When I began studying at Barnard last fall, a number of people felt the need to tell me that I was following in my mother's footsteps. They had no idea how right they were. As a student here in the mid-1980s, my mother, alongside other activists on campus, worked tirelessly—including writing in Spec's pages—to get Columbia's administration to divest from companies profiting from South Africa's racist, violent apartheid system.
Some legacy students at Columbia have followed in their mothers' paths by joining the same sororities. But I've found myself following in my mother's footsteps through my activist work on campus, particularly in opposing our University's complicity in another apartheid system, this time in Israel-Palestine. My mother has encouraged my own activism since I was very young, which has certainly made for lively dinner-table debates in my household.
The Israeli government has been systematically oppressing Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza for decades. Some of its tactics include strict water control—Israelis are afforded triple the amount of water that Palestinians receive daily—and increased settlement production that forces Palestinians out of their homes. The Israeli government has also detained Palestinian adults and children without probable cause, and has condoned extreme violence on the part of both the IDF and many settlers.
I believe that by investing in companies that profit from Israel's occupation, Columbia is ultimately furthering the oppression of the Palestinian people. And now that I am part of the Columbia community, I need to firmly decline to benefit from my University's investments in an oppressive regime, raising my voice in objection.
The fact that my family is culturally Jewish has organized my thinking about Israel-Palestine ever since I started paying attention to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in high school. Many of my Jewish friends and family members believe that identifying as a Zionist is a major part of Jewish identity. But as I've grappled with my own identity as an American Jew at an elite college—one of the most privileged communities in the United States—I've come to understand that I have a particular responsibility: I must work for the advancement of Palestinian human rights in the land they have called home since long before the establishment of the Jewish State.
As a matter of fact, part of what has pushed me to speak out against Israeli Apartheid is my Jewish ancestry. I have ancestors who died in the Holocaust, and my family's memory of these tragedies gives me the responsibility to fight against oppression whenever I can. Since coming to Barnard, I have engaged in numerous, albeit polite, debates with fellow Jewish classmates and friends who have questioned my Jewishness when I declare my opposition to the occupation and violent policies of the Israeli State. But for me, the opposite is true—my Jewish identity is the most present in my thoughts when I do activist work.
I look forward to seeing the interesting dialogue that the events organized this week by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace will enable—they are sure to be thought-provoking for people across the political spectrum. Lastly, I challenge some of my Jewish peers to reconsider their preconceived understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To be sure, this is not an easy challenge; for many of my peers, misconceptions about Israel have been passed down by trusted family members. Ultimately, it is important to realize that being pro-Palestine is not equivalent to being anti-Semitic.
I know that I have to live up to the work of my mother, and I hope that more of my fellow classmates, including those who are Jewish, will start to face the facts about the racist policies that our University thrives off of.
The author is a Barnard College first-year with prospective majors in ethnomusicology and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.
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