LectureHop: Columbia Palestine Forum
Written by Bwog Staff
| Graphic used by Adalah New York speakers
Bwog’s Liz Naiden squeezed into Hamilton 517 early for the Columbia Palestine Forum.
Eager throngs crowded closer to the door and looked longingly into a small Hamilton classroom where the Columbia Palestine Forum was about to commence (Columbia Palestine Forum being both the name of the event and the group that sponsored it). Quick background: the group demands (among other items) that Columbia issue a declaration of support for academic freedom in Palestine, “condemn the destructive actions of the Israeli state,” and hold “an open forum detailing its investments in companies and corporations actively involved in or profiting from the Israeli occupation, to begin a conversation University-wide conversation about divestment.”
The four-professor panel (Gil Andijar, Bruce Robbins, Brinkley Messick, and Mahmood Mamdani) mainly addressed issues of academic freedom, how universities are involved in governmental and military policy, and the application of the term “apartheid” to the situation in Israel and Palestine. Anidjar opened with a discussion about the relationship between boycotting and freedom, ultimately agreeing with the US government�s view that boycotting is a legitimate way to promote and exercise freedom.
Robbins followed by defining academic freedom as not being able to be fired for what one writes and says. Robbins argued that, using this definition, Israel restricts many Palestinians’ academic freedom. He went on to add that the Israeli government�s actions are violations not of academic freedom but of human rights. Messick focused on protecting academic freedom, which he argues can be done by �protecting the space of the academy where free discourse can happen,” and gave examples of the damage military connections can have on universities.
Finally, Mamdani focused mostly on the use of the term apartheid, acknowledging that it does not fit perfectly with the situation in Israel. He provided instead the example of the oppression by freed African slaves returning to Liberia of the population they found there. The returning Liberians created a society of institutionalized discrimination that violated the human rights of the second class, who had never been �civilized� by living in America. Though he clarified that apartheid is specific to racial discrimination, Mamdani argued the distinction was immaterial, and that Israel is linked to South Africa by a similar systematization.
After the professors spoke, two Columbia grads representing the Palestinian advocacy group Adalah New York gave a brief presentation about the history of Israel. Included in the presentation was a series of maps which compared the Jewish holdings in the early 20th century and those of today, a list of human rights violations of the Israeli government, and figures outlining the list of companies to boycott, including hummus producer Sabra, L’Oreal, Motorola, and Max Brenner Chocolate. During the presentation, one of the activists spoke passionately about her experience as a Palestinian. She said that her movement is restricted while at home, and showed us her required ID card.
After Olivia Rosane, BC ’09 and one of the founders of the Columbia Palestine Forum, outlined the demands of the group, the floor was opened for questions and comments. Some of the comments and questions were critical of the presenters, particularly questions that touched upon Hamas and questions concerning a two state solution. Mamdani clarified that he was not in favor of the dissolution of Israel, and that, for all he cared, �there can be ten states! It doesn�t matter how many states there are. I really don�t care how many states there are. I care about the quality of citizenship.� This opinion was echoed by the rest of the presenters, as were Mamdani�s feelings towards Hamas, which he characterized as seemingly shifting seamlessly between a terrorist organization and a liberation movement like the IRA. He also noted that Britain eventually had to negotiate with the IRA after spending years searching for a �good Irish organization.”
When the Q&A was cut short due to time considerations, the moderator encouraged the audience to sign a petition and attend the speak-out tomorrow at noon on Low Plaza, where the Columbia Palestine Forum will face off with the administration on Columbia�s divestment and academic freedom policies. Get your popcorn ready.