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Friday, June 5, 2020

Columbia SJP Calls for Boycotting Pro-Israel Groups on Campus

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Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) published a statement on April 28 advocating for the boycott of all pro-Israel organizations on campus.

SJP issued the statement after Columbia’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) invited SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace to discuss the Israel-Palestinian conflict. SSI also sent the invitation to the Columbia College Student Council.

Columbia SJP said they rejected the invitation because of SSI’s “racist, belligerent, and downright bizarre anti-Palestinian activities on campus.” SJP said those events included SSI’s campus event earlier this month that it hosted with Act.IL (a joint project of the Israeli American Council [IAC]), the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) and the Maccabee Task Force that combats anti-Semitism online) and The Lawfare Project, (which fights the boycott, divestment and sanctions and protects Jewish students through legal means.) They also cited SSI chapters’ nationwide partnership with pro-Israel groups including StandWithUs, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), and the Hasbara Fellowships.

Columbia SJP also stated that in 2017 Columbia SSI filed harassment claims against SJP members; the university threw out those claims in 2018.

SJP’s statement downplayed SSI’s claim that the university isn’t doing enough to protect Zionist students on campus.

“We believe that racist ethno-supremacism should, in fact, be challenged on campus,” the statement read. “We also believe that social ostracization is a powerful tool that the student body can use to voice their rejection of Zionism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and other oppressive ideologies. The claim that such a challenge would entail actual, physical or psychological violence against individual Zionist students reflects a racist—but all-too-common—strategy that depicts pro-Palestinian advocacy as inherently prone to violence, escalation, and ‘terrorism.’”

The statement also denounced SSI Columbia’s mission statement that SSI is part of “an indigenous rights movement,” calling Zionist claims of being indigenous to Israel “laughably false” as part of “racist co-optation of genuine anti-colonial struggles and organizing.”

“We believe organizations like SSI, given their racist rhetoric and their recorded history of harassment, must be effectively de-platformed,” Columbia SJP said in the statement. “Changing people’s ideas is an important part of any movement for social justice. However, groups that have explicitly demonstrated their anti-Palestinian racism, despite all attempts to hide this fact behind a veil of civility, cannot be treated as “normal” conversation partners. Engaging in dialogue only makes violent ideas and practices seem acceptable within political discourse on campus. We refuse to put the humanity of Palestinians up for debate.”

The statement continued that the boycott should be extended to “all pro-Israel advocacy groups and clubs.”

SSI Columbia responded on its Facebook page, stating, “SSI’s invitation to host a joint event came as a result of SJP claiming that they want to promote dialogue on this issue on campus. After reasserting their anti-normalization policies and miserably attempting to present skewed facts about SSI’s activities in past years, they have asked all other Columbia clubs and organizations for the direct boycott of all pro-Israel advocacy groups on campus. This is downright preposterous, frustrating and reprehensible.”

The statement continued: “We hope that SJP members come to their senses and instead of making aggressive public Facebook posts targeting other student groups on campus, work with us towards a better future for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Despite their vicious and false rhetoric, we, SSI Columbia, are holding the higher moral ground and we insist that the invitation to hold a joint event is still open.”

Avi Gordon, executive director for Alums for Campus Fairnness said in a statement to the Journal, “The statement issued by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine is meant to isolate Jewish and Zionist students on campus and demonize Israel. We speak as one alumni voice to make it clear that this bigotry will not be tolerated. Universities should be pillars of truth, academic freedom, and open discourse. SJP’s rhetoric directly threatens these values. We call on the University administration to condemn SJP’s clear discrimination against students who support Israel.”

Brooke Goldstein, executive director of The Lawfare Project, said in a statement to the Journal, “SJP’s call to boycott Zionist organizations and isolate other members of their campus community is bigoted and discriminatory. Their slander against The Lawfare Project and other organizations is yet another attempt to marginalize the Jewish community and stifle free speech.”

Goldstein added, “The Lawfare Project will continue to defend the rights of Jewish students and encourage equitable campus discourse.  We call on Columbia University to suspend campus-sponsored organizations engaging in discrimination like SJP.”

Max Samarov, executive director of Research and Strategy at StandWithUs said in a statement to the Journal, “If SJP wants to boycott those who spread hate on campus, they should start by boycotting themselves.”

The university did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

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