Campus Groups Begin Gaza Activism

Following cease-fires declared separately by Israel and Hamas, Columbia students will raise their voices and lend multiple perspectives to the attacks on Gaza this week. This most recent outbreak of violence allows for Columbia students to offer their opinions on a notoriously polarizing subject in Morningside Heights—the Middle East conflict.

Despite week-long miscommunications surrounding timing and space reservations, several campus groups will still rally, beginning with a series of events starting Monday.

LionPAC, Columbia’s pro-Israel non-partisan political affairs group and a branch of America’s pro-Israel lobby, will host an hour-long forum titled, “Rally of Solidarity and Peace for Israel and its Neighbors” Monday at the Sundial. The event will occur after some contention—intended or otherwise—with another group.

A relatively new coalition with no identifiable leadership consisting of undergraduates, graduates, and faculty, known simply as “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza,” posted flyers around campus and created a Facebook group announcing its intention to hold a speak-out against the siege on Gaza at the Sundial at noon, the same time that LionPAC will host its rally.

But when “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza” group was denied space at the Sundial by the Office of Public Safety because LionPAC had already reserved it, the group moved its event to Tuesday in order to avoid accusations of a counter-protest. Instead, members of “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza” will carry signs Monday at a silent event for Gaza on the grassy area in the center of the campus, on Low steps, and on the steps near the Sundial. The group, an agglomeration of various recognized political groups and others who support the cause, includes many graduate students, and members have also been encouraged to wear masking tape over their mouths.

According to LionPAC President Jacob Shapiro, LionPAC had consulted with Public Safety and secured use of the Sundial after the group solidified its plans two and a half weeks ago. Public Safety assured LionPAC that theirs was the only University-sanctioned group for the Sundial that day.

Yet questions arose as “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza” announced its own plans for a speak-out on Monday through flyers and a Facebook group, provoking speculation that it was a counter-group in the making. Group members Seema Golestaneh, GSAS, and Rahel Aima, CC ’10, of Students for a Democratic Society, said they were unaware that any flyers had been posted. They said that some group members may have posted flyers too quickly without realizing that LionPAC had already reserved the Sundial. According to Golestaneh and Aima, the group had begun planning the speak-out around last Monday without any prior knowledge of LionPAC’s plans.

Members of both LionPAC and “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza” said that their groups encompass a very broad group of people from various political, religious, and ideological backgrounds. Both groups are using their respective events as a forum to encourage communication.

LionPAC will host a variety of speakers, such as professors Judith Jacobson and Awi Federgruen. LionPAC will have a prayer and a moment of silence to honor victims of both sides. “The Columbia Community in Standing with Gaza” event will include student representatives, faculty, and members of outside activist groups Code Pink and General Union of Palestinian Students. Participating professors include Rosalind Morris of anthropology, Gil Anidjar of MEALAC, Bruce Robbins of English and comparative Literature and the Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Yinon Cohen of sociology, and Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, a professor of Israel and Jewish studies, among others. Communication within the group began as early as December, when the attacks first broke out.

“The issue of Palestine tends to be a very polarizing, divisive issue on campus,” Aima said. “The public view towards what is happening in Gaza has really changed. I’m very optimistic that people will come out to this and that they, too, stand for Gaza.”

“This rally is meant to have the pro-Israel and campus community come together over ideas of peace and solidarity for the state of Israel,” Shapiro, the president of LionPAC said. “It is not meant to attack Palestinian students, not to condone specific military actions within Gaza. We want to try to put the discussion into a more positive and hopeful light in the sense that we want the campus to understand that LionPAC is pro-Palestinian.”

No matter the side, this week will provide students with outlets for making their voices heard on a contentious topic.

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