On March 21 and 22, the general membership of Carleton’s Graduate Students’ Association voted overwhelmingly in support of Carleton divesting, via its pension fund, from companies complicit in the illegal military occupation of Palestine. The plebiscite question, which has provisionally passed by 72.6 per cent, marks the first time in Canada, and what is believed to be the second time globally, that a student union has taken a position via a direct vote in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israeli violations of international law. In 2010, students at Washington’s Evergreen State College passed divestment resolutions via referendum.
The question asked students if they support Carleton University “adopting a binding socially responsible investment policy that would require it to divest from companies complicit in illegal military occupations and other violations of international law”. The question listed four companies involved in the illegal military occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories: BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Motorola and Tesco Supermarkets.
BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman are weapons manufacturers. Motorola supplies the Israeli military with surveillance and telecommunications products. Tesco Supermarkets sell produce from illegal Israeli settlements, facilitating their expansion and blatantly ignoring their illegality. This has been to the detriment of the Palestinian economy.
Because Carleton University is not a democratic organization, the campus community does not have a formal say in how the university is run, beyond the few and marginalized student voices sitting on the Board of Governors (BOG), Carleton’s highest governing board. While all elected student representatives on the BOG support divestment, the board has refused to entertain a motion that would require it to divest from these companies. While the board has a socially responsible investment policy, the policy is non-binding and has yet to be meaningfully applied.
The plebiscite results represent a great milestone in the international BDS campaign. Both the undergraduate and graduate student unions at Carleton have already passed motions in support of divestment from illegal military occupation. The plebiscite marks the most democratic method available for collective decision-making. The results demonstrate that students across the campus are united in their outrage towards Israel’s illegal military occupation, and speak to their discontent of the administration’s inaction on such an important issue.
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