Voting on SGA elections begins today, and this year, Barnard students will be voting on whether or not they believe Barnard should divest from eight companies that are associated with or support Israel. These certain companies were singled out in Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s campaign for divestment due to their involvement in and profit from violence against Palestinians.
To be clear, the referendum does not automatically cause Barnard to divest from these companies if it passes. Instead, if it does pass, SGA will write a letter in support of divestment to the Barnard Board of Trustees. The text of the referendum lists the companies from which SGA would recommend Barnard should divest and specifies the reasoning, which varies from construction equipment companies that are involved in home demolition and settlement-building, to an Israeli utility company that restricts Palestinians’ access to water. The referendum does not use the words “apartheid” or “violence,” instead referring more vaguely to “violations of international law” and Israel’s “treatment” of Palestinians. It also does not make reference to CUAD.
The referendum came as a result of two contentious SGA meetings. In the first, CUAD gave a presentation to the council on divestment, and notably, SGA announced a referendum without CUAD having requested one. In the following meeting, Aryeh, one of Columbia’s pro-Israel student groups, gave a presentation to SGA about why they believe divestment from Israel is divisive and harmful. Again, the referendum is for SGA to “gauge student body sentiment” on the issue, which will then reflect how they as a council move forward with respect to divestment (after which Barnard’s Board of Trustees can choose to take into account or not).
CUAD proposed a similar referendum to CCSC last year in a tense meeting that lasted about four hours, but the council rejected their request.
Voting lasts until April 18th.
Editor’s note, 12:30 pm: The photo on this article has been changed from a CUAD flyer encouraging students to vote yes in the referendum to a more neutral image. The original photo suggested a Bwog endorsement of CUAD, which is not the intention of this article; this article is meant to inform students about the context and content of the referendum without presenting a bias for either position.
You can read the full text of the referendum, which details each company’s involvement with Israeli occupation, below:
Referendum on Divestment
Below you will find background information about divestment, in general, as well as information about the proposal at hand, which requests that Barnard divest from eight multinational companies (Hyundai Heavy Industries, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Elbit Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Bank Hapoalim, and Mekorot) that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. SGA is holding this referendum so that we can gauge student body sentiment on the aforementioned divestment proposal. The results of the referendum will guide our response to students’ requests to bring this issue to the Barnard administration.
Please read this information carefully, and vote “yes” or “no” to the question at the end. Each student is allowed one vote. Please note that you are not required to vote. To abstain from the referendum, simply skip the question. Your votes for SGA candidates will still be counted. Once you submit a response, you will not be able to change your answer.
We thank you for your vote!
What is “divestment?”
Divestment is a financial term defined simply as “no longer investing money in something” (dictionary.cambridge.org).
What does this mean for Barnard?
At an institution such as Barnard, divestment means changing some of the companies that the college’s endowment is invested in. Specifically, this referendum asks about divesting the part of Barnard’s endowment invested in the eight companies named below. These companies were selected on the basis of their well documented involvement in Israeli violations of international law in Palestinian territories. Additionally, they are all large companies or corporations with high stock value and, as a result, are likely to be included in university investment portfolios.
Information about the eight companies
We are providing the following information as further context for the referendum question. We encourage students to supplement this with their own research.
#1: Hyundai Heavy Industries
Hyundai has contracts to provide excavators with Israeli company Automotive Equipment Group that were used to extralegally demolish Palestinian neighborhoods.
Caterpillar supplies the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) with heavy construction equipment that was used to demolish Palestinian homes, erect illegal settlements, build the Wall*, and establish military checkpoints.
* “Wall” here referring to the Israeli West Bank barrier along the 1949 Armistice border, the construction of which was found illegal by The International Court of Justice in 2004.
#3: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin supplies the IDF with weaponry equipment used against Palestinian civilians in Operation Cast Lead* and Operation Protective Edge.*
* Operation Cast Lead, also known as the Gaza War (2008-2009), was an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Operation Protective Edge, also known as the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, was a military offensive launched by Israel in the Gaza Strip.
Supplies the IDF with heavy munitions including missiles and missile guidance systems reported by UN commissions as human rights violations and war crimes in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank.
#5: Elbit Systems
Elbit’s Skylark and Hermes 900 drones are used in IDF military campaigns against Gaza and arrest campaigns in the West Bank.
#6: Hewlett Packard Enterprise
Hewlett Packard develops, supplies, and maintains the Basel System; a biometric identification system used at IDF checkpoints in the Occupied Territories. They also have contracts to provide information technology infrastructure to illegal settlements of Modi’in Ilit and Ariel.
#7: Bank Hapoalim
Bank Hapoalim finances the construction of illegal settlements* in the West Bank by underwriting construction companies and selling mortgages.
* Settlements are Israeli communities in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights, created following Israel’s occupation of the regions in 1967. In 2004, the International Court of Justice, a branch of the United Nations, ruled that settlements are illegal.
Mekorot is an Israeli utility company that controls water access in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Golan Heights. Mekorot has restricted water to Palestinians while providing access to settlers.*
* Settlers are individuals who live on settlements (defined above).
Should SGA write a letter of support 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?
Image via Barnard