December 7, 2019

Columbia Student Government Votes to Hold Campus Referendum on Divestment

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Columbia University’s College Student Council (CCSC) voted on the evening of Nov. 24 to have the campus vote on a referendum calling on the university to divest from companies that conduct business with Israel.

The Columbia Spectator reports that the final vote was 25 in favor and 12 against. During the discussion before the vote, Aryeh: Columbia Student Association Communications Director Jonathan Cohen argued that the Israel-Palestinian conflict should be discussed through events and debates, not “through a question, through a referendum shoved down students’ throats.” 

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Siri Ketha said, “Not allowing this question to pass would be a direct impediment to the so-called dialogue you wish to foster. How could dialogue be fostered if this conversation keeps getting confined to this room specifically?”

Anti-Defamation League New York and New Jersey Regional Director Evan Bernstein denounced the vote in a statement.

“The founding goals of the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement and many of the strategies it employs are anti-Semitic and are counterproductive to a pathway to Israel-Palestinian peace,” Bernstein said. “We stand with Columbia Hillel and the students across the Columbia campus who are rightly concerned by this development.”

Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University wrote in a Facebook that members of SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace started chanting “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” after the vote.

“For many observers, this chant might seem like an ordinary victory chant but, in fact, this is the core of the conflict,” they wrote. “These groups are not asking to foster peace, but to erase the only Jewish state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This is a call for genocide.”

Columbia’s SSI chapter added that they will be vigilant in opposing the referendum.

“SSI, along with other pro-Israel groups on our campus will inform students on the antisemitic repercussions of this referendum, its negation to real dialogue, and will not let this pass the next stage,” they wrote. “We urge students to see that this will only divide our campus, will only being hatred to our campus, will only harm our Jewish and pro-Israel students and, most importantly, that it is completely unjust.”

StandWithUs Executive Director of Campus Affairs Rena Nasar First said in a statement to the Journal, “CCSC blatantly violated its own constitution by approving a referendum question that is clearly not objective, fair, or impartial. Despite this institutional bias, we know students opposing BDS are on the right side of history and will stand up for what is right on campus.”

The university released a statement on Nov. 24 after the vote saying that decisions on divestment are made through the Advisory Council on Socially Responsible Investing’s advice, not through a campus-wide referendum.

A date for the vote has not yet been announced.