Israeli ambassador devotes much of his speech to small group of protesters outside

The pro-Israel campus group Students Supporting Israel (SSI) continued in its tradition of inviting right-wing Israeli Zionists to Columbia University on Monday night, hosting Consul General of Israel and leader of the settler movement Ambassador Dani Dayan.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a partnership between Students for Justice in Palestine of Columbia and Columbia/Barnard’s Jewish Voice for Peace, responded with a small, non-disruptive protest aimed at informing fellow Columbia students about Israel’s larger illegal settlement project, which Dayan represents.

“[Dayan] and what he stands for is so egregious it’s actually a pretty easy thing to move people on,” a Palestinian CUAD member who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution told me. “Dayan doesn’t have many pretensions about what he stands for, [which] is the violent, ongoing and perpetual exploitation and occupation of Palestinian land.”

“That he’s so unabashed about it, that’s what’s disturbing to me,” the individual added.

Indeed, Dayan formerly served as Chairman of the Yesha Council, the political lobby for the settlement enterprise, where he advocated for Israel’s official annexation of the West Bank.

Ten or so CUAD members mounted a mock-checkpoint and canvassed passersby, handing out flyers with Dayan’s own words quoted and brief statistics on settlements.

Though the group has been pushing the Columbia student government to pass a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution, they’ve not had success thus far.

“It’s hard to know how BDS figures into people’s opinions,” Zak Aldridge of CUAD told Mondoweiss, but students, he said, are becoming more aware of CUAD and thus BDS.

Nationally and internationally as well, student bodies appear more and more sympathetic to Palestinians. But there still exists a lot of misinformation regarding the occupation and especially BDS.

“The operative association we’re trying to get is apartheid,” Aldridge added. To describe the Israeli occupation,“that’s a more salient term.”

Despite the many obvious similarities, Israel and its supporters seek to distance themselves from the label of an apartheid state. Israel’s hysterical response to BDS and the movement’s catalyzing support reflects a certain desperation. BDS is the Palestinian call for the boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian human rights. It is based on the international boycott movement of South Africa that ultimately ended apartheid.

Some Hebrew-language media almost completely ignored Dayan’s hourlong lecture. Instead the Israeli press coverage instead focused on CUAD’s modest protest in what seems to reflect the same BDS hysteria.

According to a story published by Israel’s Channel 20there were “dozens of demonstrators from pro-Palestinian organizations [waiting] for Dayan.”

“Some wore keffiyehs, others carried signs against Israel” the report continues. “The protesters were not satisfied with the demonstration. They prepared an exhibit of a mock checkpoint in which some of them were disguised as IDF soldiers and others as Palestinians who underwent severe humiliation and violence on the part of the soldiers.”

The article even quotes Ophir Dayan, Dani Dayan’s daughter and a student at Columbia, as saying “the anti-Israeli organizations raised their ugly heads yesterday, and the organizations acting to promote freedom of expression tried to prevent lecturers and students from hearing an official representative of the State of Israel. And this pressure will continue to spread truth about Israel.”

Less than a paragraph was dedicated to the content of Dayan’s actual speech, though perhaps for good reason.

In between claims of varying inconsistency, Amb. Dayan found the CUAD protest quite impactful and as such, spent much of his hour-long address defending Israel from various criticisms.

“I can’t understand that the people who admire the ‘democracy’ (in air quotes) of Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro on this campus don’t like Israeli democracy,” Dayan said, addressing fictional members of CUAD.

He continued claiming the protesters, whom he’s never met clearly, speak out against Israeli democracy but not against “the butcher of Damascus or genocider of Teheran.” 

“Our democracy is better than America” Dayan exclaimed. “You don’t have to register to vote in Israel, therefore there is no voter suppression in Israel.”

This statement diminishes the systemic racism directed by the state of Israel against Palestinians living within its borders and the more than 50 discriminatory laws used as enforcement of it. And while Dayan is technically correct that the 4 million or so Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza do not have to register to vote, this is because they don’t have the right to vote.

On the subject of whether or not Israel is an apartheid state, Dayan used the example of apartheid South Africa to distance Israel from the term.

“All other countries sent huge fleets to Africa to enslave them,” Dayan said. “Israel is the only country in the world to liberate black Africans and to send them to safety and to absorb them into our society.”

Just two days before Ambassador Dayan spoke at Columbia, Israel began proceedings to forcibly deport some 20,000 male African asylum seekers to Rwanda, despite the fact that the majority of Israel’s African population are Eritrean and Sudanese. The state has indicated it will likely deport women and children in the same manner.

One Columbia student from Israel took issue with the term apartheid. Anat Kamm is obtaining her masters in business and economy at Columbia Journalism School, after having served two years in prison in Israel as a whistleblower; in 2008 she leaked sensitive documents exposing the IDF’s targeted killing of two unarmed Palestinians and subsequent cover up.

Asserting that she has done more towards ending the occupation “than all the Ivy League spoiled kids playing with activism we saw outside Mr. Dayan’s lecture,” Kamm told me in an email that the protesters “either don’t know what apartheid is or what the situation is.”

Her explanation:

“In an apartheid state, some sectors of the population are segregated and not given full civil rights from the government. This discriminative attitude from the state toward its civilians is usually based on race. The situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories is different. The Palestinians indeed are segregated and don’t enjoy Israeli citizens’ rights, but that is because they are not Israeli citizens. Israeli has not annexed Judea and Samaria and they are not counted as part of Israel, nor do their habitants citizens of Israel. The Arab citizens of Israel are not segregated, there aren’t laws preventing their access to public services and institutes, and they enjoy full civil rights. Therefore, calling Israel ‘an apartheid state’ is wrong and misleading.”

Clarifying that she is “a leftist who supports ending the occupation of the West Bank,” Kamm noted that her two year service in the IDF showed her “how the occupation looks from the inside.” She continued, “The worst consequence [the protesters] suffered was standing outside on a cold New York evening.”

When I noted that four of the ten or so protesters with CUAD are in fact Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Kamm never responded.