Palestine Labor Abolition Affinity groups Commentary

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November 5, 2023

Promising escalation, 370+ students delegate to Pomona treasurer, demanding Israel divestment

"We’re here because Pomona College in particular has fallen on the wrong side of history multiple times."

Sophie Myers
Photo by Samson Zhang

“We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”

More than 370 students chanted as they poured out of Alexander Hall on Oct. 25,, after delivering a three-minute statement to Pomona COO and Treasurer Jeff Roth demanding that the college to divest from Israeli and Israeli-affiliated companies. Moving across Walker Beach and down the path from Frary to Lincoln earlier, the line was too long to see from one end to the other.

The students joined a national walkout of thousands of students at over a hundred other colleges, protesting U.S. military funding of Israel, including at Columbia, Harvard, UPenn, UCSB, UCSD, UC Berkeley and UCLA. The walkout comes three weeks after Hamas’ escalation in violent resistance to occupation, which Israel met with an indiscriminate and continuing massacre of civilians through bombings and a ground invasion of Gaza.

Israeli forces have killed at least 9,488 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 3,900 children, as of Nov. 4, according to Al Jazeera. Israeli air strikes have killed one child every ten minutes since Oct. 7.

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Palestinian student speaks at rally before delegation

Students met and rallied at Bowling Green before marching through CMC, Walker Beach and the Smith Campus Center to get to Alexander Hall. The rally’s several speakers included a Palestinian American student, who spoke out against the hypocrisy of self-identified progressive people and institutions remaining silent about Israeli violence against Palestinians.

“We do not need your land acknowledgment. You can keep your empty words formulated to appease white guilt. We don’t need to hear settlers say that they recognize that this was once the land of the Palestinian people. We don’t need you to stand idly by and be complicit in genocide, letting my beautiful culture become a memory,” the student said. “We need empathy. We need a ceasefire. We need allyship and sustained solidarity. We need to be seen as human and show that our lives matter just as much as anyone else’s.”

“We don’t need to hear settlers say that they recognize that this was once the land of the Palestinian people. We don’t need you to stand idly by and be complicit in genocide, letting my beautiful culture become a memory.”

Anonymous Palestinian student at rally

The student, who did not share their name and covered their face out of safety concerns, also spoke about their own identity as a queer, Orthodox Christian Palestinian, pushing back against monolithic characterizations of Palestinians.

“This place and this country do not want Palestinian voices to be heard. They do not want our stories to be told because they do not want people to emphasize and they do not want us to be seen as humans. But I refuse to be silenced … I refuse to let other people tell my story and dictate my narrative,” the student said. “[Israel wants] the west to believe that all Palestinians are Muslim to weaponize Islamophobia…they want you to believe all Palestinians are homophobic.”

The student wrapped up with a call for solidarity among oppressed peoples, thanking Jewish allies especially for affirming Palestinian humanity. 

“To be a Palestinian is to be human … we know what it means to believe and be hopeful, for that is the core of my people and will never be taken from us. We are strong, resilient, and sensitive. We are community based and endlessly caring. The love is all we have,” the student said. “Our journeys towards liberation are inextricably intertwined. And only together can we brave this and create a new future. A future filled with love and acceptance and equality for all people.”

Hundreds confront Jeff Roth at Alexander Hall

After the rally, students marched through campus, growing in number until the delegation of hundreds reached Alexander Hall. As the crowd entered the building, the chants fell away, those close to the front silently bearing witness as one student spoke to Jeff Roth in the hallway.

“We’re here because Pomona College in particular has fallen on the wrong side of history multiple times. In ‘87, they refused to divest from the Apartheid regime in South Africa until they were legally mandated to do so by California’s [Assembly] Bill 134. And as students here we refuse to stand party to this violent Israeli internationally recognized apartheid regime,” the speaker said.

“We’re here because Pomona College in particular has fallen on the wrong side of history multiple times … and as students here we refuse to stand party to this violent Israeli internationally recognized apartheid regime.”

Anonymous student leader of delegation

In 1985, then-President John Alexander told TSL that Pomona had more than $13 million invested in companies with ties to South Africa. After protests by the Black Student Union and a group called Students Against Apartheid, Pitzer College divested $2.1 million — 20% of the college’s investments — in protest of apartheid in 1986. Claremont Graduate University divested $3.6 million from its portfolios, according to the Los Angeles Times. The other colleges did not divest until forced to by state legislation, according to TSL.

Pomona has never shared whether or how much money it has invested in Israeli or Israeli-affiliated companies. Students at the delegation demanded disclosure of investment information, a demand shared by previous climate divestment efforts.

“Over the past decade, students and alumni have demanded that Pomona disclose their investments … until disclosure, we have every reason to believe that our tuition money is being used to support this internationally recognized Apartheid regime and war crimes of the Israeli state.”

Echoing last year’s labor-related delegations, the speaker promised escalation if demands weren’t met — especially targeting Family Weekend events at Pomona beginning Oct. 27. 

“We demand disclosure by Friday, and if this demand is not met, we’ll see you this weekend.”

Full Transcript of the delegation speech

“We’re a group of students from the 5Cs and we’re here because Pomona College in particular has fallen on the wrong side of history multiple times. In ‘87, they refused to divest from the Apartheid regime in South Africa until they were legally mandated to do so by California’s Bill 134. And as students here we refuse to stand party to this violent Israeli internationally recognized apartheid regime. In ‘79 a Pomona student wrote, “Investments are like guns, they put distance between us and our actions.” The action is the same, regardless of the distance.

“Over the past decade, students and alumni have demanded that Pomona disclose their investments; our requests have still not been met. Amnesty International and the United Nations have each independently found Israel to be an apartheid regime, and guilty of multiple war crimes. Until disclosure, we have every reason to believe that our tuition money is being used to support this internationally recognized Apartheid regime and war crimes of the Israeli state. This is unacceptable.

“75 percent of those living in the Gaza strip are refugees from Palestinian towns that were forcibly displaced from their homes in 1948, 67, and every subsequent year. The Israeli blockade against Gaza has deprived two million Palestinians of food, clean water, medical care, and basic life-necessities. Right now, they are indiscriminately attacking Gaza as you know, and the death toll in Gaza has surpassed over five thousand. 

“It is because of decades of impunity towards injustice, just like the impunity that you are displaying right now, that these crimes have continued, that this death and destruction has persisted.

“We are here because Pomona is complicit with the mass slaughter of an entire people, with the ethnic cleansing and forced displacement of Palestinians.

“Until the college divests from all Israeli and Israeli-affiliated companies, Pomona College is upholding this violence. To invest and profit from any company supporting this violent regime is to have blood on your hands. You cannot disengage. You are not disengaged right now. You are taking a stance. 

“Students at the Claremont Colleges are more mobilized than ever, and international support for divestment is unwavering. We know how to organize, I know you remember last year, and we are going to be escalating our actions until our demands are met. We demand disclosure by Friday, and if this demand is not met, we’ll see you this weekend. 

“We look forward to disclosure and divestment. Thank you.”

Other Undercurrents staff members contributed reporting for this story.

Sophie Myers PZ ‘27 (she/her pronouns) is a student at Pitzer College interested in the various Leftist movements at the Claremont Colleges and their intersections. She’s especially interested in the 5C Divest Movement and other climate activism, efforts to radically transform our prison system, and how students at the 5Cs can most effectively create the change they wish to see in their communities. 

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Thanks for reading Undercurrents

Undercurrents reports on labor, Palestine liberation, prison abolition and other community organizing at and around the Claremont Colleges.

Issue 1 / Spring 2023

Setting the Standard

How Pomona workers won a historic $25 minimum wage; a new union in Claremont; Tony Hoang on organizing

Read issue 1