For student Palestine solidarity activists around the globe, 2014 was a year of victories, challenges and creative resistance.
In the US, students took on university administrators who had bent to pressure from Israel lobby groups. They held momentous divestment resolutions demanding that their universities pull investments from companies profiting from Israel’s human rights violations. Students led direct actions in response to Israel’s summer assault on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, schools, mosques and other buildings.
They rallied in support of Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh when she was persecuted by the US government. They joined anti-police brutality protests in Ferguson, New York City and Oakland, making important connections.
Students have become a forceful voice of consciousness in human rights movements from the US to Palestine.
Here is a list of the top fifteen times US students stood up for human rights, free speech, academic freedom and their rights to organize for Palestine in 2014.
15. Demanded the rehire of professor Steven Salaita
Students held sit-ins and protests to demand that the University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees rehire professor Steven Salaita. In late August, Salaita was told he was fired from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the university’s Urbana-Champaign campus following a media campaign targeting him because of his criticism of Israel.
14. Supported Palestinian American leader Rasmea Odeh
When the US government began its political persecution of 67-year-old Rasmea Odeh, students took an integral part in organizing rallies, protests and support mobilizations in Chicago and Detroit — where the trial was held — to demand her freedom.
Odeh’s conviction stems from her failure to disclose in an immigration form her 1969 conviction in an Israeli military court for a role in two bombings. Odeh has consistently stated that the conviction was based on a confession Israeli interrogators extracted through prolonged torture and sexual assault.
13. Demanded action against Amcha spying in California
Students in California launched a petition calling on the University of California’s governing body to take action against the spy network of the pro-Israel Amcha Initiative and its co-founder, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.
The effort, launched in light of documents exclusively revealed by The Electronic Intifada in January, urged administrators to condemn and investigate Amcha’s ongoing attacks on UC student and faculty privacy and First Amendment rights.
12. Got Wesleyan University to dump Sabra hummus
In November, all Sabra brand hummus products were pulled from Wesleyan University dining locations. The Middletown, Connecticut, university’s Dining Service Committee agreed to remove the controversial brand after months of mounting pressure from student activists. Sabra is a frequent target for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns because it is partially owned by the Israeli company Strauss Foods, which actively supports the Golani brigade, an “elite” unit in the Israeli army which is responsible for grave human rights abuses. (Following a backlash, Wesleyan administrators said Sabra would be reintroduced, along with an alternative, in order to give students a “choice”).
11. Did the “blood bucket challenge”
Outraged by Israel’s summer attacks on Gaza, Ohio University student senate president Megan Marzec decided to remix the mainstream “ice bucket challenge” people were doing to raise money for ALS medical research.
Subverting the meme, as Palestinians have done with their own “rubble bucket challenge,” she called for the end to Israel’s occupation and in support of the BDS movement. Two days later, Marzec said that she started receiving death and rape threats included in “thousands of hate emails” to her personal email account and on social media.
10. Slammed collaboration with Israeli academia
New York City area chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and other student organizations admonished the City University of New York interim chancellor after he condemned an academic boycott resolution recently passed by the American Studies Association.
In a sharply-worded open letter, fourteen student groups from across the city said that the interim chancellor, William P. Kelly, “do[es] not speak for many of the students, faculty and staff members of the City University of New York,” and meticulously corrected “the misrepresentations that appeared” in his statement condemning the academic boycott of Israel.
9. Pressed for a boycott of SodaStream at Harvard
In December, campus food services administrators at Harvard University agreed to remove the SodaStream label from equipment in their dining halls and not to make any new purchases from the company, prompting opposition and an investigation from top Harvard University officials.
The decision to boycott SodaStream came after a series of meetings with faculty and concerned students to discuss the implications of using a product manufactured in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank. Israeli-owned company SodaStream has become a high-profile target for the BDS movement as it operates its main factory in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone of the Israeli settlement Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank.
8. Challenged the discriminatory Birthright Israel program
Palestinian students at Loyola University Chicago peacefully challenged other students promoting Taglit-Birthright Israel, a program which sends Jewish young adults on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel to encourage affinity with Zionism.
On 9 September, approximately fifteen Palestinian students decided to “peacefully line up at the Taglit-Birthright table and ask if they, as Palestinians whose families were expelled from villages inside present-day Israel, could also register for a Birthright trip,” the students wrote in a press release.
The pro-Israel students promoting the Birthright program immediately (and typically) claimed that they were being “harassed” and “threatened” by the Palestinian students, sparking an internal university investigation. The Palestinian students involved were eventually sanctioned with probation and “dialogue training.”
7. Sat-in to support divestment in Ann Arbor
In March, student Palestine solidarity activists led an enormous effort to press for divestment at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor through the student government. After the student government’s decision to indefinitely table its vote on divestment, student activists organized a sustained sit-in protest with demands that their elected leaders rescind their decision and participate in a divestment teach-in, among others.
Several weeks later, the student government at the University of Michigan-Dearborn passed a resolution calling for the creation of an advisory committee to investigate companies eligible for divestment because of occupation profiteering.
6. “Divestapalooza” as student governments joined BDS
In 2014, a wave of pro-divestment resolutions continued to roll.
In March, students at Loyola University Chicago celebrated the passing of a divestment bill (for the second time) in their student government. In late April, the student senate at the University of California at Riverside voted to support a resolution calling on the university to pull its investments from US companies profiting from Israel’s occupation.
The vote was held during a night of simultaneous divestment hearings held at three University of California campuses, dubbed a “Divestapalooza” by student activists. UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University held votes on divestment, but only the one at UC Riverside passed.
A few days later, graduate students at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting from human rights violations in occupied Palestine and at the US-Mexico border. In May, student representatives at Wesleyan University voted to support divestment from companies profiting from Israeli military occupation in Palestine.
On 23 May, students at DePaul University in Chicago voted in favor of a referendum calling for divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s human rights violations. And about a week later, the student government at the University of California at Santa Cruz also passed a divestment resolution.
5. Helped block Israeli boats from unloading cargoes
On 28 October, San Francisco Bay Area activists organizing to block the unloading of Israeli shipping vessels declared their most significant victory yet: Israel’s Zim Integrated Shipping Services appeared to have canceled all future shipments to the Oakland Port. Students were highly involved in the effort.
At the peak of Israel’s brutal summer bombardment of Gaza, the Bay Area’s Arab Resource and Organizing Center mobilized the community in response to the military assault. Deciding to focus on a tangible, highly-visible and big-money target, the group set its sights on Israel’s Zim lines, determined to block the company every time it tried to dock a ship at the busy Port of Oakland.
4. Voted in a union to boycott Israel
Student workers belonging to UAW Local 2865 voted by a landslide in December to support the Palestinian-led BDS campaign. The union represents 13,000 student workers in the University of California system. The vote represents the first major US union to join the BDS movement by member vote.
More than half of voting members also voluntarily pledged to respect the academic boycott, personally refusing to take part in any “research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored” by Israeli institutions.
3. Beat spin doctors at UCLA to pass divestment
In November, UCLA became the sixth undergraduate campus in the University of California system to pass a divestment resolution. Alex Kane reported for Mondoweiss in October that UCLA’s Hillel chapter had hired a public relations firm to fight BDS campaigns on the UCLA campus.
Working from a series of leaked emails, Kane reported that PR firm 30 Point — which has close ties to right-wing Israel advocacy organizations in Washington — advised Hillel to “minimize coverage” of BDS campaigns. UCLA student activists exemplified the power of grassroots student organizing and made history.
2. Joined Black liberation struggles
As protests continue to spread across US cities in opposition to state-sponsored oppression by police forces against people of color, student Palestine solidarity activists joined local and national coalitions in the streets.
As Rania Khalek reported for The Electronic Intifada in December, there is a “growing bond between the African American and Palestinian liberation struggles, largely because it is increasingly apparent that their oppressors are working together.”
Nearly every major US law enforcement agency “has traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement … Since Michael Brown’s death, [Israeli-trained police] have on several occasions rampaged through the streets of St. Louis,” she reported.
1. Reinstated a suspended SJP chapter
In early March, the Northeastern University’s administration — under pressure from off-campus anti-Palestinian groups — suspended the local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter. Students had distributed mock eviction leaflets on campus, a popular direct action many Palestine solidarity groups undertake during the annual Israeli Apartheid Week to raise awareness about Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes.
The administration even launched a police investigation against two of the students involved in the mock eviction action with charges that could have led to suspension or expulsion. The threat of expulsion was rescinded after an outpouring of condemnation by Northeastern SJP activists and supporters across the US. Rallying support from student groups, civil rights organizations and legal advocacy groups, Northeastern’s SJP members continued to organize and hold direct actions shaming the university for its violations of freedom of speech and bending to pressure from outside racist groups.
On 22 April, the group was informed that it was reinstated and was given even more funding for educational events than was available before the suspension.
“Although historically our side has been the one that’s been marginalized and powerless against this sort of arbitrary punishment, the tide is turning and the university is now afraid of both [Zionist political groups] and SJP,” Northeastern student and SJP member Tori Porell remarked. “It’s starting to be more equivalent.”
Here’s to another year of victories for student activists in 2015.