Columbia University students withhold tuition, demanding divestment from Israel

‘We want our university to refuse to invest in ethnic cleansing and genocide abroad.’

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Anti-Israel students at Columbia University in New York have organized a “strike” to withhold their tuition payments unless the school accedes to their demands, which include purging the campus of investments, trustee members, and academic programs linked to the Jewish state.

“We demand that a referendum be established for students from all schools of Columbia University on the issue of divestment from companies profiting from or otherwise supporting Israeli apartheid and Columbia’s academic ties to Israel,” the students wrote in a document outlining their demands. “This referendum will be binding; if a majority (50% +1) of students vote in favor of divestment, Columbia will immediately divest from all companies profiting from or otherwise supporting Israeli apartheid and end their academic ties to Israel.”

The students also called for Columbia to “immediately remove Board of Trustees members whose personal investments, financial commitments, employment, or other forms of business involvement entail profit from or support for Israeli apartheid.”

The strike for the 2024 spring semester has been organized by the Barnard Columbia Abolitionist Collective, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Student-Worker Solidarity organizations.

In a “frequently asked questions” page, the students explained the purpose of their strike. “We want our university to refuse to invest in ethnic cleansing and genocide abroad,” they wrote. “We refuse to accept our university’s silencing of student voices demanding decolonization on our campus. We refuse to allow our tuition dollars to fund apartheid.”

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The student strikers did not provide evidence of Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East, committing genocide, ethnic cleansing, or apartheid. They noted they would call for students to withhold their tuition if they amass 1,000 pledges to strike, claiming 1,000 students would represent about 10 percent of the tuition-paying student body and entail a $20 million loss in revenue for the university.

The move came after Columbia suspended Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which normally organizes such anti-Israel initiatives, as an official student group on campus through the end of the fall semester for repeatably violating university policies. It also came a month after after the Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) coalition issued a Nov. 14 statement in the campus newspaper demanding the school “immediately divest all economic and academic stakes in Israel” in order to fight “Israeli apartheid” against Palestinians. The coalition falsely accused Israel of “actively committing genocide and ethnic cleansing” and called on Columbia to cancel the opening of its Tel Aviv Global Center and end a dual degree program the school offers in partnership with Tel Aviv University.

Last week, meanwhile, Columbia Social Workers 4 Palestine planned an event to celebrate Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israeli communities as a “counteroffensive.”

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As for the latest anti-Israel initiative, the students noted going on a “tuition strike” could present financial problems to participants.

“If you are on a payment plan, you can cancel it … if you’re on full or substantial financial aid, it’s still possible for you to go on strike by withholding payments,” the organizers wrote. “If your parents are paying your tuition, we encourage you to have a conversation with your parents about the demands for the tuition strike and how we can organize to protect ourselves against retaliation.”

In an explanation of their motivations, the students acknowledged that refusing to pay the university carried risk.

“The only institutional consequences of late tuition payments is an inability to register for classes with outstanding fees exceeding $1,000,” they added. “We don’t anticipate the tuition strike lasting until Fall ’24 class registration, and we will cross that bridge if it comes to that.”

Columbia has become a hub of anti-Israel activism since the Oct. 7 massacre, coming under intense scrutiny for its response to the Hamas onslaught and resultant war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group. Several students and professors have released multiple letters seemingly blaming Israel for the current conflict and rationalizing the Hamas atrocities. One professor, Jospeh Massad, in a column published in Electronic Intifada called the Hamas attacks “innovative” and referred to the terrorists who para-glided into a music festival in Israel to rape and murder the young people there as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”