Columbia and Barnard have a diversity, inclusion problem

"Israel Apartheid Week" at Columbia University is bringing out an aggressive anti-Zionism in the student and faculty body.

By LEORA EINLEGER
April 12, 2019 07:42
4 minute read.
Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University.

Israel Apartheid Week at Columbia University.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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There is a diversity and inclusion problem at Columbia University and Barnard College.

It is “Israel Apartheid Week” at Columbia University. The campus is filled with flyers that feature a cartoon Israeli soldier with a horn chasing after a Palestinian boy; Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) put up a makeshift wall in the middle of campus and held an event called “Pro-Zionism & Anti-Semitism” led by Professor Joseph Massad, who has referred to Israel as a “racist Jewish state.”

It is nearly impossible to be involved in student activism of any form on campus while also being a Zionist. CUAD is endorsed by campus clubs including the Asian Political Collective, Columbia Queer Alliance, Columbia University Black Students’ Organization, Columbia South Asian Feminism Alliance, and many others. These affiliations explicitly prohibit Zionist participation in their respective activism.

This exclusion exists even in apolitical student societies. When I tried to publish an article in the Columbia Daily Spectator explaining my experience as both a Zionist and a women’s studies major, I was told that even though the op-ed was well written, the student newspaper “recently published an op-ed with a similar angle, and we prefer to publish pieces with various different angles in order to generate novel discourse on campus or offer a completely new perspective for readers.”

The only remotely similar article I could find was one from last November – in the wake of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue massacre – in which the author discussed antisemitism and intersectionality at the Columbia School of Social Work.

It has become apparent that members of the university community only promote the opinions of those with whom they agree. I’ve seen the problem first hand in the Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Department.

I enrolled in a course on gender and power last year, thinking it would perfectly suit my interests as a women’s studies major. Yet while college classes are supposed to foster stimulating, thought-provoking conversation, this one did exactly the opposite. No matter what the seminar topic was focused on, or how unrelated it was to the topic at hand, somehow, some way, the discussion ultimately brought in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – with a consistent, singular, anti-Israel bias.

For example, when we spoke about women’s roles in war, I was dumbfounded when a student’s casual comment that “Israel uses special chemicals in their bombs to kill Palestinian children” was met with silent nods from my classmates, and no objection from my professor.

When we discussed LGBTQ rights, I could not believe we had to read and write about “pink-washing” in Israel – a theory that says Israel only has progressive LGBTQ policies in order to mask its discrimination against Palestinians. There was never any mention of the violence against the LGBTQ community perpetrated by virtually all of Israel’s neighboring Arab countries, including Palestinian society itself. The professor and my classmates then equated female genital mutilation with brit milah, or circumcision, commonly called a bris, which they incorrectly referred to as a brisket.


AS A ZIONIST who still often finds significant fault with Israeli policies, as do many American Jews and Israelis, I would have been open to discussing ways in which I believe the Israeli government has failed the Palestinians, had the topic been relevant in any way to the larger class objective. But what did the Israel-bashing have to do with Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies?

Regardless, my contribution to the discussion was neither considered nor deemed credible, because I am a Zionist. I decided to switch majors when the continued fetishizing of the conflict made it clear that the department was not an environment in which diverse opinions, truth or facts were welcome.

Still, I was determined to be part of the conversation among feminists. After struggling to understand how my (or anyone else’s) religious and cultural identity should be in any way relevant to my participation in a women’s studies class, I applied for a grant from the Barnard Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in order to host a campus panel discussion on Judaism and Intersectionality.

My goal was to foster student and departmental conversations about anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric in intersectional spaces. Unfortunately, I was not awarded funding for my grant. I did not even receive a response as to why I did not receive the funding, despite an explicit request for an explanation.

I have had countless meetings with professors, administrators and classmates. Distancing myself from intersectional feminist spaces of which I desperately want to be a part has been very difficult. But forcing myself to endure intolerance and a mission of inclusion that does not truly apply to everyone is even harder.

For Columbia and Barnard to become part of the thought-provoking academic centers I envisioned they would be, it is imperative they begin to interrogate how they systematically exclude opinions with which they disagree. Until then, the diversity and inclusion problem at Columbia and Barnard will continue.

The writer is a senior at Barnard College, Columbia University studying Political Science.

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