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March 8, 2019 5:51 pm

Columbia Students to Consider Divestment Referendum Targeting Israel This Weekend

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The statue Alma Mater in front of Low Memorial Library on the campus of Columbia University. Photo: Nowhereman86 via Wikimedia Commons.

Columbia University student leaders will consider on Sunday a proposal to hold a campus-wide referendum on divestment from Israel.

The ballot initiative is being brought forward to the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) by the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) clubs, which last spring spearheaded a successful referendum asking the Barnard College student government to call for divestment from eight companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” The measure was later criticized and rejected by Barnard President Sian Leah Beilock.

A previous attempt to pass the referendum at Columbia was voted down in 2017 by a margin of 26-5 and one abstention, with opponents criticizing its divisive language.

Flyers distributed by SSI president Ofir Dayan.

“[This] time will hopefully be different, especially if we demonstrate that this is an issue that students deserve a platform to discuss, and an issue that a wide range of student groups support, let alone an issue that is morally imperative,” stated SJP, which has long promoted the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign on campus.

Both Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University and Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel are urging supporters to show up for the evening vote, with SSI arguing that “major proponents of BDS have explicitly, deliberately, and repeatedly called for not only the obliteration of Israel as a Jewish state, but Israel as a geopolitical entity itself.”

SSI president Ofir Dayan said she’s been working to raise awareness of the challenges BDS campaigns pose for Jewish students, distributing flyers to students who walk by BDS displays in an attempt to show another side.

“This resolution does not promote dialogue of a resolution to this issue, it drives us further apart and makes us boycott each other,” she told The Algemeiner. “I really hope the student government will see that it’s not an easy issue and agree to reduce it to a yes or not vote — it’s doing an injustice to us and the situation.”

“I hope they see that Columbia has a big Jewish and non-Jewish, pro-Israel community that will be deeply offended if it passes.”

Orit Gugenheim, president of Aryeh, likewise described the divestment proposal as misleading and “a deliberate oversimplification of an incredibly complex issue.”

She told The Algemeiner that the measure is also antisemitic “at its core by denying Jewish right to self-determination in its historical homeland, and by singling out Israel.” SJP and JVP have rejected claims that BDS is inherently discriminatory, framing it as a human rights movement.

In alignment with its mission, “CCSC should reject a proposal that the significant majority of the targeted community denounces as bigoted against it,” Gugenheim said.

She added that the “campus climate, especially as it concerns Zionist students and others who reject BDS, has been of anxiety and nervous expectation,” and that her club and allies have worked hard to ensure that the “tense and divisive environment that overwhelmed Barnard last year” is not repeated.

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