When students launched the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network last year, they sought to put into practice principles of solidarity between movements and work against forms of oppression using an intersectional framework. The guiding principle of this coalition was that all forms of oppression operate in interrelated ways and thus must be fought together. Although BCSN sought to foster solidarity among campus activists, its inclusion of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace incurred virulent criticism as some argued that the pro-Palestinian groups created a hostile environment for students who support Israel.
We, members of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, were left asking: why should recognition of intersectionality exclude Palestinians? How could one, in good conscience, ignore racism, sexual violence, environmental racism, and colonialism in the context of Israel/Palestine? When students are made aware of this double standard, they will often say that they simply don’t know enough to take a stance. This widespread belief—that entitlement to an opinion requires exhaustive knowledge of the Israeli occupation of Palestine—keeps many students out of the conversations we in CUAD try to encourage on campus.
Moreover, the misleading and divisive narrative of “us vs. them” that attends dominant discourses surrounding Israel/Palestine activism intimidates students and activists with the implied accusation that any engagement at all amounts to full endorsement of one side or the other. Either afraid of negotiating or believing themselves unable to negotiate these polarizing stances, students retreat to a position of presumed “neutrality,” a non-stance amounting to little more than tacit support for the status quo: occupation, dispossession, and apartheid. “Neutral” silence has become a powerful tool wielded by Zionists in their effort to bolster the hegemony of Israeli apartheid and dissuade dissenting voices. From hard-right Zionist groups such as AIPAC to student Hillel chapters, the discourse about Israel/Palestine at Columbia is in need of dramatic recalibration.
We put on events for Israeli Apartheid Week to create a space for learning and growing, not hostility. Activism is a process, one that is shared between all groups organizing against oppression and one that asks for the participation—at whatever capacity—of those who might not call themselves “activists.” Without engaged people seeking new information, dialogue on campus becomes a repetitive cycle of attack between the “two sides.”
As part of our work this Israeli Apartheid Week, CUAD will present a resolution to CCSC calling for divestment from companies that participate in Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the government’s continued human rights abuses. If 10 percent of the CC student body signs our petition supporting the resolution, CCSC will be obligated to put the resolution to a vote for the entire Columbia College student body. The resolution seeks to end our University’s support for corporations that engage in and profit from human rights violations in Israel/Palestine.
Education and dialogue during Israeli Apartheid week are essential to the resolution vote. This is our way of honoring the Palestinian call to BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). BDS, with its three simple demands, is an effective tactic for pressuring the Israeli government into abiding by international law. It is a tangible way to empower everyone, from consumer to politician, to end apartheid.
There is a new administration in Washington, and a staunch supporter of illegal settlement building has been nominated to be the new U.S. ambassador to Israel. Now more than ever it is incumbent upon us to fight for institutional support in the struggle to end the well-documented violations of human rights in Palestine. To do so means both to learn and to act simultaneously. We hope Israeli Apartheid Week will serve this purpose. This week, featuring events every night, and our mock apartheid wall on Low Plaza every day, is an essential moment in our movement and an excellent opportunity for students to learn about Israel/Palestine.
The United States has witnessed the consolidation of power by some of the country’s most overtly corporate, racist, and authoritarian forces in the past few months. The supposedly neutral stance on Israel/Palestine may have felt comfortable for people in the past, but it now becomes impossible to uphold if we are at all opposed to what is happening in the United States—the Muslim ban, the Dakota Access Pipeline, police brutality and the reinstatement of Jim Crow-era voting laws in some states. It has been heartening to see so many in the United States come together—in the streets, at town hall meetings, on campuses—to reaffirm our basic principles of equal protection under the law. Right here in Morningside Heights, students, faculty, staff, and administrators have recommitted to the principles of sanctuary. In this fraught moment, it is especially important that we affirm our insistence that basic human rights are not limited by zip code, religion, or national identity, but that they are fundamental rights for all individuals. This is what we, as CUAD members, fight for this week and every week.
Columbia University Apartheid Divest is a coalition between Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.
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