus served at Earlham, a Quaker college in Richmond, Ind., is made by Sabra. Sabra’s parent company, Strauss Group LTD, provides support for the Israeli military’s enforcement of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
During a summer workshop on student activism and organizing for divestment, students from 17 U.S. colleges, including Earlham, shared successes and challenges and built their organizing skills.
Like Earlham, many colleges invest in corporations that profit from or contribute to the occupation, so AFSC’s Middle East program started these trainings for college students last year as part of its “We Divest” campaign.
AFSC’s Jennifer Bing, one of the facilitators at this summer’s training, explains that Sabra’s connection to the occupation is not as strong as that of companies like TIAA-CREF—a major provider of retirement plans for universities—which invests over $2 billion in corporations that profit from the occupation.
But the visibility of the Sabra brand in Earlham’s campus coffee shop made it a good place to start.
Back on campus in September, students and a faculty member persuaded the campus dining services—managed by a contractor, Sodexho, Inc.—to drop the use of Sabra brand hummus. It stayed off the shelves for about 20 days, but came back due to pressure on Sept. 25.
It’s a disappointment for the students involved, but certainly not the end of the road.
The group Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Earlham is urging Earlham to divest from larger companies that profit from the occupation, including Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard.
One of its members, Basil Farraj, says he understands the challenges involved and expects more pushback. Yet he speaks with hope earned from extensive organizing on campus, including “Storm the Dorm” events in which students educate each other about the need for divestment.
A Palestinian from Jerusalem, Basil sees this work as “one way of resisting the occupation while living abroad.” He adds, “We’re part of a global, just, and humanitarian cause.”
Changing a hummus brand won’t save the world. But as Basil knows, changing attitudes will.