Columbia University president opposes student referendum supporting BDS

The upcoming undergraduate student vote calls on the university to support divestment from companies doing business with Israel.

CONNECT WITH them. Students walk outside the Library of Columbia University in New York. (photo credit: REUTERS)
CONNECT WITH them. Students walk outside the Library of Columbia University in New York.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, in a strong statement, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger condemned antisemitism and opposed an upcoming undergraduate student vote calling on the university to support divestment from companies doing business with Israel, the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) reported.
According to JNS, the referendum was scheduled to be voted on April 4 to April 8 and calls on the university to divest “from companies that profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians.” The vote to hold a referendum on divestment was passed last November.
“There is no question that this is a highly contentious issue, both the underlying issues of Israel and the Palestinians and the idea of divestment as a means of protest about Israel’s policies,” said Bollinger about the referendum.
He added that he refused to support divestment for two main reasons.
“One is the longstanding understanding that the university should not change its investment policies on the basis of a political position unless there is a broad consensus within the institution that to do so is morally and ethically compelled,” he said. “This is a necessary though not sufficient condition. I do not believe that consensus exists with respect to this proposal.”
Bollinger added that the vote “imposes a standard on this particular political issue that is not right when one considers similar issues in other countries and in other contexts around the world.”
“To my mind, that is unwise, analytically flawed, and violates my sense of fairness and proportionality. I well understand that some others whom I respect hold different views, but, if I am called upon to take a position, this is the one I have come to over the years,” he added.
Talking about BDS movement itself, Bollinger said that "what must be avoided at all costs, and what I fear is happening today, is a process of mentality that goes from hard-fought debates about very real and vital issues to hostility and even hatred toward all members of groups of people simply by virtue of a religious, racial, national, or ethnic relationship. This must not happen."
Bollinger also added that he has increasingly become concerned about rising antisemitism on campus and in the country. He said that assertions that Columbia is an “antisemitic” university are "preposterous," and that "no Jewish student, faculty member, or staff I know believes this to be the case."
“But the absurdity of the claim does not and should not stop me or us from speaking out against instances and episodes of antisemitism that do exist. I view it as my responsibility to say when I see something that should concern us. I do so now,” he added referring to the student vote.
The statement sparked reactions from many organizations.
Anti-Defamation League CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, expressed on Twitter that he was “grateful for @Columbia President Bollinger making such a clear statement to the student government with his strong condemnation of #antisemitism and the BDS movement." "University presidents across the nation should follow his example," he added.

The American Jewish Committee also tweeted: “Thank you, @Columbia President Bollinger, for your unambiguous condemnation of anti-Semitism and your principled opposition to the bigoted BDS Movement. Anti-Semitism must be rejected in all its forms—including anti-Zionism.”

Different pro-Israel student groups are active on campus and some of them also reacted. 
Aryeh: Columbia Student Association for Israel wrote one Facebook post that “amidst rising anti-Semitism on Columbia’s campus and in the world, it is essential that everyone comes together to fight it. Hate against Jews doesn’t belong on our campus, and it certainly doesn’t belong on the ballot.”
Similarly, Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia University thanked President Bollinger for his statement.
Hillel's Executive Director at Columbia University, Brian Cohen, also thanked Bollinger.  “President Bollinger’s statement on antisemitism and BDS to the university senate is very significant. It is one of the strongest statements I have seen from a university president,” Cohen told Algemeiner.
“I look forward to continue working with President Bollinger and his team to further improve the situation on campus for Jewish students, and any other students who are the victims of hate,” he added.

Over the past few years, antisemitic incidents at Columbia University have been on the rise. The organization AMCHA reports that 123 incidents occurred at Columbia in the past five years and has published statements in which Jewish students admit to feeling threatened on campus.