The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has recorded a double victory within the space of a week after two American universities passed resolutions calling for divestment from Israel.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Columbia University have joined the rank of a number of other higher education institutions to take a stand against what activists have denounced as complicity with Israel's practice of apartheid.
The student body at Columbia University passed a referendum on Tuesday that was drafted by Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a group that was formed in 2016. The referendum asked: "Should Columbia University divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel's acts towards Palestinians, that according to Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), fall under the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid?"
Sixty-one per cent the university's student body voted in favour of divesting from companies that are complicit in Israeli crimes against Palestinians, some 27 per cent rejected the resolution while a further 11 per cent abstained, according to figures published by the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
Despite the overwhelming support for the Israel divestment bill, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger released a statement distancing the university from the resolution. "The University should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue," said Bollinger.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign passed a similar resolution six days earlier calling for divestment from a number of companies over their involvement in human rights abuses in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Companies mentioned in the resolution — titled "Human Rights Violations in University Investments and Police Forces" — included Northrop Grumman, Raytheon Company, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Elbit Systems.
The resolution passed by 22-11 margin, with seven abstentions.
"This victory means a lot to me, both as a Palestinian and as a UIUC student," UIUC student and resolution co-author Buthaina Hattab is reported saying. "There is rampant anti-Palestinian racism among students and faculty, which is emboldened and protected by the university administration."
Commenting on the victories, the BDS Movement's North America coordinator Olivia Katbi said: "These campus BDS victories are indicative of the rapidly changing tide we're seeing across the United States."