One-third of Barnard College’s students are Jewish, the highest proportion among secular colleges in the United States.
While the school administration will not move forward with the call to divest, it has nonetheless caused concern among pro-Israel activists that the results will embolden BDS activists, as the vote has been hailed as a major victory for the movement.
Students at Barnard College just voted overwhelmingly to ask the school’s administration to divest from and boycott eight companies that do business with Israel and profit from the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. Barnard, a women’s college that is part of Columbia University, passed the referendum by a 64 to 36 percent margin, with about half of the school’s students participating in the vote — a turnout much higher than in previous votes on the subject, perhaps reflecting Israel’s recent shooting of more than 2,000 unarmed Gazan protesters.
The result of the vote is being hailed as a major victory for Palestinian-rights movement BDS, the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel for its violations of international law in Palestine.
The referendum had been written by Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine and urged the school’s administration to divest entirely from companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.” It specifically singles out companies like Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, Mekorot and Hyundai, among others, for violating international law in relation to Israel’s policies as they relate to Palestine. The referendum explains each company’s relationship to the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Forces.
The news of the vote came as a particular surprise given that Barnard has the highest population percentage of Jewish students among secular colleges in the United States. Fully a third of its student body is Jewish, meaning that a significant number of those Jewish students either supported the referendum or were uninterested in actively opposing it.