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February 3, 2016 6:28 pm

Student Israel Advocates Leading Anti-BDS Effort at Columbia: ‘It’s Considered Cool to Oppose Zionism’ (INTERVIEW)

avatar by Ruthie Blum

SSI cofounders Rudy Rochman and Alexandra Markus. Photo: Courtesy.

SSI cofounders Rudy Rochman and Alexandra Markus. Photo: Courtesy.

A student group at Columbia University is gearing up to counter an anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign being launched on campus this Thursday, The Algemeiner has learned.

The Columbia chapter of “Students Supporting Israel” (SSI) – established in September to prevent and combat such efforts, which have become increasingly commonplace at colleges across America – intends to send a delegation to attend a launch event, sponsored by Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), a joint organization formed by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

CUAD has been advertising on social media and in fliers distributed throughout the Ivy League school in New York City that it is holding an event to kickstart its BDS endeavor, which is focused on pressuring the university to divest “from companies that benefit from or provide funds for the continued presence of Israeli homes, business, and infrastructure in the West Bank,” as The Algemeiner reported on Tuesday. It has also been circulating an online petition and referring students to a Facebook invitation page called BDS 101.

SSI Columbia founder Alexandra Markus told The Algemeiner that this kind of event is precisely what spurred her into action in the first place.

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“The scariest part about the CUAD initiative is not that it comes from Students for Justice in Palestine, but also from Jewish Voice for Peace,” she said. “But that’s not surprising, since most of the Jews on campus say they love Israel, even went on Birthright, but insist they are uncomfortable with Zionism, because it’s unjust. It’s the cool thing to say. If you don’t say it, you’re seen as unsophisticated — as someone who listens only to what your parents and rabbis tell you, have no mind of your own and lack the capacity for critical thinking. Even the Israelis on campus say they go back home during election time just to vote for Meretz,” a left-wing political party in Israel.

It is an atmosphere, Markus said, that affects everyone, including the faculty. “The professors who support us have said they can’t come out publicly on our side, because they’re afraid it would jeopardize their careers. And they’re right. Look what happened to [Connecticut philosophy professor] Andrew Pessin. And to tell you the truth, I am also petrified that my pro-Israel activism could ruin my career.”

Still, she does not intend to back down.

Markus, a student of Narrative Medicine who attended McGill University before moving on to Columbia said she used to be a “radical leftist – a radical feminist; a radical environmentalist; a radical LGBT activist, the whole works. I was surrounded by professors and other students with communist views and indoctrination.”

Her awakening, she said, was due to several factors and mentors, as well as a stint in Israel. “And when I started getting involved in the Israel club at McGill, all my leftist friends rejected what I was doing.” Tolerance, it seemed to her, was something preached by her cohorts, but not practiced – at least not regarding the Jewish state.

At Columbia, she encountered a similar situation.

SSI co-founder and president Rudy Rochman expanded on what he considers an anti-Israel climate at the university by telling The Algemeiner how the dean of students recently addressed an orientation gathering. “He told us he was proud to be part of the faculty when, in 2007, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to speak at Columbia, saying such events allow a platform for shared ideas and acceptance.”

Rochman reiterated what he had written on Facebook in response to this statement: “Acceptance for what? Terrorism, radical Islam, mass murder and the pursuit of world power through the destruction of everyone else? We shouldn’t share those ideas; we should destroy them and at the very least not give venom a voice. There were those who invited Hitler to speak … Oh boy, we have a lot of work to do here.”

Markus said anybody who would allow Ahmadinejad, a rampant Holocaust denier who called for Israel’s destruction, to present his views, or for the BDS movement to flourish, must be “so open-minded that their brains fell out.”

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