Barnard’s Student Government Association sent a letter urging administrators to divest from eight companies with ties to Israel, along with an attached dissent signed by four of its members, on Monday evening.
Last week, during the internal portion of their weekly general body meeting, members of SGA’s representative council voted to write a letter to the administration in support of a student-wide referendum calling on Barnard to divest from the companies in question. The referendum, which was created by SGA to gauge student support after members of Columbia University Apartheid Divest asked for their support, passed with a 64.3 percent majority.
The letter, which was sent to President Sian Beilock, Dean of the College Avis Hinkson, Provost and Dean of the Faculty Linda Bell, and Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldberg, explicitly states SGA’s support for CUAD’s campaign for divestment.
Prior to receiving the letter, and before SGA had even voted to draft a statement, Beilock sent an email to the Barnard community in which she wrote that Barnard would not take action to divest from companies if asked to do so by SGA.
Students and alumnae have criticized Beilock’s preemptive statement as an effort to end the campus conversation concerning divestment and last Monday during the public portion of their meeting members of SGA denounced Beilock’s statement. By sending a letter to the administration, SGA said that they are making every effort to ensure that the conversation regarding divestment is continued.
“SGA has the responsibility to amplify the voices of the students we represent, and bring their concerns to the administration,” SGA wrote in the letter.
Beilock, in a response sent to SGA on Tuesday morning after their vote, confirmed that the college will not take action on the results of the referendum. However, she praised SGA for bringing up the debate, noting that the inclusion of dissenting opinions in their letter to the administration highlights the importance of maintaining open dialogues on complex issues and the place of SGA as a forum for debate.
Of the 25 members on Representative Council, four, University Senator Kira Dennis, Senior Representative to the Board of Trustees Jessica Reich, Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees Tamar Dayanim, and Representative for Food and Dining Services Sarah Broniscer, dissented from the majority opinion.
In their dissent, the four representatives argued that the referendum was “grossly biased” and may be seen as threatening to Jewish students.
“While we recognize that there are students at Barnard who feel discomfort on a campus that invests in companies which do business in Israel, we ultimately feel that making another group of students on campus, namely, large numbers of Jewish students, uncomfortable by divesting is not the solution,” Dennis, Reich, Dayanim, and Bronsicer wrote in their dissent.
Read the full letter below.
Dear President Beilock, Dean Hinkson, Provost Bell, and COO Goldberg,
We are writing to state SGA Representative Council’s support for CUAD’s campaign for divestment. On March 19, 2018, students from Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine came to SGA representing Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD). The students requested that the SGA Representative Council issue a statement to the administration in support of Barnard’s divestment from eight multinational companies (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Bank Hapoalim, Mekorot) that profit from or engage with the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Due to the political nature of this divestment, we voted to hold a referendum to engage more broadly with the student body on this issue. We came to this decision because we, a twenty-five person council, could not in good faith issue a statement of support without this input. During SGA Elections, from April 11-18, we asked students if they supported CUAD’s divestment campaign. With 49.9 percent of the student body participating, 64.3 percent (741 students) voted in support of divestment, and 35.7 percent (412) opposed. After receiving the results of this referendum, SGA Representative Council voted to convey our support for CUAD’s divestment campaign.
SGA has the responsibility to amplify the voices of the students we represent, and bring their concerns to the administration. Barnard should reflect the values of its student body by continuing to encourage thoughtful investigation and critical analysis of the issue at hand, from a range of different perspectives. To end the conversation here would be inconsistent with the values Barnard espouses.
We call for further engagement and dialogue on this particular issue of divestment, leading to a tripartite working group tasked with holding community-wide listening sessions, and conversations on what socially responsible investment means for Barnard.
Barnard Student Government Association, Representative Council
We, the undersigned members of SGA’s Representative Council, dissent from SGA’s statement of support for CUAD’s campaign for divestment. We do not endorse the Representative Council’s letter for two main reasons.
Firstly, we have concerns regarding the referendum’s procedure and subsequent validity. While the wording of the referendum was passed within Representative Council, we, as individuals who have a plethora of personal knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, feel that the language of the referendum was grossly biased and did not meet Barnard’s standards of open conversation and debate on difficult issues. Due to the lack of citations for the information stated in the referendum, we feel that the referendum’s language failed to reflect the complexity of the conflict.
Upon personal investigation, we have found word-for-word portions of the referendum mirroring language on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement website. Though not mentioned in the text of the referendum, Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) is undeniably connected to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, (BDS). We believe that BDS is anti-semitic, as it denies Jewish people the right to self-determination, and many of its members have used anti-semitic rhetoric freely and on social media.
The referendum’s one-sided commentary minimized the complexity of the discussion at hand and overlooked the nuanced opinions held by students regarding the conflict and region. As the language was intended to educate students before they cast votes, we feel that its biased nature could have unfairly affected the outcome of the results that are enclosed in the above letter.
Second, and most importantly, we wholeheartedly believe that sending a letter supporting CUAD’s divestment campaign goes against the mission of the college to foster civil discourse that is free from fear of disrespect or hatred. We fully believe that open dialogue on complex issues is a cornerstone of a Barnard education and support the call for further conversation on what socially responsible investment means for Barnard. It is based on this belief that we dissent from the statement of support. We feel that a letter of support continues to stifle dialogue between students of different opinions and varying backgrounds.
While we recognize that there are students at Barnard who feel discomfort on a campus that invests in companies which do business in Israel, we ultimately feel that making another group of students on campus, namely, large numbers of Jewish students, uncomfortable by divesting is not the solution. Rather, we hope that members of the Barnard community will continue to foster and encourage a space for respectful debate and dialogue. As such, we have taken this opportunity to voice our dissent from the SGA Representative Council’s letter of support.
Kira Dennis, University Senator
Jessica Reich, Sr. Rep to the Board of Trustees
Tamar Dayanim, Jr. Rep to the Board of Trustees
Sarah Broniscer, Rep for Food and Dining Services