Last week marked Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine’s one-year anniversary. This past year, C-SJP has worked to convey that the Zionist project was, from its inception, a colonial one. A Zionist leader once stated that “Zionist colonization … must be … carried out in defiance of … the native population. To formulate it any other way would … be hypocrisy.” In the 1930s, F.H. Kisch recommended that Zionists remove the word “colonise” from the names of their organizations (for instance, “The Palestine Jewish Colonisation Association”) since it “is associated with … aggressiveness.” Despite this cosmetic tweaking, however, a colonial reality remains. In 2010, for instance, Israel invoked a British colonial military law in order to expel a Palestinian activist from Jerusalem. Indeed, the apartheid system in Israel-Palestine speaks to Israel’s colonial founding and concomitant disregard for the rights of its indigenous population. For instance, while illegal Israeli settlers enjoy all rights associated with Israeli civil law, Palestinians in the West Bank, who are subject to Israeli military law, have no such rights (and are thus subject to detention without charge, etc.).
In defending this system, some of Columbia’s Zionist students employ arguments that betray the extent to which they have internalized the colonial attitudes upon which Israeli apartheid is based. In honor of C-SJP’s one-year anniversary, I offer you some of the gems of Zionist-speak that we have been privileged to hear since 2010.
“Palestinians don’t exist anymore. You’re a dinosaur! You’re uncivilized!” In this incident, a male Israeli student was harassing a C-SJP member so relentlessly that nearby security guards insisted she file a police report. His assertion that Palestinians are dinosaurs stems from his understanding that Palestinians are extinct. Palestinian existence is an uncomfortable reality for proponents of Israeli colonialism, who often employ the “land without people for a people without land” argument in justifying Israeli settlement.
“My Arab friends in Israel are … grateful that it didn’t expel them in 1948.” This Zionist at least acknowledges that Israel’s foundation brought the forcible displacement of 750,000 Palestinians (a refugee population that has since ballooned to 4.8 million). The “Arabs” to which he refers are Palestinians who remained (less than 25 percent of the Palestinian population). The U.N. has condemned Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens, citing systematic discriminatory practices in education, employment, and criminal procedures. I suppose this is where Palestinians ought to say “thank you”—too bad most are too uncivilized to understand basic etiquette.
“It makes me feel safer around black men.” A Zionist student said this in reference to racial profiling in the U.S., which a C-SJP member was comparing to checkpoints in the West Bank. This Zionist student was in favor of both. Her comments reveal the extent to which the logic that underlies support for racial profiling in the U.S., which rests on the demonization of black men, also underlies support for checkpoints in the West Bank.
“If the indigenous population is harboring terrorists, it’s okay to cut off their water supply.” This student was responding to the fact that Israel expropriates 83 percent of West Bank water for use both within its legally recognized borders and in illegal settlements. That this student would promote such collective punishment is apt, given that he served in the Israeli army during the Gaza Massacre (see below).
“We want peace. The Palestinians brought it on themselves.” A Zionist said this in reference to the Gaza Massacre, during which, according to Israeli sources, 1,387 Palestinians (77 percent of whom were civilians) were killed. Palestinian civilian deaths included 320 children. According to the U.N., Israel deliberately targeted civilians during the operation. Though Israel, and not Hamas, broke the cease-fire that precipitated the massacre, it was, according to this student, caused by Palestinians. This claim that as a colonizer you are victim to the violent habits of your savage subjects, who force you into harshly disciplining them, is an age-old colonial line of reasoning.
“Kahane was right.” Some may believe that I have selectively quoted “extreme” Zionists, excluding those who see Palestinians as alienated brethren. These groups are not mutually exclusive. For instance, during a C-SJP talk on BDS, an Israeli student said to the audience: “Aren’t we all brothers?” This same student is a fan of the page “Kahane was right” on Facebook. Kahane was an Israeli-American politician who founded a party that openly supported ethnic cleansing. His party is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.
C-SJP routinely quotes a number of impartial authorities in our condemnations of Israel. For instance, both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu have characterized Israel as an apartheid state, and the International Court of Justice has issued numerous condemnations of illegal Israeli practices. That being said, sometimes it is best to sit back, relax, and let Zionist students show their true colors. It may not be pretty, but it is certainly instructive.
Yasmeen Ar-Rayani is a junior in Columbia College majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She has organized with Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, and Turath, The Arab Students Organization at Columbia. This article originally appeared in the Columbia Spectator and has been republished with the author's permission.