Against all odds, New York University students, in a campus coalition with faculty and graduate workers, successfully pushed a Boycott, Divest and Sanctions resolution through the Student Government on Dec. 6. The victory comes after nearly four years of campaigning for BDS on campus, despite death threats and growing hostility against the movement in the last several years.
The BDS movement began in 2005 when organizations in Palestine called for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli state institutions and companies that profit from Israeli occupation of Palestine. The movement is modeled after the 1980s divestment campaign against apartheid South Africa and seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
Currently more than 30 student governments in the U.S. have voted to support BDS and demanded their universities investigate their investments and cut financial ties to companies and institutions complicit in the occupation of Palestine. Targeting universities is an important part of the movement, since many universities have been turned into billion-dollar, for-profit institutions and use the money made from the obscene cost of tuition to invest in all sorts of nefarious multinational corporations.
As the largest private university in the U.S., NYU is a significant addition to the BDS movement. If NYU were to divest, it would be a huge blow to the Israeli occupation.
The three main corporations NYU coalition students target for divestment are Caterpillar, whose bulldozers Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes and businesses in the West Bank; and Lockheed Martin and General Electric, who have major contracts with the Israeli military.
And the struggle continues: After the resolution was passed by the Student Government, it moves on to consideration by the University Senate, composed of faculty, staff, students and deans; and then on up to the Board of Trustees.
This new stage will undoubtedly be an uphill battle if the difficulties of the last few weeks are any indication. Not only did Zionist groups show up in full force to protest the recent vote, but the recent illegal detainment of a BDS organizer at Ben Gurion Airport in October signaled an alarming escalation of repression against BDS supporters.
NYU president Andrew Hamilton made his opposition to BDS clear in 2016 — the same year New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order against BDS. The sentiment of NYU trustees, a body composed almost entirely of elements from the bourgeoisie (as is the case with most major universities), will depend not on their moral concern for human well-being but on their company’s own material relationship with the occupation.
All this could change with enough pressure. Solidarity was key to the recent successful struggle, as many organizations, including the Black Student Union, connected their struggles with that of the Palestinian people. In the end, over half of the voting members of the Student Government voted in favor of the resolution. The remaining half was evenly split between abstentions and no votes.
United Auto Workers Local 2110, based in the Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) department of the UAW, passed a 2016 resolution in support of BDS. Local 2110 is an amalgamated union with 30 contracts covering over 3,000 workers in universities, publishing, museums, law firms and other offices. The local represents teachers, secretaries, administrators, editors, computer operators, librarians, museum curators, typesetters, graphic artists and others.
With NYU’s success, the campus coalition organizing for BDS has added to a number of victories giving continuing momentum to the struggle for the Palestinian people.
Photo credit: NYU Students for Justice in Palestine Facebook