Columbia University Apartheid Divest is declaring that Zionists are racists. But Zionists are not racists, and saying that they are is bigoted.
It’s telling when some activists wrap themselves in universal principles of human rights but somehow form exceptions to their own rules when it comes to Jewish or Israeli rights. CUAD does not oppose the pursuit of statehood by others—Italians, Algerians, Poles, Tunisians, Palestinians—but it smears as “racist” only those who support Zionism, the political movement for Jewish national liberation.
Here lies a double standard: While calling for Palestinian self-determination, CUAD insists that Jews are not entitled to the same right. They believe Palestinian statehood should come at the expense of Jewish self-determination. As opposed to CUAD’s maximalist aspirations, the Zionist claim to the Holy Land is not exclusive. Many of Israel’s Jewish citizens, in fact, want the Palestinians to build a successful state for themselves so that Israel can extract itself from West Bank entanglements. Many also believe that if the Palestinians had a functioning, democratic, and prosperous state of their own, it would help Israel preserve its own democratic and Jewish character.
CUAD advocates Palestinian self-determination and, by consequence, denies the Jewish need for a state. By contrast, Aryeh recognizes the national aspirations of both sides—we raise awareness and funds for Arab and Jewish coexistence programs as part of our Invest in Peace campaign.
Every spring, CUAD stages “Israeli Apartheid Week.” CUAD members stand on College Walk and call Israel an “apartheid regime.” But it’s not. Israel is a fully fledged democracy. Its Arab citizens, who make up approximately 20 percent of the population, enjoy full voting rights, membership in the parliament and on the Supreme Court, and an education that allows them to graduate as valedictorians at the country’s top academic institutions.
It’s not racist to believe that Jews have the same rights to national self-rule as all other peoples or nations. It is racist to believe that Jews are different from all other peoples and do not deserve the same rights to self-rule.
CUAD bases its stance on one of the most disgraceful mistakes ever committed by the U.N. General Assembly: the notorious 1975 resolution that denounced Zionism as racism, the poison fruit of a Cold War alliance of Arab and Soviet dictators. CUAD invokes this hateful resolution without addressing the important fact that the General Assembly admitted its error by revoking the resolution as the Cold War faded in 1991. CUAD notes the resolution in its Facebook event page, while conspicuously leaving out that it was repealed. That’s a concerning half-truth.
American ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later a six-term Democratic U.S. Senator from New York, condemned the resolution as an “obscenity.” He declared, “The United States of America declares that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.” CUAD should take note.
Zionism was first formally organized in 1897, a product in part of the wave of national consciousness that transformed Europe in the latter half of the 19th century. The Zionist movement’s aims have been to establish and secure a democratic state with a Jewish majority in the Jewish homeland where Jews can have a national center and defend themselves. It brought about Israel’s establishment in 1948.
Palestinian leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini in the 1920s and ’30s, to Yasser Arafat, and to Mahmoud Abbas today have sacrificed the well-being of their people by demanding exclusive control of Palestine. They have consistently rejected the idea of a land for peace, in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008.
CUAD promotes that same extremism with chants like, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” From the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (the area containing Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza), Palestine will be free of what? Jewish statehood. Such chants don’t object to Israel’s size or current borders; they challenge Israel’s right to exist. And they contrast with the willingness of Zionists—leaders and the masses—to make peace on the basis of dividing and sharing the land.
Today, a number of students are wearing T-shirts that identify them as Zionists. They are affirming support for Israel as the democratic national center of the Jewish people. Approach them, question them, and support them. Ask them to discuss Aryeh’s Invest in Peace campaign. Like Arabs, Jews are citizens of many nations. However, Israel is the only state in the whole world that has a Jewish majority and serves as a guaranteed refuge and national center for the Jewish people. Jews had nowhere to go in the face of the Holocaust, and many were murdered after being refused entry into Allied countries. And as we’ve seen by the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and the over 50 bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the past couple months, anti-Semitism threatens Jews even in America.
Zionists are justly proud of Israel’s accomplishments. They had to overcome bigotry to create Israel, and they have to continue to fight bigotry to help sustain the state. Due to CUAD’s defamatory accusations, Columbia’s Zionists still face that fight today.
Dore Feith is a junior at Columbia and the president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel. This piece is written on behalf of Aryeh’s executive board.
To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.