Calling for a CAT-free commencement

June 14, 2013

Peter Brannan reports on a planned protest at University of Washington's graduation.

Find a cause...something to save, something to free. And when you have found that cause, don't hide behind a twitter handle, speak out. Take action and never let it be said you were an anonymous blogger, too timid to be counted, too weak to stand by your cause."
-- Jon Huntsman, 2013 Commencement Address, Weber State University

THE COMMENCEMENT speaker at the University of Washington (UW) this year is Jon Huntsman. Best known these days for his outsider campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Huntsman has another prominent title: member of the board of directors of heavy equipment maker Caterpillar, which has been a target of protests for selling bulldozers used by the Israeli government to demolish Palestinian homes and property.

More than 100 organizations, student groups and faculty around the Pacific Northwest have come together to "take action" over a cause, as Huntsman suggested in his earlier speech. But Huntsman may not have expected him to find himself the target of such action.

In an open letter to Huntsman with a growing list of signatories, SUPER UW (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights) and the Rachel Corrie Foundation expressed their concerns over Huntsman's connection with CAT:

For decades, CAT has sold specially militarized equipment to the government of Israel used in the systematic demolition of Palestinian homes, the death and injury of unarmed Palestinian and international civilians, the uprooting of olive trees and destruction of agricultural land, and the expropriation of Palestinian territory through the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements and a separation-annexation wall.

Amnesty International, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have all reported on and denounced Israel's breaches of international humanitarian law and CAT's complicity in human rights violations. The CAT brand and its bulldozers have become a symbol of destruction in Palestine.

CAT's responses to this overwhelming evidence have been inadequate and contrary to its own Code of Worldwide Business Conduct. CEO Doug Oberhelman has said, "How our customers use [the bulldozers] is their business. We can't stop them." But CAT designs the bulldozers to be weaponized. CAT has a choice. The corporation has a moral and legal responsibility to cease sales of CAT equipment used in a clear pattern of human rights abuses by the Israeli government and military.

In 2003, Rachel Corrie, a nonviolent human rights activist and observer, and Washington state resident, was killed by a Caterpillar D9R bulldozer (operated by an Israeli soldier) as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family's home in the Gaza Strip. A student at the Evergreen State College, Rachel did not live to attend her own graduation in June 2003. Numerous Palestinian civilians have also been killed when their homes were collapsed upon them by D9s.

We request that Jon Huntsman meet with UW representatives and the Corrie family to learn about the concerns of the Washington State and UW communities and to convey these to fellow Caterpillar Inc. board members. We are eager to share the profound impact the company could have by suspending sales to the Israeli military--implementing due diligence in their sales to any customer, until guarantees are received that their equipment will not be used to violate international law or commit human rights abuses.

The letter also asks Huntsman to meet with representatives of the Rachel Corrie Foundation and other signatories in order to discuss these grievances. Refusing such a basic request would seem antithetical to Huntsman's own advice to the graduating students at Weber University.

Graduating University of Washington students who are willing to speak out against the human rights abuses of Caterpillar are adding their photographs, names and graduating class to the SUPER UW's Tumblr site to show their support. Graduating seniors will also be congratulated outside of Century Link Field before commencement this Saturday with fliers including more information about CAT's role in Palestine and a message to hold up during Huntsman's speech, reading "Huntsman, it's time. CAT out of Palestine!"

Graduating Senior Aaron Lerner, who co-authored a letter in last week's UW Daily titled "Not all Jewish Huskies are 'For Israel,'" was excited about the event at graduation: "As a graduating senior, I just want my university to invest symbolically and literally in companies that fall in line with the ethical values of the UW, companies that respect international human rights norms."

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