Condemning Israel’s “brutal” military occupation and grave human rights abuses, the Union of Students in Ireland voted to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for Palestinian rights.
The union, which represents approximately 374,000 students in higher education across the country, resolved to boycott Israeli institutions which are “complicit in normalizing, providing intellectual cover for and supporting settler-colonialism” and to lobby Irish universities to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s rights violations.
It also affirmed the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel and declared that the BDS campaign “is a strategy for effective solidarity, not a dogma or ideology and certainly not an attack upon Jewish communities or individuals.”
“The students of Ireland have today made the historic decision to support the people of Palestine,” said Michael Kerrigan, president of the Union of Students in Ireland.
The same week INTO – the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation – the largest teachers union in Ireland – unanimously adopted a motion calling on the union to address Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinian children and to develop solidarity with Palestinian schools, teachers and trade unions.
The motion also mandates union leaders to “raise the issues of the treatment of Palestinian children with the relevant government departments.”
Dorothy McGinley, chair of the union’s Northern Committee, told conference attendees about the abuse of Palestinian children detained inside Israel’s military jails, as well as Israel’s destruction of Palestinian schools and attempts to force an Israeli curriculum in Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem.
Last month, students at Trinity College Dublin voted overwhelmingly to direct the student union to adopt a “long-term policy” on Palestine in support of the BDS campaign.
Ireland has a long history of international solidarity. More than 30 years ago, Irish supermarket workers famously went on strike in support of colleagues disciplined for refusing to handle goods from apartheid South Africa.
Italian students condemn Israeli apartheid
Students leaders at the University of Pisa in Italy also adopted a motion in a near-unanimous vote last month calling for attention by the academic community toward Israel’s apartheid policies and to support the academic boycott campaign.
“We believe that universities and educational institutions should not be used to legitimize regimes such as Israel, where the fundamental rights of human beings are being trampled,” the students say.
“This is why we asked the University of Pisa to condemn this regime and reject any contracts with Israeli universities which are committed to supporting the state of apartheid imposed on the Palestinian territories,” they add.
The Pisa students noted similar campaigns in support of the BDS movement at US universities.
US divestment campaigns grow
In New York, students at the City University of New York (CUNY) have launched a divestment campaign calling on the public university system to adopt a socially responsible investment policy and dump holdings in corporations that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses.
Meanwhile, a union representing faculty working in the second-largest community college district in California passed a resolution last month backing divestment by their pension fund.
The faculty board of the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers voted nearly unanimously to urge divestment from Caterpillar, which provides equipment to the Israeli military to demolish Palestinian homes and land; and from G4S, which has helped operate Israeli prisons where Palestinians are tortured and has managed juvenile prisons, detention and deportation facilities in the US and UK.
The resolution also urges its parent union, the California Federation of Teachers, to pass a similar divestment resolution.
The resolution “reflects putting actions into practice,” said Alexander Peshkoff, a professor at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento who introduced the resolution. Peshkoff is a board member of the Los Rios College Federation.
Though he acknowledged the “uphill battle” the federation’s resolution could have as it faces resistance from its state and national affiliates, Peshkoff said that its overwhelming support by his colleagues reflects growing solidarity with Palestinian rights on US campuses.
“Unions in 2018 have to be what they have historically been, which are the partners for movements of equality and movements of championing the rights of people,” he told The Electronic Intifada.
UC Divest campaign launches
Also in California, students across the University of California system recently launched a campaign to call on the Regents, the UC’s governing body, to divest its funds from more than a dozen corporations which profit from Israel’s human rights violations.
Since 2012, eight out of the nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California have passed divestment resolutions, as has the UC Students Association, which represents all undergraduate students, as well as UAW 2865, the union representing graduate student workers.
“But [the UC] has done nothing to divest from companies that are complicit with and profit from human rights abuses in Palestine,” Robert Gardner, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, told The Electronic Intifada.
In 2014, the UC became a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations initiative.
Students note that by continuing to have holdings in corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation, the UC is in violation of its own investment policies.
Student activists launched the UC Divest campaign to coincide with last month’s meeting of the UC Regents, which took place at UCLA.
Gardner said that hundreds of students and UC workers rallied outside the meeting, demanding labor rights, protesting tuition hikes and calling for divestment.
“We’re coming together to hold the UC accountable for ignoring the voices of thousands of students and workers across the [system],” Gardner told The Electronic Intifada.
The challenge now, members of Students for Justice in Palestine said, is to “persuade the unelected body of UC Regents to heed the voices of the UC system and act to support human rights.”
Gardner said that the University of California’s historic dismissal of student demands in support of Palestinian rights echoes its reluctance in the 1980s to join the growing calls for divestment from apartheid South Africa.
The Regents were as antagonistic toward student demands to divest from South Africa as they are now against Israel, he said.
“But direct actions eventually pressured the Regents to divest in 1986,” he noted.
“We’re trying to create that movement again.”
- Union of Students in Ireland
- Irish National Teachers' Organisation
- academic boycott
- campus activism
- Trinity College Dublin
- University of Pisa
- Los Rios Federation of Teachers
- Alexander Peshkoff
- University of California
- UC Regents
- UC Divest
- Robert Gardner
- Students for Justice in Palestine