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Calls for divestiture from Israel and comparisons between the occupation of the West Bank and South African apartheid characterized the first day of the Palestine Solidarity Movement's (PSM) annual conference at Georgetown University.
The conference is taking place under heavy security, but, while in the past years the PSM conferences drew crowds of protesters, this time there was no sign of protest around the Georgetown campus.
Several hundred student activists came to the conference, which is focusing on ways to convince US universities, religious groups and local communities to pull out their investments from projects that involve Israel, from pension plans that include Israeli assets and from US firms that conduct business with Israel.
"Divestment is becoming part of the mainstream in the United States," said PSM spokesman Nadeem Muaddi. According to Muaddi, five years after the movement launched its campaign to divest from Israel, there are more than 100 universities discussing the idea.
Yet pro-Israeli activists point out that the divestment movement has failed to get even one large body to withdraw its investment from Israel. The only organization that has approved a divestment resolution, the Presbyterian Church USA, has not implemented it.
"We believe it is a matter of time before major US universities, including Georgetown, will decide to divest," said Bayann Hamid, the head of PSM at Georgetown, who points out that since Georgetown is a Jesuit university, it is would be easier to promote the idea of divestment as adhering to the Catholic principles.
But Georgetown president John DeGioia made a clear statement last month that the university will not join any attempt to divest from Israel.
The conference took a much mellower tone than in former years. Activists admit that disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the strengthening of the political center in Israel made their campaign more difficult.