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Harvard Student Government Approves PSC Petition for Referendum on Israel Divestment

Protesters gather outside Massachusetts Hall in December to demand an end to the war in Gaza. Harvard undergraduates will vote on a referendum on whether Harvard should divest from institutions that support Israel's occupation of Palestine.
Protesters gather outside Massachusetts Hall in December to demand an end to the war in Gaza. Harvard undergraduates will vote on a referendum on whether Harvard should divest from institutions that support Israel's occupation of Palestine. By Julian J. Giordano
By Cam N. Srivastava and William Y. Tan, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee circulated and passed a petition on Tuesday initiating a referendum asking undergraduates whether Harvard should divest from institutions that support “Israel’s occupation of Palestine” and the war in Gaza.

The petition met the required threshold of 195 signatures just three hours after its launch, according to organizers of the petition. The Harvard Undergraduate Association’s Election Commission will facilitate the referendum to obtain student opinions on Harvard’s financial ties to Israel.

Multiple Harvard spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening. A University statement released last week said that “Harvard leadership has made clear that it opposes calls for a policy of boycotting Israel and its academic institutions.”

The HUA Election Commission confirmed to The Crimson on Tuesday afternoon that it had approved the petition to officially gather signatures. Per the HUA constitution and bylaws, the petition needed to be signed by 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the spring 2023 HUA elections to initiate a referendum.

Now, the HUA Election Commission will work to verify the signatures and administer the referendum, which must be held within three weeks of being triggered, according to the HUA’s constitution.

The PSC’s efforts mark the latest in a wave of undergraduate petitions involving the HUA. Last week, the HUA Election Commission approved petitions calling for a referendum to remove HUA co-presidents John S. Cooke ’25 and Shikoh M. Hirabayashi ’24.

Shraddha Joshi ’24 and Asmer A. Safi ’24 — the two listed student organizers of the petition — told The Crimson in an interview Tuesday evening that pro-Palestinian students on campus crafted the petition in response to the Harvard Law School Student Government and Harvard Divinity School Student Association passing resolutions last week calling on the Harvard Management Company to divest from illegal settlements in Palestine.

Safi said the PSC hopes to capitalize off of the momentum of these resolutions, “particularly as we witness non-answers from individuals like Alan Garber, when we have Jason Newton saying that Harvard is against the boycott of Israel and all Israeli institutions, academic or otherwise.”

Joshi also pointed to Harvard’s recent discussions around institutional neutrality, saying that the adoption of such policies are not possible given the University’s current investments.

“One thing we believe as students — not just the two of us, but so many of the students who stand for divestment — is that institutional neutrality does not exist when Harvard’s money is not neutral, and when Harvard’s investments are not neutral,” she said.

The divestment petition refers to an article published by The Crimson in 2020 stating that Harvard invested in at least $200 million towards illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine as of 2019.

Violet T.M. Barron ’26, an organizer with the PSC and a Crimson Editorial editor, said she hopes the referendum will have tangible impacts on University policies, pointing to past successful calls for divestment.

“Divestment campaigns in the past have worked,” she said. “Harvard divested from South Africa, and I think the tobacco industry, and then most recently — like very recently — fossil fuel industry.”

“There definitely is precedent for referendums like these and pure grassroots student pressure to translate into actual tangible action, so I have hopes that it could also eventually carry more than symbolic weight,” she added.

Joshi said that while she considers the referendum “a bare minimum,” she hopes that it will show Harvard the discrepancies between University policy and the beliefs of the student body.

“We do consider it a historic move that’s being made, but at the same time, if it passes, it is just a litmus test of the student body and the fact that what Harvard is doing is at odds with what its student body believes,” Joshi said.

Joshi and Safi added that they believe the University has an obligation to listen to its student body.

“One thing that we want to definitely emphasize is that Harvard has a responsibility to listen to us,” Safi said.

“If it continues to ignore the kind of referendum and the kind of opinions that certain unions in its University has, it only goes on to prove and serve as evidence of the fact that it is only beholden to donor pressure,” he added.

—Staff writer Cam N. Srivastava can be reached at Follow him on X @camsrivastava.

—Staff writer William Y. Tan can be reached at Follow him on X @william_y_tan.

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