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Columbia students pass university’s first-ever Israel boycott vote

Students at Columbia University pass a first-ever referendum to boycott and divest from companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s acts towards Palestinians.”

The news was released to the Columbia student body via email Tuesday morning, the day after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. According to the vote results shared with The Jewish Week, 61% of undergraduates who weighed in (1,081 votes) voted in favor of the referendum, 27% (485 votes) voted against it, and 11% (205 votes) abstained.

The referendum does not affect the university’s investments. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger released a statement Tuesday morning emphasizing 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.”

A view of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library in New York, Sept. 25, 2019 (Josefin Dolsten/via JTA)

Bollinger, who earlier this year published a statement tying the movement to boycott Israel to the current rise in anti-Semitism, clarified that “questions about possible divestment of endowment funds are not decided by referendum” but rather through a process involving the university’s advisory committee.

Still, the student leader of an Israel advocacy group said the vote, which represents the first time the Columbia College student council passed the referendum and brought the vote to the student body, represents a “symbolic loss” for pro-Israel students.

“After everything that was done to pass this referendum, the president immediately came out with a statement that the university has zero plans to divest,” said Romy Ronen, a junior in the joint degree program of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University and the vice president of Students Support Israel on campus.

“Still, what the vote has accomplished is making the majority of pro-Israel students on campus feel unsafe, victimized and disappointed,” says Ronen. “It makes it feel normalized to boycott and divest from the only Jewish state, a place a lot of us call home.”

— NY Jewish Week via JTA

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