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Students at New York’s prestigious Barnard College vote to divest from Israel

April 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

University students attend a rally in solidarity with Gaza in New York, US on 11 April 2018 [Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency]

Students at Barnard College, a prestigious liberal arts institution based in New York, have voted in favour of divestment from companies complicit in Israeli occupation.

On 18 April, the Barnard College Student Government Association (SGA) announced that 64.3 per cent of voters had backed divestment, with a record high turnout for SGA elections.

The referendum asked: “Should Barnard SGA write a letter of support to the College Administration encouraging Barnard to divest from eight multinational companies (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Bank Hapoalim, Mekorot) that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?”

The referendum was an initiative of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a coalition between the student groups Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (CSJP) and Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

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In a press release, CUAD said the “results of this historic vote indicate the shifting tide of our generation against Israel’s brutal colonisation of Palestine and the apartheid practices and politics used to expand its settlement and push the Palestinian population out of their homes.”

“The message from Barnard students is clear: get our tuition dollars out of settler colonialism and its benefactors,” the statement added.

A student newspaper reported that “for students who have organised on this issue in the past, the success of the referendum represents a significant change in the campus climate, compared to just a few years ago in which pro-Palestinian groups say they faced far greater opposition from students and administrators.”

“The referendum passed by a huge margin,” said Yasmeen Abdel Majeed a member of SJP and Columbia College senior. “The university must follow through and respect the will of the student body and democratic process.”

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Lucy Danger, a JVP member at Barnard College, said the referendum outcome “shows that Zionism and opposition to Palestinian freedom does not hold the monopoly on Jewish opinion here at Barnard or elsewhere.”

CUAD said that they expect “Barnard to uphold its principles and be a moral leader for other colleges and universities”, noting how the administration has previously “led the way by divesting from companies that deny climate change”.