Faculty at Columbia University are protesting the school's proposed Global Center in Tel Aviv over human rights concerns in Israel despite remaining silent on human rights abuses in China, home to the university’s Beijing Center.
Ninety-five faculty members signed a letter in opposition to the Global Center over human rights and free speech concerns, though an opposing letter in favor of the center gained more support, the New York Times reported.
The state of Israel "refuses to abide by international human rights laws and norms both domestically and in its treatment of Palestinians," the anti-Israel letter, which the Columbia Spectator reported was first circulated by law professor Katherine Franke, said.
But faculty in support of the Israel center noted in their letter, which has received 172 signatures, that the university maintains centers in countries with human rights controversies of their own—China, Jordan, and Turkey—that are ranked by the Freedom House democracy index as far more unfree than Israel.
"To apply a separate standard to Israel—and Israel alone—would understandably be perceived by many as a form of discrimination," the letter in support of the Israel center read. "One does not have to support the policies of the current government of Israel—and many of us do not—to recognize that singling out Israel in this way is unjustified."
Franke told the Washington Free Beacon she opposes the Tel Aviv center because it would "conform to Israel's apartheid policies, thus implicating Columbia in that illegal regime." She said she did not take issue with the university's centers in China, Jordan, and Turkey because they act as a "haven" for "local academics and students" against the "repressive regimes in which they live and work." Israel, Franke said, has no need for a Global Center because there has been "no domestic call" for such a "safe haven."
Columbia has maintained its center in Beijing since 2009, even as the United States has declared China’s imprisonment of more than a million Uyghurs a genocide. The United Nations in August declared that China’s activities "may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity."
Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger celebrated the new Tel Aviv center in a statement Monday.
The new center will allow Columbia "to connect with individuals and institutions, as well as with the alumni community in Israel, drawing them closer to the ongoing life of the University," Bollinger said.