On October 25, the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University (CPS) co-hosted with Columbia's Law School an event titled "Human Rights, International Law, and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine." As evidenced by the speakers at this event, the topic of conversation had no hope of being anything but yet another one-sided anti-Israel tirade.
This event is part of a wider trend of regular BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) events at the university, often linked to CPS and the law school. These efforts are amplified by the work of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), whose joint effort Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) launched in February 2016. Jewish Voice for Peace considers itself to be the "Jewish wing" of the Palestinian solidarity movement, and on campus provides cover for BDS and tries to shield activists from accusations of anti-Semitism. These groups have intensified the frequency of anti-Israel events on campus in the service of convincing students and administrators to divest from Israeli companies.
The event featured Michael Lynk, the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the "situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967," in conversation with three speakers and a moderator—all of whom have been involved, to varying degrees, in legal attacks against Israel. Lynk himself has a historyof anti-Israel pronouncements, falsely accusing the country of "apartheid" and calling for "a victory at the International Criminal Court" that would "isolate Israel." At the event, he did not display the impartiality that ought to accompany the position of UN Special Rapporteur, and completely negated Hamas as an actor responsible for the humanitarian crisis that exists today in the Gaza Strip. When questioned by a student in the audience about this oversight, he misleadingly responded, "Hamas was only an answer, although a radical one, to the belligerent occupation."
Professor of Law Katherine Franke, involved with BDS on and off campus, served as the moderator of the event. Franke participated as a panelist in the spring 2016 "Apartheid Week" event "The Case for Academic Boycott," co-hosted by SJP and JVP, where she distributed an informational sheet that described the 1934 Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses as a "counter-boycott" to boycotts of goods from Nazi Germany. She also signed a pro-BDS "Faculty Petition" supporting CUAD's call for divestment, is an editorof CPS' Nakba Files website, and is a member of the Steering Committee for JVP's Academic Advisory Council. Franke uses her appointment at the Law School and role as director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law to further her own anti-Israel activism, both in her coursework and by bringing anti-Israel events and organizations into the Law School.
Speakers at the Columbia event included Michael Sfard, who has served as a paid witness for the PLO in at least two lawsuits brought by victims of Palestinian terrorism. The PLO was seeking to block compensation, responsibility, and accountability for its well-documented role in supporting terror attacks.
Another speaker, Katherine Gallagher, is senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization that is active in suits against Israel, promotes the boycott of Israeli companies, and smears Israel with false accusations of genocide. Gallagher is also vice-president on the International Board of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights—an organization composed of 178 member groups that engages in "lawfare" and supports BDS campaigns.
The final panelist was Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, who at the event accused Israel of "conducting apartheid in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], especially in Gaza."
The Center for Palestine Studies which was launched in 2010, states that its goal is the "academic study of Palestine by supporting research, teaching, and intellectual collaboration among scholars within Columbia University and beyond." It includes BDS as one of the main "topics" of its research and analysis, and has hosted speakers such as leading BDS ideologue Omar Barghouti. Together with the political NGO Adalah, the Center runs a website called Nakba Files, aimed at exploring the ongoing "consequences of the Nakba"—the "catastrophe" of Israel's founding and the ensuing refugee crisis—in the format of an "online work and discussion space." Adalah was involved in a "platform" released by the Movement for Black Lives that supported BDS and called Israel "an apartheid state committing genocide." (The original document listed Adalah's Nadia Ben-Youssef as a co-author, but, MBL subsequently removed Youssef's name, instead listing Adalah as an "organization currently working on policy.)
Despite the prestige and academic aura provided by Columbia University, the event with the UN Special Rapporteur was an echo chamber. The speakers and moderator may come from different organizations, but they all share a common support for legal warfare against Israel. And with the help of CPS and professors like Katherine Franke, there will be many others like this throughout the year. As students and alumni know all to well, this is has become the norm at Columbia University.