If Not on College Campuses, Where?

Illustration by Alessandra Felloni

Morgan Raum Barnard College Class of 2019 | February 22, 2017

In his magnus opus “On Liberty,” John Stuart Mill wrote, “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation, [and] those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error.”

On February 13, 2017, Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University had the honor and privilege of bringing Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon to Columbia University to engage with students and share Israel’s current stance, struggles and aspirations at the United Nations.

Event Flyer

Event Flyer

Prior to our event, multiple student groups led by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine organized a disruptive protest outside the auditorium and subsequently blocked students from entering. They also sent groups of protesters into our event who sporadically stood up and interrupted Ambassador Danon every few minutes, hoisted signs and shouted what I believe to be racist chants such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” (essentially claiming there should be no Israeli state – just one Palestinian state). The protesters even shamelessly misappropriated Native American struggles at Standing Rock in an attempt to deny Jewish historical ties to Judea and Samaria. After each group of protesters stood and chanted in an attempt to derail free speech, CU security guards escorted them out of the auditorium in order to allow Ambassador Danon to resume speaking.

In effect, by teaming up with such a wide variety of student organizations, latching onto other popular struggles and movements, and inserting the word “Palestine” into every discussion of oppression or human rights, SJP piggybacks off of real minority struggles throughout the world in an attempt to claim they are intersectional and care about minorities. For example, last semester SJP held an event called “Good Gay/Bad Gay,” in which they attempted to frame Israel as having an “imperialist LGBT agenda,” as in Israel gives LGBTQ+ citizens rights only in order to wash away the crimes Israel commits against Palestinians. Almost every time a minority group experiences oppression somewhere in the world, SJP takes the opportunity to latch onto and use these legitimate struggles as a platform for their anti-Zionist and often anti-Semitic rhetoric. They conveniently and willfully forget that Jews are not only a minority, but they are also victims of most of the religiously-motivated hate crimes in the United States. They also choose to dismiss the fact that Jews have thousands of years’ worth of historical connection to Eretz Yisrael, and that Zionism was created as a liberation movement in an effort to alleviate and reverse the injustices committed against the native people of Israel.

Not only did the protesters knowingly engage in an erasure of Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel and show they are completely unwilling to recognize and legitimize Israel’s very right to exist (this is anti-Semitism), but also they demonstrated how incapable they are of engaging in any kind of legitimate discussion. Each group of students yelled and was escorted out by security guards before Ambassador Danon’s Q&A session even began. He graciously allowed ample time for Q&A and even made repeated appeals to the disrupters to stay and ask questions: “I want to hear your questions. I want to answer them. I want to engage with you.” I challenge these students who protested so indecently to behave like respectful adults the next time they disagree with someone; to allow open-minded students to actually hear different or controversial opinions on college campuses; to confront and dispute a speaker’s opinions instead of yelling disrespectfully in an attempt to silence others. Many of these student groups tout the narrative that they are tolerant of all people and very respectful of free speech; however, as we have seen, they only support speech when it conforms to their specific ideologies. If it does not, they physically and verbally try to prevent speakers from voicing their opinions.

Furthermore, in response to Karim Nader’s recently published Letter to the Editor in the Columbia Spectator, I am appalled by his stooping to the lowest level and falsely accusing my club members of using harassment and threats as means of communication. My fellow SSI friends hold themselves to the highest moral standard; we do not abuse others, tear down flyers around campus, and fabricate stories in order to get our way. When we attend SJP events, we do not chant and disrupt their speakers, we instead listen and ask challenging questions during Q&A. For Nader to use his position as the President of the Student Governing Board, which is supposed to represent SSI, as a platform to push malicious and deceitful information against his constituents, is morally corrupt.

Lastly, I am disgusted by my peers who attended our event for the sole purpose of stifling rational discourse. We as students have a responsibility to grant individuals the right to participate in civilized discourse on college campuses. I know many of my peers may disagree with some speakers on various issues, however I challenge these students to listen, ask questions and show respect for those they disagree with instead of interrupting speeches every few minutes. It is unfortunate that many Palestinians and others who want to actually engage and entertain the idea of coexistence or that of a better future are unable to because SJP hijacks their every opportunity, and instead forces the opinion that there will never be communication or peace. Next time, I challenge those who differ in opinion to attempt to win people over to their causes through considerate, introspective, rational conversation. In the future, I encourage students of all stripes to attend our events and take advantage of the opportunity to engage with pro-Israel speakers. Above all, our event was successful in that while protesters attempted to silence pro-Israel voices, they did not triumph. Ambassador Danon’s voice was heard indeed, since Columbia swiftly removed those who stood and attempted to silence his voice, and the protests that occurred only helped to further unite the Jewish and pro-Israel communities. Regardless, I want to thank the rest of SSI for hosting Ambassador Danon and allowing some free speech to prevail at Columbia University.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Morningside Post.