By Daniel Kaplan
On a warm summer day this past June, dozens of activists took to the streets to march on TIAA-CREF, a retirement plan provider that provides “financial services for the greater good.” A diverse group of students, retirees, and human rights activists demanded that TIAA-CREF divest from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
As part of my fellowship with AFSC, I organized this rally and others like it every month for a year and a half. From balmy to freezing weather conditions, costumes and street theater, every demonstration is different. More than any other demonstration I’ve organized, the June vigil stands out to me.
On this vigil, we had the privilege of featuring Palestinian activist Abir Kopty, joining us on the Chicago leg of her U.S. tour. With a megaphone in hand, Abir affirmed our action and told us that our divestment efforts matter in the struggle against occupation and oppression.
Students and shareholders also spoke that day, demonstrating the diversity and strength of our coalition for divestment. It was incredibly meaningful for me to see speakers at the demonstration representing communities from all areas of my work: students, peace activists, and Palestinians.
I’ve spent this past year with AFSC as the Robert Clark Trust fellow, working in Chicago for the Middle East Program. My job has largely revolved around working with student and community groups in divestment campaigns against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Inspired by campaigns against South African apartheid, these groups use economic activism to pressure corporations to end business practices that violate Palestinians’ basic human rights.
Palestinians face a long list of human rights violations under Israel’s military occupation, including systematic home demolitions, a system of segregated roads, a paralyzing system of military checkpoints, mass incarceration, and militarized violence. By applying pressure on the corporations that profit from these abuses, we are driving them out of the occupation business and building a movement to end a brutal military occupation.
It has been an absolute privilege to work for peace and justice with AFSC under this fellowship. Since I first learned of AFSC three and a half years ago, I have been fully supportive of the organization’s commitment to principled pacifism and the pursuit of universal human rights.
I grew up in a Jewish community that views social justice and standing with the oppressed as a primary tenet of Judasim. Those values remain strong in me today, and inform my work challenging Israel’s military occupation. Because most Jewish institutions discourage criticism of Israel, I struggled for a long time to find a space that would validate my principles of just peace for all people, no matter how controversial the situation.
I felt incredibly lucky to discover AFSC my senior year, an organization that has stood by its work regardless of political controversy. From interned Japanese Americans to civilians in North Vietnam to asylum seekers from Central America, AFSC has consistently advocated for everyone’s entitlement to freedom, justice, and equality. AFSC’s principled stance inspired me to reach out to the organization, and by the time of my graduation I had decided that I wanted to work in AFSC’s Middle East program.
When I graduated college in 2010, I became an intern in AFSC’s Chicago office. I continued to work with AFSC in a part-time capacity until I received my fellowship. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with AFSC in a full-time capacity. Because of this fellowship, I have been able to dedicate a year of my life towards a justice issue with deep personal meaning.
I have been very fortunate to work in an environment where I feel incredibly valued and supported. I especially owe thanks and gratitude to my supervisor, Jennifer Bing. Since day one, Jennifer has treated me with the utmost respect. She has always taken my questions and concerns seriously, and made me feel appreciated for the work I contribute to her program. Jennifer created an incredibly nurturing work environment, and it has allowed me to develop into an independent and capable organizer. Though I only have one more month left in my fellowship, I will always view Jennifer as a professional and personal mentor.
AFSC has been so much more than a job for me. It has been the most important learning and development experience of my life. I’m incredibly indebted to AFSC for the values and organizing skills that I’ve learned through this fellowship. I sincerely hope that this is not the end of my relationship with AFSC. Whether in future employment or as a supporter, I hope that AFSC will always be a part of my life.