These US universities have negotiated Israel divestment with Gaza protesters

Columbia 'will not divest from Israel' but affiliate institution and other universities reach agreements

Pro-Palestine students celebrate a deal with the administration at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in April. AFP
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Student protesters on campuses across the US have been demanding their universities disclose financial investments and divest from companies or academic institutions connected to Israel's actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Other actions have included requests for their universities to call for a Gaza ceasefire, no policing on campuses, amnesty for those arrested during protests, and better services protecting and serving Muslim and Arab communities.

Amid widespread university-ordered police operations on pro-Palestine protest camps, some institutions have chosen to negotiate with students.

Columbia University in New York, where the protests first gathered steam, has said that it will not divest from Israel, although other institutions have proven more willing to negotiate, but at Union Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Columbia, the board of trustees said it would support calls to divest from “companies substantially and intractably benefiting from the war in Palestine”.

Brown University, an Ivy League academic institution in Rhode Island, agreed to have its highest governing body vote on divestment in October, after protest organisers met administrators to discuss their demands.

“The devastation and loss of life in the Middle East has prompted many to call for meaningful change, while also raising real issues about how best to accomplish this,” Brown president Christina Paxson said in a statement.

“Brown has always prided itself on resolving differences through dialogue, debate and listening to each other.”

While the protest camp there has moved on, the Brown Divest Coalition said that the fight continues.

“We will not let our agreement be used to pacify this movement,” it said in post on X.

“Rather, we will use it to fuel us further.”

Northwestern University in Illinois said it would provide opportunities for students to speak with the board of trustees' investment committee about their concerns and vowed to answer questions about university holdings in a timely manner.

At Evergreen State College in Washington, administrators said that a committee would start formulating strategies on “divestment from companies that profit from gross human rights violations and/or the occupation of Palestinian territories”.

Rutgers University in New Jersey agreed to most of the demands presented by protesters, except for Israel divestment, which it said was under review.

It also said a request to sever ties with Tel Aviv University is a “matter of scholarly inquiry”.

And the University of Minnesota said it would disclose details on its financial holdings within weeks and that student protesters could speak with the board on divestment in a May meeting.

The university said it was open to hearing proposals on partnerships with Palestinian and Israeli universities.

While some view the move by these universities as successful, activist critics have argued that setting up committees to present proposals in the future is not meeting demands in a timely manner.

Columbia has drawn attention for requesting a police response twice and it has been clear in stating that it will not divest from Israel.

“While the university will not divest from Israel, the university offered to develop an expedited timeline for review of new proposals from the students by the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing, the body that considers divestment matters,” president Nemat Shafik said in a statement.

“The university also offered to publish a process for students to access a list of Columbia’s direct investment holdings, and to increase the frequency of updates to that list of holdings.”

Internationally, Ireland's Trinity College Dublin reached an agreement with protesters to have them clear their camp after it vowed to “complete a divestment from investments in Israeli companies that have activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and appear on the UN blacklist”.

The senate at the University of Barcelona also voted to cut relations with Israel-linked companies and academic institutions “as a mechanism of pressure on the state of Israel until the genocide ends”.

Its motion still needs approval by the university board of directors and governing council.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 5:41 AM