In recent weeks, Columbia University has played host to an astounding number of anti-Israel activities. The university has become inundated with a biased and one-sided perspective to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the form of meetings, online petitions, posters, “teach-ins” and opinion letters. Surveying these activities, one might think that Israel was the single greatest abuser of human rights in the world today, and that its policies were developed in a vacuum—void of any security obligations for its civilian population. One might believe that the disturbing picture being painted by a minority of Columbia University students and faculty is an accurate one.
The truth is that certain groups are attempting to turn one of the most complicated foreign policy issues in recent history into a black-and-white campaign, wherein Israel is the sole wrongdoer. Don’t worry—there is plenty of blame to go around. The silent majority is being sidelined by a growing minority, which has called on President Lee Bollinger and Columbia University to divest from and boycott the state of Israel, and has accused the Jewish state of apartheid and genocide.
Israel is by no means a perfect state. As a country whose very existence is denounced by countries near and far—and one under a constant threat of war and terrorism—it has taken actions that have not always been correct and certainly have not always made for pretty pictures. But what is so disconcerting is the lack of criticism by University professors, students, and human rights groups about the injustices carried out against Israel.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority—these are just a handful of governments that have worse human rights records than Israel. All have carried out mass killings, arrests or torture in the name of national security. Yet there are no calls here at Columbia for boycotts, or allegations of apartheid against them. Sudan is committing genocide, the Kurds remain the largest population in the world without a state of their own, and the Chinese just cracked down even more harshly on ethnic Tibetans. Where are the teach-ins? The outcry?
Morever, a total silence remains with regards to the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for its problems, specifically those in the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian people themselves democratically elected a terrorist organization. Hamas openly denies Israel’s right to exist, and carries out acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians. While Hamas was elected in part because it was less corrupt than Fatah and had more effective social welfare programs, there is no ignoring the fact that the Palestinian people were well aware of Hamas’ acts of terrorism, or that polls consistently show that the majority of Palestinian people support these attacks.
If professors in fields as wide-ranging as urban planning, medicine, art history, and anthropology can take the time to write a letter to President Lee Bollinger voicing their concern with Israel’s military activities in Gaza that impinge on Palestinian academic freedom, surely they can sign another letter expressing their disappointment at the fact that over 100 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli civilian communities since Israel declared a ceasefire a few weeks ago. These rockets have landed in kindergartens and playgrounds. How’s that for academic freedom? Where is the letter criticizing the lack of responsibility that Hamas holds for using its own civilians to carry out its insurgency and terrorist campaigns?
According to a Freedom House Organization report on worldwide freedom and democracy, Israel is the only country in the entire Middle East listed as “Free.” I am guessing you won’t hear that mentioned at the next “Israel Apartheid” meeting. Israel—like the United States—is not perfect by any means, but let’s keep things in perspective: it is fighting an adversary that is astute and cunning and that will stop at nothing to see its goals reached. Let this be something to think about.
Joshua Gleis is a Visiting Scholar at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.