Members of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace publicly united today as Columbia University Apartheid Divest to demand that Columbia divest from eight companies that benefit from Israeli business in occupied Palestinian territories.
In a press release sent out Monday, the newly created group calls for the Columbia community to sign a petition by May 4 that demands that the University divest "its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from the State of Israel's ongoing system of settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid law." The campaign is part of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement—a global campaign that is directed toward Israel "until it complies with international law."
The group demands that the University divest from eight corporations: Caterpillar Inc., Hyundai Heavy Industries, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Elbit Systems, Mekorot, Bank Hapoalim, the Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin. CUAD charges that the Israeli Defense Forces use technology from companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
However, the selection is symbolic—CUAD does not know whether Columbia has holdings in these eight corporations. CUAD said it considers it "highly likely" that the University has a stake in all eight corporations' investments—only 10 percent of Columbia's investment portfolio is available to the public, CUAD organizer Jannine Salman, BC '17, said.
"It's a private institution, so they do not have to publicize that information, but that doesn't mean we don't have kernels here," Salman said.
A University spokesperson told Spectator in a statement that the University does not comment on specific holdings in the endowment.
CUAD organizer Shezza Dallal, BC '16, said that the group chose these eight corporations as a means of highlighting the reality of corporations profiting from the Israeli apartheid, describing the demand as a "symbolic holistic divestment" that is more of an educational opportunity for the Columbia community.
"[The eight corporations] provide an array of ways of understanding the way in which occupation is upheld and the apartheid state is maintained by corporations in many different sectors," CUAD organizer and former Deputy News Editor for Spectator Eva Kalikoff, BC '16, said.
CUAD's demand is the newest in a series of calls for divestment at Columbia. Last year, the trustees voted to divest from Columbia's direct holdings in private prison companies, making it the first university in the United States to do so. The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing is currently working on its own internal divestment proposal targeting publicly traded companies that dispute climate change, having rejected student group Columbia Divest for Climate Justice's proposal for full divestment.
Organizers with CUAD said that they have not yet decided whether they would try to compel the University to divest by submitting a proposal to ACSRI for review or through a referendum—Dallal noted that ACSRI "places a lot of burden on whoever is bringing forward the proposal to compile research. "
However, the University has maintained that in order to compel divestment, activists must submit a proposal to ACSRI for the committee's consideration.
But according to Dallal, the primary objective of CUAD's campaign is to "cultivate education and to get closer and closer to a campus community that is more aware, informed and prepared for the next steps, and willing to, on an individual level, demand accountability and responsibility from the administration."
Organizers pointed to the University's decision to divest from American companies with ties to South African apartheid in 1985 as precedent.
The debate over whether endowments should be used to make symbolic and political gestures is one that has galvanized university leaders nationwide as students press administrators to endorse a series of divestments, including those from the fossil fuel and private prison industries.
"We have this source of revenue and there are a lot of parts of the world that are not the way we would like them to be," University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview with Spectator in November. "If we start deciding that we're only going to invest in the things we like, that's going to hurt the revenues, and it will be very complicated to do these investments."
However, in instances in which the University finds an industry "so morally and ethically inconsistent" with its values, Bollinger said the University would divest.
"I'm not worried about if [divestment] is going to have a practical effect on the companies," Bollinger said. "The question to me here—is this an appropriate occasion for symbolic expression by the University? Is this inconsistent with our values? Then the University needs to take a stand."
Kalikoff highlighted Columbia Prison Divest's successful campaign, which led to divestment from G4S Secure Solutions, a company that is implicated in the "violation of Palestinian human rights through prison operations in the West Bank."
"I think we are at a moment on our campus where activism is thriving, and we're really seeing a cohesion of many different intersectional causes," Kalikoff said. "It's important to see, as we say in our statement, how systems of oppression are linked on a global scale, so we just can't exclude Palestine from that discussion."