Guest blog by By Ben and Lindsay Chevlin from Students Supporting Israel of Colombia University.
Hundreds of pro-Israel Columbia University students stood gathered in bunches outside of the decision room, hoping they’d be greeted by the news that the divestment referendum would not appear on the 2019 election ballot. They were joined by the proponents of the BDS movement, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). The Columbia College Student Council was to decide on whether to include a referendum on the question of divesting from companies that have contributed to Israel’s “oppressive occupation” in the West Bank and Gaza. SJP and JVP have united to form an alliance called Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), which has aligned itself with the BDS movement and has made a concerted effort to draw the Columbia campus towards divesting from Israel-related companies.
These groups framed the induction of this referendum as a way to “gauge support for divestment on campus” and better understand the thinking of the Columbia College student body on the issue of divestment. In this way, introducing the referendum seems within reason; however, this framing completely de-contextualizes the vote from BDS and the various negative consequences for Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, essentially attempting to separate the vote from their aggressive and hate-filled rhetoric and tactics.
CUAD went further, repeating their hope to stimulate conversation on the topic, explaining the referendum to be a great way for Columbia’s student council to gauge the interest of their constituents and begin a dialogue on the matter. While such a vote may empower the views of some, it will endanger many more. These views are those of the pro-Israel masses situated outside of the decision-making room. They essentially argued that this vote and the topic of divestment is about much more than what it presents itself to be; its implications involve the silencing and targeting of a significant group of students, preventing them from sharing their narrative and presenting their perspective on the issues. Instead of stimulating conversation and interest in the Israel-Palestinian issues, it would only hamper it. The Middle East conflict, that has persisted for many, many years, is much greater and more complex than a simple yes or no question. In this vain, the pro-Israel students were hoping that such a referendum wouldn’t make it onto a ballot, hoping a vote that demonizes and disproportionately targets a country so central to their identity does not succeed. In the end, the truth and justice won out… so, until next time.