Columbia student groups form coalition to counter crackdown on Palestine activism, demand divestment from Israel – Mondoweiss

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More than 40 Columbia University student groups have formed a coalition to demand that the school divest from Israeli apartheid.

The launch of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) comes shortly after the administration suspended the groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) from campus. The coalition was announced on Tuesday night, at a protest that drew hundreds of faculty and students.

Hundreds of faculty and students from Columbia University hold protest in support of SJP and JVP (Columbia University Apartheid Divest Coalition)

In addition to the divestment demand, CUAD (which includes Columbia Law Students for Palestine, Sunrise Columbia, and Young Democratic Socialists of America) is also calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the cancellation of a new Columbia campus in Tel Aviv, and the suspension on SJP and JVP to be lifted.

In a statement published in the Columbia Spectator CUAD notes that the alliance was first formed in 2016 and that they passed a school-wide referendum in 2020 in favor of divestment that was overturned by then-president Lee Bollinger.

The statement reads in part:

Our coalition was reactivated in October 2023 in response to the overwhelming support for Palestinian freedom from students on Columbia’s campus. We are further moved to action by the ostensibly politically-motivated suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

As a coalition, our chief goal is to challenge the settler-colonial violence that Israel perpetrates with the support of the United States and its allies. We have previously refused to focus on concerns pertaining to free speech, academic freedom, and student safety on campus, as they distract from Israel’s actively committing genocide and ethnic cleansing. However, the University’s weaponization of policy to silence students enables the atrocities that Israel has subjected Palestinians to for decades—atrocities that began when Zionist militias violently forced over 700,000 Palestinians, 75 percent of the population, out of their homes in 1948, and which have continuously escalated with virtual impunity since.

On November 10 the school’s Chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety announced that Columbia’s SJP and JVP chapters would be suspended for at least the remainder of the fall term for “repeatedly” violating universities. The university cited a recent “unauthorized” campus event that both groups helped organize.

That event that Rosberg referenced was a planned walkout in support of Gaza that included a “peaceful protest art installation.”

“To Columbia and other institutions too cowardly to stand against genocide and apartheid, history will not reflect kindly on your silencing tactics, or your bullying of students,” read a joint statement from the two organizations. “These young adults are standing up for what they believe in and trying to make the world a better place—as should we all. No one can stop our hearts from beating for liberation, humanity, and the freedom of Palestine.”

In a statement of its own, JVP National called the move an “appalling act of censorship and intimidation by the administration.”

“The students in these groups are acting with moral clarity,” it read. “They are protesting war and trying to save lives by calling for a ceasefire. By suspending Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, Columbia has made a statement that Palestinians, students who support Palestinian rights, and Jewish students who reject the state of Israel’s actions in their name, are unwelcome on campus.”

Columbia’s decision came just days after Brandeis University became the first school to ban its SJP chapter. Students were informed of the decision shortly before a planned vigil in memory of the Palestinians that Israel has killed in its most recent campaign.

“We have never been told we were under investigation in any way,” Brandeis SJP president told Mondoweiss at the time. “We never notified about anything. The email came as a shock to us. It came from student affairs, it didn’t come from a student union or a department. It came from higher up and no one had a say in this.”

The school later had cops break up a campus protest in support of SJP, which led to the arrest of multiple students. Brandeis president Ronald Liebowitz later claimed that the event “devolved into an invocation of hate speech” because protesters had chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

This week, George Washington University announced that it was suspending its SJP chapter for 90 days because the group projected pro-Palestinian images on the Gelman Library last month. “We see this very clearly as being a political response to a growing wave of backlash and repression towards Palestinian organizing, but specifically the Palestinian student movement that’s been happening the past few weeks,” said a representative from the group.

This national crackdown comes amid calls from pro-Israel groups to suppress Palestinian campus groups. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Brandeis Center recently sent a letter to 200 schools calling on them to investigate their SJP chapters for potential connections to terrorism.

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