Using the term apartheid to describe the current political situation in Israel attempts to equate, inaccurately, two fundamentally different situations. Just as the erection of a wall on campus does nothing except perpetuate a politics of division between the two groups, the usage of this term results in a perverse paradigm of prejudice against the Jewish state. With the pro-Israel community camped on one side of College Walk, and members of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine located on the other side, the wall has come to represent a barrier to conversation.
For three years, we have passed the Apartheid Wall, analyzed leaflets, and skimmed fact sheets, but what do we have to show for it? Three years later, can C-SJP and Hillel’s four pro-Israel groups say that the conversation has moved forward at all? The answer is that, sadly, it has not, and neither have we. Israel Apartheid Week is upon us once again, and we stand at the same crossroads—literally, between the Sundial and Low Plaza—as we did three years ago.
The notion of action and productive conversation between pro-Israel groups and C-SJP does not mean, as some have implied, the delegitimization of Palestinian suffering. Social issues continue to confront Israel—to deny them would do Israel, as well as Palestinians, a grave disservice in the same way that labeling Israel an apartheid state does a grave disservice to the peace process. That label oversimplifies and falsely describes the dynamics in Israel, obscuring a clear understanding of the situation. Both sides must work towards effective change and replace rhetoric with actions. In order to move forward, it is important to take a step back to look at the larger picture.
In the West Bank, the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are moving forward to create a sustainable future for Palestinians by cultivating the infrastructure and security that will help lead to an autonomous Palestinian state. Working with the Israeli government, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has developed the Palestinian Ministry of Finance, leading to unprecedented GDP growth in the West Bank. And beyond government, the Palestinian city of Jenin and the Israeli area of Gilboa have launched numerous joint economic ventures, leading to a renewal of tolerance that could become a model for the region.
Why is this not the case on our campus? Here at Columbia, we should support this precarious progress by emulating the efforts at coexistence that have succeeded abroad. As Israelis and Palestinians slowly move forward toward greater understanding in the Middle East, we have a responsibility to move forward at home. Many obstacles to peace still remain, and both Israelis and Palestinians continue to suffer, but these instances of coexistence demonstrate that peace is a realistic possibility.
Using words like apartheid to describe the situation in Israel destroys any hope that creative solutions and ideas will thrive in this intellectual community. Israel is by no means perfect, but calling it an apartheid state and continually refusing to discuss the major issues does little to change the status quo. Columbia students are known as transformative thinkers, and this situation need not be any different. We have the ability to shape the conversation and facilitate the change we wish to see, but that change can only come about by approaching the issues in a new and constructive manner. To begin: Let us engage in discourse and move beyond the barriers the last three years of experiences have constructed. The Columbia campus came together this past week to defend the Muslim Students Association, showing that a common commitment to justice and tolerance unites our campus. These shared commitments should form the foundation for a renewal of tolerance on campus and become a model for all student groups at Columbia. C-SJP: Let’s create a space for dialogue and close the gap on College Walk. Let’s produce conversation instead of confrontation.
The author is a List College junior majoring in modern Jewish studies and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. She is the Israel coordinator of Hillel.