As newspapers worldwide report of further advances in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we are again reminded that tensions on campus have reached their highest levels in recent memory.
Late Tuesday Danny Ayalon, Israeli ambassador to the U.S., reneged on a commitment to speak at a Columbia-sponsored conference, "Revisiting the Middle East Peace Process," of government officials affiliated with both Israel and Palestine. Following this, several other speakers withdrew, causing the postponement of the conference, scheduled to be held yesterday
The postponement is the latest consequence of the University's inability to maintain a dialogue on this divisive issue. Ayalon's boycott was reportedly prompted by pressure from Jewish students who maintained that the University would use the presumed neutrality of a conference to legitimize attacks against Israel, and that any such forum would be inappropriate while the investigation into alleged MEALAC bias is still in process.
These excuses are unacceptable. As Ayalon should have learned in Israel, it is during times of great conflict that engagement is most vital.
When even the ambassador from Israel has lost trust in Columbia's ability to sustain a civil dialogue, something is deeply wrong.
Sadly, while lifelong enemies like Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen sit at the negotiating table, our University continues to tear itself apart over conflicts between Israel and Palestine
Inside our academic bubble, with its hierarchies, loyalties to adored professors, and insular sub-community divisions along ethnic and political lines, debate has been replaced by snarling polemics. Each side, feeling the imagined weight of some nebulous majority overwhelming them, has lashed out in tones inimical to the survival of a university community.
We cannot tolerate an environment where both students and professors are unable or unwilling to discuss controversial issues.
The conference could have been an opportunity to rise above the current controversy, providing a forum where both sides could hear from people actually engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian debate, the almost-forgotten source of this frenzy.
However, good can come from this debacle. Now that campus dissension has begun to endanger President Bollinger's cherished goal of making Columbia a "global university," the administration might rededicate itself to confronting problems on campus. Before Columbia can become a global university, after all, it must become a functional university.