Due to the United States and the world grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, Columbia University’s student government has postponed an undergraduate student referendum scheduled for this month calling on the university to divest from companies doing business in Israel.

In a statement on Friday, the Columbia Elections Commission (CEC) and the executive board of the Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) said that it would not be conducive to hold the vote because students are not on campus to discuss the BDS referendum ahead of the vote.

The university switched to remote learning on March 11.

The vote has been pushed to the fall semester “or whenever campus returns to its normal operation,” said CEC and CCSC.

According to the two groups, “CCSC is constitutionally charged to foster ‘cohesiveness and community among the entire undergraduate population,’ and we do not believe that subjecting the Columbia College student body to a contentious discussion during these perilous times would align with this ideal. We are especially concerned about the toll that such a divisive conversation would take on Columbia College students who are already struggling to balance academic obligations with pressing family matters.”

Columbia president Lee Bollinger has expressed opposition to the referendum, calling the BDS movement “controversial,” and that it’s “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 said “it’s wrong” for Jews to be targeted by anti-Semitism.

At least 140 Columbia faculty members have signed an open letter—organized by the Academic Engagement Network (AEN)—to applaud “Bollinger’s forceful and unequivocal declaration against bigotry and prejudice, which are intolerable, as he said, when directed against any group, especially within a university.”

“As faculty across all ranks who research and teach on the Columbia campus, we are committed to fostering a learning community that respects free inquiry, intellectual engagement, and open exchange,” stated the letter signatories. “We believe that our [u]niversity thrives on debate and dissent over contentious local, national, and global issues and challenges.”

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