Now in its 12th year, Israeli Apartheid Week is grabbing the attention of Columbia students once again. With a list of important humanitarian issues on the agenda for this week, IAW is gaining excellent traction. But the mock apartheid wall, which will be one of this week's major highlights, is a powerful recruitment tool that students should be careful not to immediately take to heart. Because it relies entirely on an emotional appeal, it runs the risk of allowing others to forget to acknowledge the complexity of the situation.
As a first-year, I should expect IAW at Columbia to be something new to me. And as a pro-Israel Jewish student, I should expect it to also be quite frightening. But having spent the past school year in Israel, I'm prepared for the onslaught of intellectual criticisms against Israel, especially the misguided claims about Israeli apartheid that have been made this week.
The creation of the mock apartheid wall, a representation of the suffering of the Palestinian people living in the West Bank, is a political tactic meant to gain sympathy from the audience. In this case, that audience comprises truth-seeking Columbia students who want to stand up for what's right.
At first glance, the wall points out all the injustices that Israel has committed against the Palestinians: separating them from their families, dividing their farmland, and forcing them to go through intrusive security measures every time they need to cross. But it's important to recognize that although these difficulties are legitimate, they also affect Israelis living in the West Bank, who have to go through the same checkpoints.
According to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the construction of this barrier has prevented over 90 percent of attempted terror attacks, from which Israel has suffered since before its independence, with a notable spike during the violence of the First and Second Intifadas and these past two summers. Furthermore, the separation barrier, or security fence, as the Israeli government and others call it, is only between six percent and seven percent actual wall. Most of the barrier is just a fence with manned security checkpoints, reminiscent of airport security and regular international borders like the ones we might drive through to get to Canada.
And no Israeli law states that there must be racial segregation. Many of the laws "quoted" in reports of Israeli racial discrimination, for example, are bills that never passed. Still, the actions of the individual de facto do not always represent the law. Thus, even if racial segregation is not coded into Israeli law, some Israelis and Palestinians still act and feel hostile toward the other. Discrimination can exist anywhere, and this may be the case in Israel and the West Bank. But to call it apartheid is a fallacious appeal to pity, and thus a sensationalized attempt at gaining supporters.
Israel has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens and residents, granted to it by international law. As such, the construction of a barrier is meant to protect its people from acts of terror and violence, and Israel's motives in doing so are justified.
But Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Columbia University Apartheid Divest will still construct their mock wall, garnering the attention of students, faculty, and passersby. The wall relies heavily on pathos to make this argument by focusing entirely on the struggles of the people, and not disclosing how complex and historically-grounded the entire situation is.
To make matters even more complicated Columbia University Apartheid Divest stated earlier this semester that their aim in furthering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campus has little to do with actual boycott; the objective of CUAD's campaign is to "cultivate education" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But if this is the case, why do they use such methods as the mock wall to gain the interest of hundreds of students uninformed on this very complex situation? I worry that instead of properly informing students, the mock wall elicits an automatic emotional response to what purports to be a simple David and Goliath story without actually telling the whole story.
But this conflict is layered with hundreds of years of changing powers and borders, not all just involving Israelis and Palestinians. One wall on campus cannot possibly communicate the complex history if it seeks to rely on emotional appeal that may or may not eventually spark discussion. IAW is affiliated with a number of alphabet soup organizations, all with slightly different aims. By endorsing BDS without acknowledging that many pro-Israel adherents feel that it actively seeks to "demonize Israel and attack pro-Israel students," the mock apartheid wall perpetuates the notion that Israel does not have the right to exist—a modern and, perhaps trendy, version of anti-Semitism disguised as social justice.
But it's just a wall, right?
The author is a Barnard College first-year with a prospective major in comparative politics. She is also a columnist for Spectator.
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