The president of Georgetown University has unequivocally rejected divesting from Israel, just a month before a conference with that goal comes to the District campus.
In his opening remarks at his annual "town hall meeting" with faculty last Friday, Georgetown President John DeGioia said that he has been asked recently if he will consider the call of the Palestine Solidarity Movement ? which will hold its conference at Georgetown from Feb. 17-19 ? to divest from the Jewish state.
"The answer to that question is no," he said. "I do not support divestment from Israel."
DeGioia said that the "appropriate way" for Georgetown to address the situation in the Middle East is through "dialogue, research and intellectual discovery."
He then dismissed the comparison between Israel and South Africa that the PSM, among others, has made.
DeGioia said he was "deeply involved" in the issues surrounding divestment from South Africa in the 1980s, and "speaking personally, I do not feel that the practice of apartheid is comparable to the complex set of issues involving many parties in the Middle East."
DeGioia's remarks were released by the university's communications office and are posted on the school's Web site.
The day before his divestment remarks, DeGioia defended the university's decision to host the conference in a meeting with students. According to the student newspaper The Hoya, DeGioia said that the school's policy on speech and expression makes it clear that Georgetown's decision to hold the gathering does not necessarily mean that it endorses the group's message.
"We believe the best response to controversial, even offensive speech, is more speech," the paper quoted DeGioia as saying.
The divestment statement pleased both local Jewish leaders and Georgetown pro-Israel students.
"The university statement is a devastating blow to the divestment movement and those inappropriately comparing apartheid in South Africa to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute today," said American Jewish Committee Washington-area director David Bernstein.
Anti-Defamation League Washington regional director David Friedman praised DeGioia for being "direct and forthright" in his rejection of divestment.
"It expresses very clearly where the university stands on this," said Friedman, who along with Bernstein met last Friday with Georgetown officials to discuss Jewish community concerns about the conference.
Both came away from the meeting satisfied that the school, said Friedman, has been "doing a lot of the right things" prior to the event. These include, he said, "taking appropriate steps on security" and ensuring that the PSM would not be able to restrict access to the conference.
DeGioia's statement came three days after he met with close to a dozen students who went on Birthright Israel trips to the Jewish state over winter break. The Georgetown president had also recently returned from a trip to Israel, spending a few days there last month meeting with leaders of Israeli universities to discuss increased study abroad.
DeGioia and the students shared notes on the trip, and also discussed the PSM conference. While students at the meeting said DeGioia did not state his view on divestment at the time, some said they got the impression DeGioia was uncomfortable with PSM's agenda. They encouraged him to express his feelings publicly about the conference.
Jewish Student Association president Scott Weinstein said DeGioia's trip to Israel demonstrated his support for the Jewish state.
The meeting, Weinstein said, "helped him to realize there are concerns in the Jewish community about the conference."
"We're very pleased [with DeGioia's statement] because we knew he felt that way but didn't know if the entire campus knew he felt that way," said Weinstein, a senior. "It was important for him to say that."
Senior Jonathan Aires, chair of the spring 2006 "IFest" ? the pro-Israel initiative planned for this semester ? added that he was pleased that DeGioia not only was "speaking up" about his opposition to divestment, but also had taken positive steps to build a cooperative relationship with Israel through his December trip.
"We've felt a little under siege," said sophomore and Georgetown Israeli Alliance president Greg Goldberg. DeGioia's statement "says a lot about where the school stands."
Meanwhile, a PSM spokesperson, said that the organization believes DeGioia is "mistaken."
"We respect his opinion, but we're going to keep pressuring for divestment on Georgetown's campus," said PSM spokesperson Nadeem Muaddi, adding that the group sees "similarities" between South African apartheid and Israel today and that perhaps DeGioia "doesn't know enough" about the current situation in the Middle East.