[Marxism] Columbia teach-in on Israeli apartheid

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 5 13:27:31 MST 2009

Panelists Push Divestment, Support Gaza
by Elizabeth Scott

A “teach-in” organized by the Columbia Palestine Forum Wednesday night 
drew a crowd of supporters, dissenters, and interested students and 
faculty that filled the Hamilton classroom and spilled into the hall.

It came to light during the meeting that University president Lee 
Bollinger has agreed to meet with the faculty to discuss the issue.

The group, whose recent formation began with a demand for University 
divestment from companies profiting from the Gaza conflict and for 
protection of Palestinian academic freedom, hosted a discussion with a 
panel composed of four University faculty members, two speakers from the 
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, and a Barnard student 
representing the CPF. Supporters and critics of the Forum sounded off in 
a question-and -answer follow-up that mostly took the form of commentary 
on the recent and historic Gaza conflicts.

The faculty members speaking on the potential benefits of Israeli 
divestment were Bruce Robbins, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the 
Humanities, Gil Anidjar, a professor of religion who also teaches in 
MEALAC, Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and 
anthropology professor, and Brinkley Messick, anthropology professor.

Faculty first clarified the terms of CPF’s demands. Robbins said that 
“students don’t have academic freedom, professors do” and that the 
denial of education—a basic human right—rather than academic 
freedom—associated with tenure—is the heart of the matter. He added that 
because academic freedom is not a universal or democratic right, the 
conflict surrounding Gaza becomes more divisive when this terminology is 

During the panel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was continuously 
compared to the South African and Liberian apartheids, though this 
analogy was met with varying reactions from the audience. It was noted 
that Columbia divested from South African companies during its 
apartheid. In this context, Anidjar advocated boycotting as an 
appropriate “exercise of freedom” and affirmed the group’s demands as 
“change we can believe in.” Eric Heitner, CC ’05, spoke on behalf of the 
BDS and presented figures indicating how tax dollars and other expenses 
contribute to the profit of companies supporting what he considers the 
Israeli occupation of Gaza.

Messick expressed that an impending meeting between Bollinger and the 
faculty about the letter issued listing the CPF’s demands is an 
“historical moment” for the University.

A lively question-and-answer session allowed attendees to express their 
reactions to the panelists’ assertions. Critics condemned the lack of a 
more realistic approach to solving the issue and cited the need to 
incorporate Hamas into the discussion.

Some students felt the event was successful. “Everyone was calm and it 
was good to have perspectives from professors and activists and 
commentary from the community,” said Edna Bonhomme, MSPH ’10, and a 
member of the CPF. “A dialogue about the Israel occupation is central 
and people should be able to put their opinion on the table and figure 
out what could be the best option."

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