On March 21st and 22nd, graduate students at Carleton University overwhelmingly voiced their support for the Palestinian people, by voting for the university’s pension fund to divest from four companies that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine. With the vote taking place through a referendum question, all graduate students had the power to make their voices heard, and in the end, over 72% took a principled stance, by voting for Carleton to stand on the side of justice, equality, and accountability.
The referendum question asked students to support Carleton adopting a binding Socially Responsible Investment policy that would require the university to divest from companies complicit in illegal military occupations and other violations of international law, including, but not limited to: BAE Systems, Motorola, Northrop-Grumman, and Tesco Supermarkets. These companies are directly engaged in the subjugation of the indigenous peoples of Palestine, complicit in an illegal military occupation and an apartheid system that operates contrary to the letter and spirit of international law.
In 2008, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), the group that spearheaded the referendum campaign, was formed at Carleton University. SAIA came together in response to the July 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and recognizes the indigenous Palestinian people's inalienable right to self determination.
The idea of international human rights was a Western-liberal project launched following the atrocities of World War II; the advancement and defense of it has historically been contingent on social and political movements, particularly the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles that liberated millions from dire and oppressive conditions in the twentieth century. Where nation states have stood by, idle, mute, and therefore complicit, civil society has stepped into the void, and has spoken strongly in favour of the
Now, graduate students at Carleton have voted yes to divestment, and in through this referendum victory – which needs to be formally ratified by the Graduate Student Association council in April – they have said no to lending their tuition and image, as an academic body, to the normalization of military occupation, further entrenched via abhorrent systematic discrimination and other violations of international law.
This marks the first time in the world that a referendum question on divestment has passed on a university campus, and it is one of many results of nearly four years of intensive campaigning by SAIA. The graduate students' will to divest adds further strength to SAIA's growing divestment campaign, which consists of 2500+ petition signatories and the endorsements of over 25 student clubs, academic workers’ unions, and university service centres in an expanding student movement across campus.
Although Carleton's administration has shown little interest in divesting from the aforementioned companies or in adopting a binding mechanism to prevent unethical investments in companies that violate international law, students have spoken out and grad students have voted explicitly in favor of divestment.
A university is an academic institution comprised of a student body; its financial structure is rooted in enrollment and tuition fees. As such, this administration is accountable to the student body, and we do not support profiting at the blatant expense of human rights.
In 1988, the Carleton Anti-Apartheid Action Group forced the university to divest from South African apartheid. We did not stand for South Africa's apartheid system back then; we will not stand for Israel's now. We salute Carleton’s grad students for once again standing on the rights side of history!