Gall rather than chutzpah is the best description of “An Open Letter from Columbia University and Barnard College Faculty in Defense of Robust Debate About the History and Meaning of the War in Israel/Gaza.”
In this letter, Columbia University professors defend a group of Columbia students who signed a statement blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. Apparently, the Columbia professors believe a “robust debate” involves the recontextualization of the slaughter and torture of Israelis—including babies—into an action of justified “resistance.” This is, of course, monstrous.
The professors’ belief that such racist hate speech is merely “robust debate” is not surprising. Many of them have also signed a manifesto that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that rejects Israel’s right to exist.
Moreover, putting aside its exterminatory ideology, BDS is an outright rejection of “robust debate.” It seeks to silence and censor the ideas, speech and art of Israeli scientists, academics, writers, businesspeople, politicians and artists. It should not be surprising that people who view the torture of women and children by Hamas as a legitimate topic of “robust debate” can easily find consistency between BDS’s brutal suppression of speech and their advocacy of that “robust debate.”
Such hypocrisy is based in the idea of “recontextualization.” In its less racist form, “recontextualization” is a powerful tool that can be used to open people’s minds to new ways of looking at the world. For example, in his 2013 book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell recontextualizes the encounter between David and Goliath. Traditionally, the encounter is seen as one between a young and inexperienced Israelite shepherd boy who is emboldened only with faith and courage and an experienced, battle-tested, armored Philistine warrior giant. Gladwell cleverly reframes the encounter as one between a nimble shepherd who has spent day after day fighting off wolves with a deadly sling and a bellicose, visually impaired, immobile giant.
A more sinister example of recontextualization was the aforementioned Oct. 9 “Joint Statement from Palestine Solidarity Groups at Columbia University regarding the recent events in Palestine/Israel: Oppression Breeds Resistance.”
“We cannot view the recent actions of the Palestinian fighters in isolation,” the statement said. “Gaza is an open-air prison that lacks the essential necessities such as food, clean water, medicine and electricity.”
This recontextualizes the dismal state of Gaza, caused entirely by Hamas, which has stolen billions of dollars in aid and used them to build a terror infrastructure, into an Israeli crime.
Having done this, the statement can then declare, “The weight of the responsibility for the war and causalities undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments, including the U.S. Government, which fund and staunchly support Israeli aggression, apartheid and settler colonization.”
Clearly, these students have been brainwashed into believing Israelis are committed to the genocide of the Palestinian people. With this delusion in mind, they are then able to believe that the terrorists who raped, burned and mutilated unarmed women and children are “Palestinian fighters” fighting Israel’s “extremist government.”
This hideous inversion of reality and morality is considered by much of Columbia’s faculty as a legitimate recontextualization that contributes to a “robust debate.”
Indeed, in their letter, the signatories explicitly confess to this, saying, “In our view, the student statement aims to recontextualize the events of October 7, 2023, pointing out that military operations and state violence did not begin that day, but rather it represented a military response by a people who had endured crushing and unrelenting state violence from an occupying power over many years.”
Further justifying genocidal terrorism and even claiming it is legitimate under international law rather than a flagrant violation of it, the faculty states, “One could regard the events of October 7 as just one salvo in an ongoing war between an occupying state and the people it occupies, or as an occupied people exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation, something anticipated by international humanitarian law in the Second Geneva Protocol.”
One must ask, since a genocidal terrorist assault is “just one salvo in an ongoing war,” should Israel expect more of such atrocities? And given their recontextualization of genocidal terrorists as heroes, do the signatories endorse such atrocities?
Moreover, given that Hamas’s atrocities are recontextualized as “a military response by a people,” are the professors saying that there is no difference between Hamas and the Palestinian people? If so, they appear to support the Israeli response they claim to decry.
This perverse recontextualization of history by both Columbia students and faculty is not simply evil, it also indicates total moral bankruptcy. It takes the side of the murderers. Given this, it is not surprising that neither the students nor their professors can bring themselves to say, “Hamas, j’accuse!”