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Columbia BDS Referendum Passes

Updated: Oct 5

Jewish Journal

Aaron Bandler

September 29, 2020

Photo: Dmitrii Sakharov / Shutterstock.com


A campuswide referendum supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement passed at Columbia University after being voted on last week.


Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the group that sponsored the resolution, announced on Sept. 29 that the referendum, which the student body voted on from Sept. 22-25, had passed with around 61% of the vote in favor. Nearly 40% of eligible voters on campus participated in the vote.


The referendum called on the university to “divest its stocks, funds and endowment from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians” that “fall under the United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.”


Click here to view the Facebook post announcing the passing of the referendum.


Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University lamented the passage of the referendum in a Facebook post.


“It is an extremely saddening realization that antisemitism on our campus is not only a forgivable offense but an acceptable, celebratory alternative view to hold,” the campus Jewish group wrote. “It is an extremely saddening realization that that our fellow students — of ivy league level — do not understand why boycotting Israel, but not any other country is a blatant double standard. More so than ever, we are worried about the future — we know that Jewish students are three to eight times more likely to be victims of anti-Jewish hostility after BDS resolutions pass.”


Columbia’s SSI chapter vowed to double down on its pro-Israel advocacy.


“We will, more so than ever, continue to get the message out: Anti-Zionism is antisemitism; Jew’s have a right to a homeland of their own indigenous rights, and Israel does have a right to exist,” the group wrote. “Going into the New Year, we’re looking forward to fighting back, speaking up louder, and advocating for Israel.”


Click here to view SSI at Columbia University's response.


The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism says “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”


Brian Cohen, executive director of Columbia Barnard Hillel, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “At a University committed ‘to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level’ this referendum does the opposite.  We will continue to educate students the only way we know how — by exposing them to diverse points of view and instilling in them the confidence to ask difficult questions.


“We look forward to once again being able to send students — Jewish and non-Jewish — to Israel, giving them the opportunity to engage directly with Israelis and Palestinians.”


Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said in a statement that the referendum will have no effect on the university’s investments, as such decisions are made through the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. He reiterated his opposition to the referendum.


“To do so would contradict a long-held understanding that the University should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue,” he said. “Furthermore, in my view, as I have expressed many times over the years, it is unfair and inaccurate to single out this specific dispute for this purpose when there are so many other, comparably deeply entrenched conflicts around the world. And, finally, I have also raised concerns about how this debate over BDS has adversely affected the campus climate for many undergraduate students in our community.”


Bollinger stressed the importance of having dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but said that the university will not be “altering our endowment in order to advance the interests of one side.”


Jewish groups denounced the referendum’s passage.


“It is disappointing to see @Columbia students support a divisive BDS referendum that ostracizes and harms the campus Jewish community,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted. “Thank you, Pres. Bollinger, for your steadfast opposition to the BDS movement, which is so deeply rooted in antisemitism.”


StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “The Columbia student government blatantly violated its own constitution by approving a referendum question that was clearly not objective, fair, or impartial. The result was students being systematically misled into supporting a campaign of hate against Israel. Despite this institutional bias, we know students who genuinely support justice and peace between Israel and its neighbors will continue to stand up for what is right on campus.”


AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “In reality, student BDS resolutions carry absolutely no weight; universities will take zero action regardless of the outcome of the votes. The concern here is that there is a direct connection between these resolutions and the anti-Semitic incidents, including assaults, harassment and vandalism, that will surely follow. It’s unfortunate Columbia’s student body was once again fooled, or the students deliberately chose not to see it for what it was – a platform for inciting anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist hate that inevitably results in the targeting of Jewish students for harm.”

Read the full article here.


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