UC sells out to apartheid

August 4, 2014

The University of Chicago will profit handsomely from a deal to sell a complex to an Israeli-based firm with ties to the apartheid state, writes Trish Kahle.

NOT EVEN more than 1,000 dead Palestinians--mercilessly slaughtered in the open-air prison that is the Gaza Strip--could slow the University of Chicago's eagerness to invest in apartheid.

On July 29, as the bombardment of Gaza reached new heights, the university signed a $112 million dollar deal to sell the Harper Court office and retail complex to the Clal Group--an Israel-based firm, whose subsidies have provided cement for illegal settlements in the West Bank and most likely for the apartheid wall as well.

The Clal Group is an investment company that owns 75 percent of Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises, and Nesher manufactures 85 percent of the cement in Israel. Nesher cement has been linked to multiple illegal West Bank settlements, Jerusalem's light-rail system, and even the apartheid wall that cuts across occupied Palestinian land like a scar. Clal also owns Golf & Co., a retail store in the West Bank settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev.

In the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, Israel demolished one of the last remaining woodland areas and, with the help of Nesher, filled the desperately needed woodland resource with Israeli-only high rises.

Israel's apartheid wall, built in part out of Nesher concrete
Israel's apartheid wall, built in part out of Nesher concrete (Adam Nieman)

It's not surprising that the University of Chicago would support apartheid Israel. In dealing with the residents of Chicago's majority-Black South Side, the university has stolen right out of the apartheid playbooks, even if on a smaller scale.

From destroying homes and displacing Black, working-class residents in order to "revitalize" the Hyde Park neighborhood where the university is located; to the refusal of the administration to open an adult trauma center at UC's hospital complex, which would save the lives of overwhelmingly poor, Black residents; to unleashing repression against protests while claiming to be a campus for free and open debate; the University of Chicago has made clear that Israeli apartheid and anti-Black racism in the U.S. are two sides of the same coin.

"DEVELOPMENT" IS a term that shrouds all sorts of crimes. When the university announced that "Clal...offers stability and experience in mixed-used commercial developments," it failed to mention that Clal's valuable experience was based in system of ethnic cleansing and colonial occupation.

In the next breath, the university noted that Harper Court would promote "economic opportunity and community amenities" to the Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods--ignoring the fact that the only opportunity that development has afforded many residents is the opportunity to leave the city entirely. From Palestine to Chicago, when they say development, we hear displacement.

Additionally, the Harper Court project has received $20 million in "tax increment financing" money. This public money was stolen from our public schools and services, and will now be used to subsidize a company that has built its reputation, quite literally, on the destroyed homes and lives of Palestinians. At any time, this deal would have been reprehensible, but given the current context of escalating savagery from Israel against the Palestinians, it is all the more unconscionable.

The Clal Group is deeply invested in Israeli apartheid and occupation, and it has no place in our city. This company, which has aided in the displacement of thousands of Palestinians, must not be allowed into Hyde Park as an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine. It must not be allowed to help with the displacement of Black South Side residents. We must not allow our tax money to subsidize a company that profits from apartheid and gentrification.

As an act of solidarity and of self-preservation, we must stand up to the University of Chicago and tell them we don't want anything to do with the Clal Group--or any company invested in Israeli apartheid.

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