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Student Workers of Columbia Stand in Solidarity with Palestine

Student Workers of Columbia – UAW Local 2710 have published a statement of solidarity with Palestine.

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Pro-Palestinian students take part in a protest in support of the Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, at Columbia University in New York City, U.S., October 12, 2023.
Image: REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

We republish below a statement of Solidarity with Palestine published by the Student Workers of Columbia – UAW Local 2710. We encourage all workers to take up the struggle for Palestinian liberation, and welcome statements of solidarity with the Palestinian people. We have also published statements from New York City healthcare workers and the Graduate Center chapter of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC)

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On Thursday Israel ordered 1.1 million people to evacuate Gaza within 24 hours in preparation for a ground invasion that will likely lead to ethnic cleansing. As a community of instructors, researchers and students at Columbia University, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. We affirm their right to self-determination and freedom from apartheid. 

Murder, torture, starvation, and oppression everywhere are cause for mourning. We condemn all forms of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, antisemitic, and islamophobic hate, especially as they emerge in our workplace

Our commitment to the wellbeing of all people compels us to testify that Columbia’s administration notices pain selectively in order to occlude the suffering in Gaza. Their communications omit the indiscriminate murder of Palestinians and the ongoing war crimes in the area. The reflections in this letter, co-authored by Jews, Arabs, and other union members from a range of backgrounds, were partly provoked by the need for a more accurate and even-handed response to the developing atrocities in Gaza. Our university and national press are colluding to encourage what late Columbia professor Edward Said called the intellectual’s “characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position.” He saw Columbia clearly: “you are afraid of seeming controversial, you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, and moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or a prestigious committee.” Columbia acknowledged the pain many students felt immediately after the “horrific attack on Israel” and events of October 7th, but they are silent as Israel gears up for a genocidal campaign in Gaza. President Shafik: Why is the pain, fear, and grief of Palestinians not being addressed publicly? We write this to support students, colleagues, and faculty who do not feel safe on campus. 

Our letter amplifies calls opposed to the siege cutting two million people—nearly half of them children—from access to food, medical supplies, water, and fuel. A student who spoke at Thursday’s demonstration on campus told us, “As Palestinians, we have become used to fearing the night…yet we also fear the day, because that’s when we see all the massacres and the people we lost.” With American support, members of the Israeli government are now campaigning to exterminate the Palestinian people in Gaza, whom Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called “human animals.” This genocidal flourish follows 75 years of Israeli settler-colonial rule, beginning with the Nakba: the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. America’s response to this legacy is to arm Israel and legitimize the extermination of Palestinians with a stream of dehumanizing, unsupported claims of Israeli victimhood. There is no shortage of literature, some of it produced by our colleagues, on this history. 

The silencing of our voices is creating the same environment of anti-Arab hostility that we witnessed after 9/11, and which was used to support the devastating war in Iraq and the harassment and surveillance of Arabs and Muslims in the US. On Friday morning, WKCR radio released an interview with a Columbia administrator who said of Palestine supporters: “I hope every one of these people die.” Such statements create an unsafe workplace and discriminate against our Arab and Palestinian colleagues. This is just one example of the violent threats targeting supporters of Palestine on campuses throughout the country. Our universities have neglected their self-avowed obligation to defend free expression and safety on campus. We condemn these silencing tactics, and we stand with all students and workers at Columbia and at other universities and workplaces punished for supporting Palestinian liberation. As a union committed to protecting our most vulnerable members, we are prepared to defend our unit against any wrongful disciplinary actions that may arise as a result of speech or concerted activity responding to genocide in Palestine. 

We can contribute toward a more just and peaceful future by confronting our institution’s complicity in genocidal Israeli policy. We demand that Columbia: 

1. Publicly affirm that the right to free speech on campus extends to expressions of support for Palestinians. Convene a binding democratic body of student workers, faculty, and staff to identify further measures to protect speech on campus from personal and professional attack. 

2. Accept the calls to divest from the Israeli war machine, including the 2020 Columbia College referendum overturned by President Bollinger, the 2016 Apartheid Divest petition, and the 2002 student-faculty demand that Columbia wield its influence to “encourage the United States government to suspend its military aid and arms sales to Israel.” Divest from all companies supplying Israel’s military with arms and hardware. Divest from corporations whose products are knowingly used to erect illegal Israeli settlements marketed to Americans as “a newer and younger alternative” to life in existing cities. 

3. Correct or otherwise make amends for the emails sent to the University community by President Minouche Shafik, Barnard Dean Leslie Grinage, and General Studies Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch, which promote a one-sided account that downplays Palestinian suffering. 

Such actions are all the more urgent now, as the current bombardment only increases and the Israeli Defense Forces are preparing for a devastating ground war. We call on our community to support peace by securing an end to Columbia’s financial and structural support of occupation, apartheid, and genocide.

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