Alumni Support Indigenous People Event at Columbia University
by Victor Muslin
On December 6, a pro-Israel student group Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University(SSI-CU) held an event on campus called “Indigenous People Unite.” The goal of the event featuring Yazidi, Assyrian, Israelite, Native Canadian and Tibetan speakers, was to educate students about the struggles and aspirations of different people with sacred and ancient connections to land, and to reclaim the narrative from Palestinians who, according to SSI-CU’s president Rudy Rochman, “frame Israel and Jews as a movement that came to take away someone else’s [land] and whose mere existence impedes Palestinian right of self-determination.”
Anti-Israel faculty and student groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), “target the average student on campus by playing up and riding on the shoulders of other minority struggles, while portraying Jewish struggle for their ancestral homeland as colonialism,” said Rochman.“ “It’s no coincidence they use phrases like ‘boycott’ and ‘apartheid’ when it comes to Israel.”
As the date of the event approached, Columbia Apartheid Divest — a joint venture of SJP and JVP — condemned the event stating, “We reject this event on indigenous struggles hosted by a Zionist group as a form of colonial erasure and co-optation.” Shortly thereafter rumors circulated that SJP and JVP were planning to disrupt the event. Moreover, SJP and JVP strong-armed 25 other groups whose causes have absolutely nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to denounce the event. In absurd spirit of “intersectionality,” the Native American Council condemned the event featuring a Native Canadian speaker. BWOG, which listed the opposing groups, reported that, “These groups condemn the event, on the basis that ‘there can be no common interests and no principled solidarity between indigenous people and those who defend and aid Israel’s active project of ethnic cleansing and colonization of the Palestinians and their land.’”
To expose and avert aggressive tactics of pro-Palestinian groups, SSI-CU reached out for support to Campus Fairness at Columbia, a pro-Israel organization of alumni, faculty and parents and chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness and Aryeh, a Columbia Student Association for Israel, according to the group’s website. While Aryeh declined to participate in the event, the alumni actively supported SSI-CU by publicizing the event to the local pro-Israel community and by arranging press coverage from The Algemeiner.
A large number of anti-Israel students came to the event. They congregated in the back of the room and despite requests and warnings attempted to disrupt speakers by holding up signs that read “Settlers Are Not Indigenous,” “Zionism is Racism,” and “SSI stop co-opting indigenous struggle” during the presentations.
After poignant presentations by the Yazidi and Assyrian speakers, it was the turn of the Israelite speaker whose family escaped from Yemen to Israel. As the Jewish speaker began to recount his family’s dream of “next year in Jerusalem,” the protesters arose, waved their signs and staged a walkout. The Yazidi and Assyrian speakers stood in solidarity with the Israelite speaker and asked the protesters to calm down and stay “to learn something,” as the Assyrian speaker put it. As the protesters continued to file out of the room, the Yazidi speaker told them that Israel was the only country in the world that was actually helping his people. Still, the protesters left finally allowing the Jewish, Native Canadian and Tibetan speakers to proceed.
It is interesting to note that this apolitical event is the only recent SSI-CU event that elicited such hostile reaction despite other SSI-CU events much more critical of the Palestinians, such as a recent presentation by Palestinian Media Watch. This clearly demonstrates that anti-Israel activists are focused on their false narratives about Israel being a colonialist enterprise and denying Jewish history and that they will do anything to shut out the truth. Alumni groups like Campus Fairness at Columbia must do everything to support the efforts to bring out the truth. And these efforts should not be limited to outside speakers and student-organized events but also focus on exposing falsehoods promoted in the classroom.
- “Israel Advocates at Columbia University to Hold ‘Indigenous People Unite’ Event to ‘Reclaim Narrative’ About Jewish Right to Native Land”, The Algemeiner, Dec. 4, 2016 by Lea Speyer
- “Jews included in Columbia U. ‘Indigenous People Unite’ event”, Arutz Sheva 7, Dec. 4, 2016
- “Angry Activists at Columbia U Protest ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Event Highlighting Historical Jewish Ties to Israel”, The Algemeiner, Dec. 7, 2016 by Lea Speyer and Rachel Frommer
- “Student Coalition Condemns SSI Event On Indigenous Narratives”, BWOG, Dec. 6, 2016
Protesters walkout 1: https://www.dropbox.com/s/g7pzi5l1au43xr5/IMG_2528.MOV?dl=0
Protesters walkout 2: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7z1arzy3wuoo0bp/MVI_6205.MOV?dl=0