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Divestment as Tzedaka

The Torah mandates that every Jew give a portion of her harvest to the poor as a form of tzedaka (Leviticus 19:9-10). Whereas our ancestors reaped their annual harvest, many people today reap the dividends from their annual investments. If the Torah were written in 2007, I would imagine that there might be whole chapters devoted to how to invest ethically in the stock market instead of chapters dedicated to how to leave the grapes on the ground for your hungry neighbors to gather.

Many people think of tzedaka as a positive act of giving money to an organization or a person in need. However, the word Tzedeka comes from the word tzedek, meaning justice. Therefore, the act of withdrawing your money from offending companies is certainly an act of tzedaka.

Although there are no specific commandments in the Torah decreeing, “thou shalt only invest in companies that have no ties to genocide,” many people have decided to divest from companies that are funding the genocide in Darfur through supporting the Government of Sudan. Genocide is an expensive venture and the Government of Sudan depends on foreign investments to carryout its heinous crimes. Foreign direct investment helps fuel Sudan’s oil industry and a shocking 70% of the oil revenues fund Sudanese military expenditures, including the genocide in Darfur. By removing funds from companies in Sudan, you are pinching the Government of Sudan’s purse and preventing them from carrying out their atrocities. This approach is promising because the Government of Sudan has historically been more responsive to economic pressure than it has been to political pressure.

But which companies should states, cities and individuals divest from? The Sudan Divestment has identified companies that meet the negative criteria of (a) having a business relationship with the Government of Sudan (b) not significantly benefiting underprivileged Sudanese people and (c) not establishing a corporate governance policy regarding the genocide in Darfur. By identifying companies on the basis of these three criteria, the Sudan Divestment Task Force hopes to avoid the unintended consequences of divestment, including unemployment for the innocent civilian population.

Divestment as a form of tzedeka has found many supporters. For example, 20 states, 9 cities, 54 universities, and countless individuals have divested from companies that are indirectly supporting genocide.

If you want to get involved with this powerful movement, you can join your state and city’s divestment campaigns (or thank your Governor for divesting if he or she already has). If you are a student, you can join or start your school’s divestment campaign. If you are an investor, you can make your own investments free from the offending companies of the Task Force’s targeted list by screening your investment portfolio.

The 21st century has complexities that the Torah could not have anticipated. However, the underlying teaching of the Torah is “justice, justice, justice shall you pursue.” Divesting from offending companies in Sudan is one way you can pursue justice by helping to end this atrocious genocide.

–Sophie Glass

© 2011 Lilith Magazine