Palestinian Rights Campaign Spreads to NYU

On Wednesday, March 9, members of New York University's Graduate School Organizing Committee (GSOC, a union for graduate employees) met to discuss a drafted referendum being put forward in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. GSOC's 1,200 graduate workers will vote on this matter come mid-April.

If passed, the resolution will mark a historic moment as NYU's graduate workers becomes the first union from a private university to join the BDS movement. In so doing, they'll join an international network of unionized students from public colleges, including groups from eight other public United States universities, who have endorsed BDS.

"NYU took a stand to divest from apartheid and stand for racial justice in 1985," reads "The Case for BDS," an information booklet handed out by GSOC members at the March 9 town hall meeting. "It is time for us to do so again in ending the apartheid regime of our time."

In adopting the BDS resolution, GSOC will be calling to:

  • Withdraw all investments, which include "pension funds from Israeli state institutions and international companies complicit in the ongoing violation of Palestinian human and civil rights."
  • Decline conducting any "business with these institutions in the future."
  • Get NYU to close its campus in Tel Aviv.

"I believe that the BDS movement is clearly the most effective Palestinian movement right now in creating change and advancing the Palestinian cause," said Maya Wind, an Israeli GSOC member and co-organizer of the referendum. With more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in support of the call for BDS, the movement represents one of the major — if not only — international movements representative of both Palestinian people and a broader activist network inside Israel and across the world, united in a call to bring an end to Israeli occupation.

Under the broad banner of the BDS movement, Israel has been asked to end its military occupation of Palestinian land by dismantling the wall, formally recognize the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and respect the rights of Palestinian refugees, as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

In the booklet's section "Why Divestment?," the issue of NYU's foreign investment portfolios are brought into question. A recent article in The Nation, for instance, "Universities Are Becoming Billion-Dollar Hedge Funds With Schools Attached," estimates that "$100 billion of educational endowment money nationwide is invested in hedge funds." Among the numerous corporations profiteering off Israel's occupation, the booklet goes on to list Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard as some of the likely recipients of NYU investment. In divesting from these and other such corporations, NYU would potentially lead the way for other elite private colleges to follow suit.

Beyond the merits of financial pressure exerted through BDS, though, many critics (outside of Zionists) argue that the implementation of such measures will only harden the country's political right and promote a foreign policy of isolationism.

"As Israelis, we have become complacent, having grown too comfortable with the occupation," said Wind, arguing against this criticism and the need for international pressure. "Now, thanks only to the global traction of the BDS movement, we are seeing a discourse within Israel about negotiations and concessions … it is the only way [Israelis] will be compelled to change the status quo that benefits too many of them. It is indeed intensifying some of the voices on the Israeli right, but ultimately I believe it will lead to the disintegration of the regime."

At the same meeting, GSOC members against adopting BDS questioned why their union should take part.

"BDS is a tactic to exert international grassroots pressure upon Israel, and unions should therefore be at the forefront of this effort," said Shafeka Hashash, a Palestinian American NYU graduate student. "Graduate student unions, in particular, are a crucial component of the Palestine solidarity movement on college campuses, and form a significant source of pressure on university administrations to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation."

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