This past week as the United States, and indeed most of the world, united to condemn the horrific anti-Semitic murderous rampage at the “Tree of Life” synagogue in Pittsburgh PA, Columbia University’s Office of Student Life issued a statement which, unbelievably, omitted the words “Jewish” and “anti-Semitic.” Only following prominent Jewish alumni and donour’s threats to withdraw their funding did they issue a corrected statement that was not much better, as it still conflated anti-Semitism with other forms of hatred. The question is why is Columbia University, with its massive Jewish student body, consistently the North American university campus recording among the highest amount of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incidents in the continent?
Unfortunately the Pittsburgh statement is part of an insidious pattern. Columbia was the only university that invited former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who openly stated his desire to “wipe Israel off the map.” to address its students. Columbia also hosts one of the largest “Apartheid Weeks” in the country. This event is based on the absurd notion that Israel is equivalent to South Africa under Apartheid, BDS activists portray Israel as a racist and genocidal nation. This fantastical notion is gaining traction, with the potential to cause serious damage to Israel’s economy, reputation, and, eventually, security-clearly the aim of BDS proponents. Apartheid Week is open season for Jew haters and Israel bashers. As the satirist Kirchen observed:
They wanted to call it the “Wipe the Jewish Zionist Entity Off the Map Week,” but “Israel Apartheid Week” is more politically correct.
Why is the moral barometer of Columbia, and many other liberal North American university campuses, so distorted? Of course, Israel, like any other liberal democracy, has issues it is struggling and wrestling with. Some of these issues, such as how to treat its minority population with honour, respect and fairness, are serious ones, but to call Israel Apartheid is absurd as saying that there are equal rights to all peoples in any of the countries surrounding Israel.
I grew up in the only apartheid regime the world has known in South Africa. I waited for my (whites only) school bus to my (whites only) school on a bench with a sign on that stated, “Bus stop. Whites only” in English and Afrikaans. After school I went to the beach and daily passed by this sign:
It was a brutally oppressive regime where state sanctioned racism was enshrined in the law. The colour of ones skin was the sole factor as to whether one did or did not have rights. The contrast between Apartheid South Africa and the State of Israel is total. Israel’s Declaration of Independence enshrines equality for all of her citizens by categorically stating:
The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions…
Twenty percent of Israel’s population are not Jewish (Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bahai) yet all have full rights and representation in the Knesset. Therefore Israel is not an Apartheid state. It is that simple. If one wants to find Apartheid in the Middle-East, one doesn’t need to search far. Most of the regimes in Israel’s neighbourhood practice Gender Apartheid. The United Nations (no big friend of Israel) Human Development Report of 2002 (page 22) states that:
Women in Arab league countries suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. Often evident in voting rights and legal codes and from inequality of opportunity evident in employment status, wages and gender-based occupational segregation. Their political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world.”
In the Arab world and Iran adultery is a crime for both sexes, though women receive harsher punishment. Adultery is a capital offence, with execution by stoning. This is sexual Apartheid. Christians are maltreated (and killed) in the entire Middle-East, except for Israel. It is illegal for a Jew or a Christian to practice their faith or build a house of worship in Saudi Arabia. It is a capital offence to sell property to a Jew in Jordan. That is religious apartheid.
This past week in Israel I met two individuals, Mayda and Yosef, who were living testimony to the lack of Apartheid within Israel. Mayda is a Christian Israeli Arab who studies computer science at the Technion (often referred to as “Israel’s MIT”). She is one the 20% of students who are Israeli Arabs. Last year the valedictorian of the Technion was a female Israeli Arab. Maya’s parents are both medical doctors (professors of medicine). Her siblings are graduates of Betzalel in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and IDC in Herzliya. Israel is the only county in the Middle-East where a Christian woman could have such tremendous opportunities.
Yosef’s family was rescued from Ethiopia by the IDF during “Operation Solomon” in 1991, together with 14,000 other Ethiopian Jews over one weekend. Yosef was one-month-old. He was saved from certain death (from famine and civil war). No one asked, “What colour is your skin?” These are our Jewish brothers and sisters who were saved because that is what it means to have a Jewish state, to be in charge of our own destiny and not rely in the pity of our host nations. He is an IDF veteran who is getting married next month.
It is about time that Columbia University took a long hard look at its actions in singling out Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, and the Jewish people as a whole, and started asking itself some serious questions. Who here are the bigots, the racists and the anti-Semites? Who here needs to reach out their hand in understanding, reconciliation and above all to respect differences?
This is part one of a report on anti-Semitism/Zionism at Columbia. Part two will focus on the Jewish student response and pro-Israel proactive activities. Dr Tuvia Book is a licensed Ministry of Tourism Tour-Guide, author, and the Director of Education at Write On for Israel, a New York based program where Jewish high-school juniors and seniors from different backgrounds (united by their love and concern for Israel) spend two years together, culminating with a mission to Israel. They are given the knowledge, tools and connections in order to be student leaders on college campuses leading the way in Israel advocacy.