Published On: Thu, Mar 3rd, 2016

Pro-Israel Installation at Columbia U Featuring 12-Foot Pinocchio Forced Down by Pro-BDS Student Government

During Israeli Apartheid Week,     Pro-Israel Pinocchio is 'Unsafe at Columbia Universit

Israeli Apartheid Week (February 29 – March 4) has divided the Columbia University Campus, but some students feel the pro-Israel side has been struggling against a campaign to deny their right to free speech while the pro-Palestinian group Students for Justice in Palestine, whose members also head the student government, have been given special treatment.

On March 1st, the conflict came to a head around two dramatic symbols designed to draw student attention: a mock-replica of the Israel Security Wall covered in anti-Israel slogans versus a 15-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio created by Artists 4 Israel to draw attention to the lies inherent in the concept of “Israel Apartheid Week” which is taking place on campuses across the country throughout the month of March.

According to Columbia University administrators, they received complaints that a beloved childhood cartoon character is “offensive” and caused a number of delicate students to start demanding it be removed so they could return to a ‘safe space.’ Ironically, the claim was that Pinocchio’s long nose could be considered anti-Semitic. However, Alexandra Markus, a Jewish Columbia student walking between both exhibits felt that the messages on the ‘Israeli Apartheid Wall’ were far more dangerous and could cause incitement against Israelis and Jews.

Students for Justice in Palestine were given a prominent place at the top of the steps leading to Columbia University’s main library to erect their Israeli Apartheid Wall. Students Supporting Israel were first given a place across from SJP’s Wall, but when they brought out their own symbol, the 15-foot-tall Pinocchio, despite pre-approval for a ‘large display, ‘ they were ordered to take it down within 90 minutes by Mariam Elnozahy, Chair of Columbia’s student government. Ms. Elnozahy is also a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and, when ordering the take-down of the pro-Israel symbol, was wearing an Israeli Apartheid Week T-shirt with a call to Boycott, Sanction, and Divest from Israel. The Vice-Chair of Columbia’s student government, Karim Nader, accompanied her while wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh.

 

During Israeli Apartheid Week,     Pro-Israel Pinocchio is 'Unsafe at Columbia Universit (2)

 

The local Columbia chapter of Students Supporting Israel received approval for hosting an exhibit that included a large structure. The 15-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio doll was placed across from SJP’s “Apartheid Wall”.

The Pinocchio succeeded extremely quickly in drawing attention to the Students Supporting Israel area where students were able to read information created by StandWithUs on Israel’s diversity, arts, culture and attempts at peaceful coexistence with their neighbors even while suffering through terrorism. Many students lined up to take pictures with the childhood icon Pinocchio while holding an Israeli flag.

It appeared that as soon as Students for Justice in Palestine saw the overwhelming response to Pinocchio, they began working furiously to have it removed. Before Pinocchio was inflated Students Supporting Israel had many signs on display giving facts about Israel, but it was only when Pinocchio started attracting crowds that the pro-Israel display was flagged as a problem.

Students Supporting Israel (SSI) say they only want an equal say and at Columbia that demands having an equally dramatic display to attract attention. Says Rudy Rochman, President of Columbia’s chapter of SSI, “We believe in showcasing the truth on the ground within it’s accurate context, followed with strong efforts in promoting coexistence. We decided to showcase the truth, support Israel, and promote coexistence. But, we also feel it is necessary to stand up to the lies being portrayed as truths. This is especially important during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ where the suffering of others is used to portray Israel as a state that must be wiped off the map. We label this ‘Compassion Abuse.'”

In the end, Students Supporting Israel were told that they had to take down the Pinocchio. The justifications for this limit on free speech was that the Pinocchio did not fit under the “large structure” approval and that it was unsafe. They feared what would happen if the balloon fell down.

Students Supporting Israel were told that they could appear before a review board later that day to obtain permission. The review board, again, was led by Students for Justice in Palestine members Mariam Elnozahy and Karim Nader. At this point, despite filling out a large number of new requested documents, Students Supporting Israel has not been given permission to use Pinocchio.

Artists 4 Israel has volunteered to lend the float to other student groups if they reach out to them at www.artists4israel.org.

But at Columbia University, the inflatable Pinocchio that was to symbolize the pro-Israel voice of dissent during “Israeli Apartheid Week” sits upon the ground, deflated, and unseen.

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