Columbia, one of the world’s finest universities, has 10 global centers in cities like Beijing, Nairobi, Istanbul, Mumbai and Amman. Now the school is adding an outpost in Tel Aviv, the biggest city in a little country named Israel, to that portfolio. Of course this couldn’t be simple.
Nearly 100 Columbia faculty members are pitching a fit, suggesting that Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens and of Palestinians ought to disqualify it from hosting the branch of an American academic powerhouse. Oh? China — where academic freedom does not exist — gets 9 points out of 100 on Freedom House’s human rights index, and is, according to the watchdogs, “not free”; Turkey earns 32 points (“not free”), Jordan, 33 (“not free”); Kenya, 52 (“partly free”), India, 66 (“partly free”). Israel scores 77 out of 100 (“free”), even as the occupied West Bank earns a low 23 points (“not free”).
Columbia’s footprint has understandably expanded over the years to many less-than-perfect places, on the theory that high-level enlightenment and education are among the best antidotes to backwardness and oppression. The folks who never complained about such inevitable compromises now pretend that the Ivy is crossing a bright red line. After all, there are right-wing parties in power in Israel (have they ever met Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan? Kenya’s William Ruto? India’s Narendra Modi? America’s Donald Trump?). The critics seem to fervently believe that Israel, the planet’s only Jewish state, is toxic in ways no other nation in the world is. That’s called antisemitism.
The Tel Aviv center is set to focus on climate change, technology, entrepreneurship, arts, the humanities and medicine — in other words, exploration aimed at making the world a better place. The productive partnerships with Israel’s academic community are endless. And it’s not just Israeli Jews who are set to benefit. Arab student enrollment in Israeli universities has been growing rapidly in recent years.
No matter. Those who would boycott, divest, sanction, single out and shame Israel care only about making her a pariah. Deepest shame on them.
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