This past Thursday night marked the opening of the Columbia Center for Palestine Studies (CCPS), the first academic institution of its kind in the nation. The event received an astounding turnout; 309 Havemeyer Hall was filled to such a capacity that it took almost twenty minutes past the start of the event for everyone to be seated.
This new center, according to co-founder Professor Rashid Khalidi, will promote research of Palestine and the Palestinians across different departments of study. Additionally, the CCPS hopes to provide scholarships to students and host local and global academic exchanges discussing Palestinian issues, while reaching out both within the Columbia community and beyond, to academics, artists, writers and many others across the spectrum. Professor Khalidi also stated in his opening address at the event that provost emeritus Jonathan Cole called the establishment of the CCPS an "important moment in the history of Columbia."
Amidst claps and cheers throughout the audience, Michel Khleifi finally approached the podium to introduce the screening of, "Zindeeq," his movie about a Palestinian filmmaker living in Europe who goes to Ramallah to film eye-witness accounts of what happened after Israel declared independence in 1948. After thunderous applause at the conclusion of the film, Khleifi was able to answer questions from various members of the audience, thereby concluding a great start for the Center for Palestine Studies.
The student president of Columbia/Barnard Hillel, Aviva Buechler, BC '11, made a statement in the Columbia Daily Spectator on Friday concerning this new center, saying that "with their mission of studying the history, culture, and politics of Palestine, I think it will really be a great experience for students to take part in." Along with that statement, she offered the suggestion that the Center for Palestine Studies would collaborate with the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies.
While this collaboration is a hopeful thought, there are a few problems with the theory. At Columbia's Broadway gates and at the walkway leading up to the grand opening, members involved in the project were passing out anti-Israel magazines, making the false claims that Israel is an "apartheid" state focused on "ethnic cleansing". Additionally, those attending the event were circulating signs that called for boycotts of Israeli products and funds for a U.S. boat to join the next Gaza "freedom" flotilla. As one of the few pro-Israel individuals attending the event, I personally felt very uncomfortable at the opening event of CCPS and afraid for the changes it can make to the narrative of Israel's history.
Academic freedom is a right that should be provided to the entire Columbia population. However, one walks a very fine line between academic freedom and academically legitimized anti-Israel sentiment. The Columbia Center for Palestine Studies should take this into account as it embarks on its future circulation of knowledge throughout the intellectual community.