Middle East studies in the News
YUPAC Opening Event Addresses Anti-Zionism on College Campuses
by Rafi Edelman
On November 21, the Yeshiva University Public Action Committee (YUPAC) sponsored the showing of "Columbia Unbecoming," a documentary meant to showcase an apparent anti-Israel bias presented by many of the professors in Columbia University's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department.
A large group of students gathered in Weisberg Commons to view the short film. The David Project, an organization dedicated to teaching Jewish leadership as well as fighting for fair portrayal of the Middle East conflict, created the film with the help of students at Columbia University.
Noah Liben, a Columbia graduate and the campus coordinator for the David Project, expressed how Yeshiva was an important stop among the many campuses that he visits to show the film. "We wanted to spread awareness to educate YU students [about] what's going on at Columbia and elsewhere...to stand up when Israel is being defamed, and to promote a free discourse and open exchange of ideas." YUPAC sponsored the event in its continuing goal to promote awareness and action in response to incidents of anti-Semitism, anti-Israel bias, and human rights violations.
Liben listed three reasons why he felt Yeshiva was an important place to feature the film, which had seemingly very little pertinence to an all-Jewish campus. The first reason was that Yeshiva students should have a general awareness of what is going on at other campuses.
Secondly, Liben pointed out that there is a great deal of help and support that Yeshiva students have to offer to such problems. Large Jewish bodies such as Yeshiva's also possess power to be active in stopping these difficulties where they exist. Most specifically to Yeshiva, Liben pointed out that students can get involved with programs already active at Yeshiva such as "Teach for Israel" and "Eimatai," which work to spread awareness about Israel to high school students. In addition, Liben also urged everyone to write letters to editors and government officials to make sure they are also mindful of injustices against Israel.
"Columbia Unbecoming" was produced following complaints concerning the MEALAC department at Columbia University. A number of students had reported incidences in which professors harshly condemned Israel and presented extremely one-sided opinions of the Middle East conflict. In addition to verbally attacking Israel, students also reported being openly mocked or even yelled at regarding their pro-Israel beliefs. On one occasion, an Israeli student was asked how many Palestinians he had killed while serving in the army. In another, a girl was told that her green eyes meant she was not a true Semite, and therefore had no right to make any arguments about the Middle East. In yet another instance, a student was accused of denying the "atrocities in Jenin" asked to leave the classroom when she remarked that the Israeli army warns civilians before they bomb an area. This behavior on the part of the teachers came in stark contrast to Columbia's Statement on Academic Integrity, which is also used as the opening quote to the documentary. "Freedom of expression is an essential part of University life, but it does not include intimidation."
These occurrences along with dozens of others led to an overall unsuccessful investigation of the MEALAC department as the students were concerned. From the start, the committee appeared littered with anti-Israel bias and included people with social or personal relationships with the teachers under investigation. It was at this point that the David Project stepped in and pushed to have the story told on film so it would not get buried and forgotten. Liben said, "The David Project strives to promote a fair and honest portrayal of the Middle East conflict. We advocate no political position beyond the right for Israel to exist peacefully among her neighbors.
The film, along with Liben's explanation of its pertinence to Yeshiva, seemed to hit home for many students. A number remained behind to ask how they could get involved with the David Project, as well as to express their sympathy with the students at Columbia. Gadi Dotz (SSSB '07) said of the film, ""I think it's a shame the professors at Columbia were not fired. It just goes to show that anti-Semitism and the suppression of academic freedom are alive and well even in 'bastions of higher education'. This case is especially troubling since it occurred so close to home."
The "Columbia Unbecoming" event was also the first of the year for YUPAC. Avi Posnick (YC '07), Co-President of YUPAC said of the program, "The Yeshiva University Public Action Committee was formed so that students can not only be educated but take action on issues in the Jewish community that they feel strongly about. We want students to be able to make a difference.... As leaders of tomorrow, we should be proactive and try to make a difference now. As students in YU, in NYC, where just about every single Jewish organization has an office, we have a plethora of resources at our disposal to make a difference."
Posnick added regarding the film, "I hope that people became sensitized to a growing problem in this country, especially on college campuses. As Jews, we are taught that each Jew is responsible for the welfare of every other Jew. The fact that we may not be having problems does not mean we can ignore when other Jews are having problems. The fact that we as YU students thankfully do not experience anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on campus does not mean we can ignore what is happening to our fellow Jews on campuses across the country. I hope that students will speak up against anti-Semitism and realize that it is not something that is just going to go away. "
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