One hundred students, faculty, journalists and other interested parties gathered at Columbia University Thursday night to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Union of Progressive Zionists (UPZ) brought Israeli Member of Parliament Avshalom Vilan and Palestinian Authority adviser Amjad Atallah to speak (transcriptions of their presentation available) to a classroom filled with Muslim and Jewish students.
The “Call to Dialogue” event, prompted by a Columbia student active with the UPZ and cosponsored by The Just Peace Project (pro-peace, pro two-state solution Jewish student group that collaborates on programming with the UPZ), Columbians for Academic Freedom, Qanun, the Muslim Students Association and the Center for International Conflict Resolution ? came at a time when the university has been roiled in controversy over how the Israeli-Palestinian debate has affected the integrity of academic freedom.
Columbia University’s president has appointed an investigative committee to look into charges that Jewish students have been intimidated in the classroom for supporting Israel, with results due in March. The pinnacle of the volatile atmosphere at Columbia came with the sudden cancellation of a conference on the prospects of negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, organized by the Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR). There were different reports in the media as to the reasons for the cancellation, but the one most troubling to Jewish students was Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon’s announcement that he was boycotting the conference, due to what he understood to be anti-Israel sentiments at Columbia. (Haaretz article, January 26, 2005)
The UPZ was determined to bring a program to Columbia?s campus that would ensure the gates of discussion remained open. The high turnout on such short notice demonstrated that students are indeed committed to being informed on the issues and talking them out with each other, regardless of the tendentious climate that has arisen. With the UPZ’s support, the students managed to successfully send the message that they will not tolerate extremist voices to polarize and stifle the debate on their campus.