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December 7, 2016 1:14 pm

Angry Activists at Columbia U Protest ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Event Highlighting Historical Jewish Ties to Israel

avatar by Lea Speyer and Rachel Frommer

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Anti-Israel demonstrators at Columbia University protesting SSI's "Indigenous People Unite" event. Photo: Rachel Frommer/The Algemeiner.

Anti-Israel demonstrators at Columbia University protesting SSI’s ‘Indigenous People Unite’ event. Photo: Rachel Frommer.

Activists at Columbia University staged a walkout at an event Tuesday evening — at which The Algemeiner was present — as a Yemenite Jewish man addressed the room to describe his connection to the land of Israel.

The protesters, part of a coalition of 26 campus groups — including Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the Black Students Organization, the Muslim Students Association and the Columbia Queer Alliance — had arrived intending to disrupt the event, called “Indigenous People Unite,” sponsored by the Columbia chapter of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and featuring Assyrian, Yazidi, Israelite, Native Canadian and Tibetan speakers.

As Rudy Rochman, the president of Columbia’s SSI chapter, told The Algemeiner on Sunday, the event was organized with the goal of “reclaiming the narrative” on campus about the ancient connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel — a historical fact that has been undermined by anti-Zionists.

Following publication of the article, the anti-Israel coalition posted a diatribe against the event on the “Columbia University Apartheid Divest” Facebook page, which read, in part:

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As a Zionist student organization, SSI aims to bolster support for the state of Israel, a settler-colonial state, and its occupation, elimination, and dispossession of the indigenous Palestinian population. The event claims to bring together five indigenous speakers on the premise of their “thousand year old sacred connection to a piece of land,” and will include a discussion “centered around pursuing common interests.” We believe there can be no common interests and no principled solidarity between indigenous people and those who defend and aid Israel’s active project of ethnic cleansing and colonization of the Palestinians and their land.

At the start of the event, Rochman repeatedly warned that anyone who disrupted the program would be asked to leave, saying “It’s not a political event, so please don’t act like it is.”

Prior to and during their walkout, the approximately 50 anti-Israel activists in attendance held up signs reading: “Settlers are not indigenous” and “Zionism is racism” and accusing Israel of “theft, displacement and ethnic cleansing.” 

This display was met with cries of, “Get them out!” — as campus security first attempted to calm tensions, and subsequently escorted the protesters off the premises.

SSI founder Ilan Sinelnikov, who had taken a last-minute flight from Minneapolis to New York in a show of solidarity with the event organizers, told The Algemeiner, “The protesters sat through two speakers, a Yazidi and an Assyrian, but when the Jew of Yemenite origin began to present, they got up and left. Once again, anti-Israel students have shown they are not willing to hear someone who might challenge their narrative.”

He added that though the demonstrators “behaved more respectfully than some on other campuses, they still showed a lack of respect for basic freedom of opinion.”

When approached by The Algemeiner for comment, protesters declined to speak on the record.

Despite the commotion, Rochman said he considers “Indigenous People Unite” to have been a success — a sentiment echoed by Jewish and pro-Israel students from other schools in the city who came to participate. One New York University student called it “an exciting evening,” and Sinelnikov said he hopes “to bring a similar program to every campus across the country.”

“What happened at Columbia is an event for the books,” he said. “Today we started winning back our story and can move forward in challenging anti-Israel groups and take back our truth on campuses.”

Watch scenes from the event below:

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