Barnard students vote for divestment

Students at Columbia University and Barnard College continue to build support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. (Columbia SJP)

In a major victory for the Palestinian rights movement on US college campuses, students at Barnard College in New York City voted nearly two-thirds in favor of a referendum supporting divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s human rights violations.

Barnard, a partner of Columbia University, is a prestigious women’s college with a large Jewish student population.

Students say that despite attempts to influence votes against the referendum, including multiple alleged violations of campaigning rules and smears accusing supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement of anti-Semitism, more than 64 percent of voters approved the referendum whose results were announced on 18 April.

The result is significant “because it shows we’ve actually made inroads in a campus whose climate has been naturally hostile to us,” Hassan El Tinay, a member of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, told The Electronic Intifada.

“It also shows us the immense amount of support that has been growing for Palestine around campuses in the country,” he said.

El Tinay added that growing student support for the BDS movement and Palestinian rights is “also a reaction to the Israeli state’s inability to maintain a liberal facade” as Israel expands its settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights and continues its siege and attacks on Gaza, while top officials engage in genocidal rhetoric.

Last month, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Columbia-Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace, under the banner of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, asked the Barnard Student Government Association to write a letter to the administration urging it to divest from Caterpillar, Hyundai, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, Bank Hapoalim and Mekorot, Israel’s state water corporation that plunders Palestinian resources.

Following the meeting, the student government decided to hold a referendum on whether it should recommend the divestment call to the administration.

Though the referendum measure was approved, the student government still has to vote next week on whether it will write to the administration, according to the Columbia Spectator.

Students are looking forward to “making our case about the complicity of these [companies] in Palestinian human rights violations” and ways Barnard can re-invest those funds, El Tinay said.

Israel advocacy organizations are already complaining about the results of the referendum.

“Unsubstantiated” claims

The referendum result comes in spite of recent and historic attempts by the administration and Israel lobby groups to bully, intimidate and smear students and faculty supportive of Palestinian rights at Columbia University and Barnard College.

Earlier this month, Columbia dismissed a lengthy complaint against Columbia University Apartheid Divest by Students Supporting Israel, a national campus organization which is backed by Israel lobby groups and has ties to the Israeli government.

The complaint alleged that campus speech supporting Palestinian rights violated New York criminal law, civil law and university rules, according to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

SJP notes that since 2016, Students Supporting Israel has filed “several complaints against professors and students for speech critical of Israeli policies” but every complaint has been dismissed.

In 2014, under apparent pressure from Israel-aligned groups, Barnard administrators removed a banner with the words “Stand for Justice in Palestine” that had been placed by Columbia SJP.

Four years after that suppression of speech, Barnard students “have given our college administration an opportunity to right this wrong – to cultivate a campus culture that is diverse, socially responsible and that stands with Palestinians on the right side of history,” said Caroline Oliver, a Barnard member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Meanwhile, more than 50 student groups at nearby New York University publicly pledged their support for BDS earlier this month.

Students say that they will participate in the boycott of Israeli products, as well as academic institutions and conferences sponsored by the Israeli government, while “committing to continually recognizing indigenous land and sovereignty.”

They also announced that they will refuse to co-sponsor events with Zionist or pro-Israel groups and are calling on the NYU administration to divest its holdings in companies that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses.

“We are proud to be a part of this struggle for justice,” the groups say.

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).