‘Apartheid’ Week and BDS: Columbia University, UC Davis & the World

One essential reason I chose to attend Columbia University for graduate school was because of the Jewish life on and around campus (it’s in New York City after all). However, I am currently experiencing my first ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at Columbia in person and it doesn’t really fit in with the nice Jewish atmosphere I thought would be all around campus.

Even worse, the biggest difference between Columbia and my undergraduate experience at UC Davis is that here there is an active and loud Jewish group dedicated to demonizing Israel that is the loudest. ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ (JVP) is a national organization that has a presence on the Columbia campus and that local chapter is putting on apartheid week alongside ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ SJP. JVP is also cosponsoring the BDS Movement on campus with JVP and is their partner in seemingly everything that goes on protesting Israel in one way or the other. At UC Davis, I experienced the apartheid week for four years, and while the SJP was very loud about the issue, there was no JVP group sponsoring it, even if they did exist.

One other major difference is based on campus sizes. UC Davis is the largest college campus by size in California and one of the largest in the country. Therefore, any one area does not gain as much attention even if it is around the center quad on campus. One tactic anti-Israel groups had, at least while I attended, was protesting pro-Israel events and programs (including one I put on) to garner more attention. Meanwhile, at Columbia, by being in the center quad almost everyone that has to be on campus will pass by and notice what is going on. Whether or not most people care is another debate, but for those who do notice and/or care about the issue it is hard to avoid. When students walk by and see that a so-called Jewish group is helping lead the protest against Israel that is not only disgusting, but a disgrace to Judaism.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an informational meeting about BDS at Columbia discussing the background and goals they hope to achieve. From this meeting and other encounters at Columbia and UC Davis I have learned a few important things about the groups that put it on, including their ideology and real goals. Here are a few of the messages and goals that SJP, JVP or any other group supporting BDS and anti-Israel propaganda will not openly admit, but certainly believe and support.

Supporting Israel has always been a bipartisan issue and regardless of political party and ideology it was mainstream to support Israel. Now it seems to be turning into an ideological battle. Liberals are backing away from Israel in mass numbers and it doesn’t look good. Many people might remember the 2012 Democratic Convention when the crowd had heavily divided responses when asked if they would support putting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their party platform. I have a feeling if the same questions were asked at this year’s convention that 50-50 split would be closer to 75-25 against. So how is this related to campus life? Well, with many campuses being a safe haven for liberal ideologues, anti-Israel sentiment is spreading to groups that have no obvious connection to the issue. For example, on many campuses Latino, Black and LGBT alliance groups join SJP in their apartheid claims and events. At Columbia, the Socialist Club cosponsors BDS with SJP and JVP. How does the Socialist Club have any relation to this conflict on the other side of the world?

Many people I grew up with being Israel supporters and involved with pro-Israel groups have completely changed their views after attending various liberal universities across the country. Now they aren’t hesitant to stand up against Israel in any way they can. On the conservative side, Israel support seems to remain strong and many conservative politicians often mention their strong support for the Jewish state. Just like the partisan divide is growing in the country, this issue is as well.

When I attended a BDS informational event at Columbia a few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to ask a couple important questions. I asked group leaders of both SJP and JVP what their view was on whether there should be a one state or two state solution. Both responded that their groups do not have official positions on the matter and that members’ opinions ranged from one state to eighteen state solutions. Basically, they weaseled out of answering the question.

While I believe that both national groups may not have ‘official’ positions on the matter, I can see right through their answers, which led me to my follow-up question. I asked SJP specifically why their logo was a map of not just Palestinian territories, but the entire current state of Israel as well. The only answer they had was that they try to support Palestinians all over.

Since this event was heavily controlled in terms of audience members speaking, I did not get to follow that up and have a formal conversation. I would have loved to know then based on that answer why there was no map of Lebanon or Syria then since Palestinians have been living there for decades in dire conditions. Most importantly, if that is their cause, why is the group called Students for Justice in Palestine? When you have that title next to a map of the entire area, it is hard to believe that they in any way support a Jewish state anywhere around there. Truth is they do not. It really is not hard to see through it.

Whether or not every member of both groups supports that opinion is irrelevant. The relevant point is that as a whole the groups do not really support a Jewish state in that vicinity. Also it is called ‘Israeli Apartheid Week.’ Israeli and not Israel because these groups are careful never to formally use the word Israel, almost certainly for the same reasons previously mentioned. Of course, neither group would ever publicly admit that, or they would lose any credibility that they might have.

So what is the goal of BDS? Well, as the movement puts it, “For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.” However, once again that is only part of it. When you make such harsh claims as ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination it is already beyond reason.

The campaign calls for “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” This all might seem within possible reason, but each demand will lead to greater destruction.

By dismantling the ‘wall’ Israel will have limited protection against terrorism throughout the land leading to terrible loss. It is also calling for Israel to shrink their borders and remove every Israeli citizen in a large portion of currently controlled Israeli land. It calls for all Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. This would currently be millions of people in what would already be a smaller sized Israel. Shortly afterwards, the Israel then would be much smaller with a majority non-Jewish citizens. Sounds like it would be the beginning of the end of a Jewish state. So the goals might not sound too out of the box, but the underlying goal of BDS is for Palestinians to gain control of the entire territory.

To wrap up, I see right through JVP and SJP. While traditional support of people from the area and Muslims in general for BDS and ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is nothing new, Jewish groups joining along is a more recent conundrum. Groups of Jews have joined anti-Jewish groups in the past though, from ancient Egypt to Nazi Germany. The worst experience I have had through all of this was at the BDS event I attended. A JVP leader said something that was the most inconceivable thing I have heard on this matter. After being asked about how she could support BDS, she responded that Israel’s actions do not follow the Jewish values that she was brought up with. Well, I hate to say it, but I have to say, the Jewish values she was apparently brought up with are anti-Semitic.

My conclusion — BDS and ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ are terrible causes at Columbia, UC Davis and around the world that ultimately try to end Israel as we know it.

The 'Apartheid Wall' at Columbia
The ‘Apartheid Wall’ at Columbia
About the Author
Zander Wold is a Jew from Los Angeles currently living in Haifa.