Alumni Withhold Donations Over University Responses to Pro-Palestine Protests

Demonstrators rally at a "All Out for Gaza" protest at Columbia University in New York City on November 15, 2023.

(Photo: Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images)

Alumni Withhold Donations Over University Responses to Pro-Palestine Protests

"Columbia is punishing students for protesting against ethnic cleansing and genocide," said more than 2,000 graduates of Columbia University and Barnard College.

Alumni of at least three elite U.S. universities are adding their voices to the growing resistance to the United States' unquestioning support for Israel's bombardment of Gaza—announcing Friday that they would withhold donations to their alma maters unless the schools reverse their suspension of pro-Palestinian rights groups on campus.

More than 2,000 graduates of Columbia University and Barnard College signed a scathing letter accusing the schools institutionalizing "anti-Palestinian racism" by suspending the campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Gerald Rosberg, chair of the Columbia University Special Committee on Campus Safety, cited no examples when he announced last week the two groups would be suspended through the end of the fall term for using "threatening rhetoric and intimidation" at an "unauthorized event."

Rosberg confirmed Friday that the decision to suspend the groups was made by senior administrators including university President Minouche Shafik, "without input from the University Senate."

At college campuses and public spaces across the U.S., both groups are among those that have demanded the U.S. end its support for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which has killed more than 11,000 people—including at least 4,712 children—in less than six weeks in its bombardment of Gaza as it claims to be targeting Hamas.

Columbia's decision last week followed pressure from many wealthy pro-Israel donors at universities including Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell to take a firm stance against pro-Palestinian voices on campus—whose calls for a cease-fire in Gaza echo the vast majority of American voters.

A Reuters poll released this week found that 68% of Americans support a cease-fire.

"The university's decision to suspend these student groups is not simply a matter of censorship or the repression of freedom of speech," said the Columbia alumni. "Columbia is punishing students for protesting against ethnic cleansing and genocide."

The graduates said they will withhold financial support for the school "until the following demands are met":

  • Reverse the suspension of Columbia/Barnard Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace;
  • Divest from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid and are therefore complicit in genocide;
  • Discontinue the dual-degree partnership with Tel Aviv University and the Tel Aviv Global Center program; and
  • Protect Palestinian students and their allies from anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Jewish harassment and hostility.
On Monday, alumni who support Palestinian rights plan to hold a "denouncement ceremony" on campus.

"We will pledge not to donate a penny to these institutions as long as they bring us shame with their actions," said Columbia University for Palestine on Instagram.

The school's decision also drew the outrage of about 200 faculty members, who staged a walkout Wednesday, supported by a large crowd of students. The teachers attempted to deliver a list of demands to Shafik, but were locked out of school buildings.

"Where is your moral courage?" Premilla Nadasen, a history professor at Barnard College, said in a speech at the rally. "We are here to tell the students: They can suspend an organization, but they cannot suspend a movement."

Also on Friday, about 500 alumni of the historically Jewish Brandeis University outside Boston wrote to university president Ron Liebowitz, announcing they would withhold donations until the administration issues an apology to protesters who were violently arrested at a campus protest against the school's shutdown of its own SJP chapter.

"Over 500 alumni, ranging from the class of 1966 to the class of 2023, will withhold donations until Brandeis apologizes to these students, recharters its SJP chapter, and works with local police to ensure all charges against the students are dropped," read a press statement.

SJP chapters have also been suspended at institutions including George Washington University and University of Florida. The group announced it was suing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over its suspension Thursday.
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