Students, profs boycott bookstore for supporting Israel

Toni Airaksinen
New York Campus Correspondent

  • More than 170 members of the Columbia University community have signed onto a petition calling for a boycott of a local bookstore for affirming Israel’s right to exist.
  • Book Culture initially defended its decision to sell "P is for Palestine," a children's book that praises "intifada," but backed down after a local synagogue complained that "intifada" also refers to violent Palestinian uprisings.
  • More than 170 members of the Columbia University community have signed onto a petition calling for a boycott of a local bookstore for affirming Israel’s right to exist.

    The petition takes aim at Book Culture, a locally-owned independent bookstore that also sells textbooks. In response to backlash from a local synagogue after the store began selling P is For Palestine, a book that praises “intifada,” the owners of Book Culture released a statement acknowledging the violence perpetrated against Israeli civilians during the Palestinian uprisings known as the first and second intifadas.

    "We refuse to be used and politicized by any side."   

    “We regret that we did not fully appreciate the political or communal ramifications of the children’s book, P is for Palestine, by Dr. Golbarg Bashi, nor did we anticipate the pain and distress it has caused in our community,” the statement began.

    The owners of Book Culture also sought to dispel any misconceptions that they may support terrorism against Israelis, and further noted that they “support Israel’s right to exist” and “do not endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

    [RELATED: Prof praises intifada in ‘P is for Palestine’ book]

    This statement angered members of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, who subsequently launched a petition to boycott Book Culture, urging the owners to retract their statement of support for Israel and reaffirm support for “marginalized voices in literature.”

    According to the petition, Book Culture’s owners “conflate the term ‘intifada’ with ‘terrorism,’ doing a gross disservice to the complexity of the first and second intifadas as periods of massive grassroots mobilization against Israeli apartheid, occupation, and ethnic cleansing.”

    “We call on the greater Columbia community to boycott the bookstore until it meets these demands. This boycott includes both a refusal to patronize the store, and, if possible, a refusal to send course materials, such as textbooks, to Book Culture for student pickup,” the petition concludes.

    [RELATED: Prof compares Israel to Islamic extremist groups]

    Although Book Culture is not formally affiliated with Columbia University, professors typically prefer it over the institutional bookstore, and, since it is just a few blocks away from campus, many students also get school supplies there.

    Nearly 150 students and 18 professors from Columbia University and Barnard College have publicly endorsed the boycott so far, according to the boycott’s list of supporters, with some professors pledging to stop sending their books there for pickup.

    Chris Doeblin, one of the co-owners of Book Culture, told Campus Reform by email that the controversy arising from the store’s choice to carry P is for Palestine has paradoxically resulted in attacks from all sides.

    “At this point both Zionist and pro-Palestine voices have proposed a boycott of our bookstores,” he noted. “I presume a successful boycott would ensure that our stores close. I think this would be a terrible result for all of us.”

    [RELATED: Elite universities get low ranking for viewpoint diversity]

    Dobelin acknowledged the difficulty of balancing competing demands, but affirmed the importance of carrying books that support a diversity of viewpoints.

    “The ground between Israeli and Palestinian views is a difficult place to find footing,” he said. “We refuse to be used and politicized by any side. Our goal is that one continues to find books that both support and oppose any and all of one's ideas in our stores. I believe strongly that that is our mission.”

    In fact, he added, “it is terrifically important not only to have books but to have the bookstores that put challenging ideas and images of a better future and well lit past in front of us. We oppose any effort to curtail the free use of or to impair the health of any bookstore.”

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen





    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    New York Campus Correspondent
    Toni Airaksinen is a New York Campus Correspondent, where she reports on free speech issues and social justice research. She is a senior at Barnard College, majoring in Urban Studies and Environmental Science. She is also a columnist for PJ Media, and formerly held a post with USA TODAY College, The Columbia Spectator, and Quillette.
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