TEL AVIV – An inflatable 15-foot Pinocchio doll, designed to “draw attention to the lies of Israel Apartheid Week,” was placed by pro-Israel groups in front of a mock replica of the country’s security barrier at Columbia University last week, the Jerusalem Post reported.
The doll, designed by Artists 4 Israel and sponsored by pro-Israel organizations Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and StandWithUs, sparked a firestorm during the annual Israel Apartheid Week at the New York school.
The removal of the doll a few days later led to a major controversy, with Columbia University administrators claiming that some students complained the cartoon character was “offensive” because Pinocchio’s long nose could be considered anti-Semitic.
SSI, however, claimed that even though they initially received approval for it from the Columbia student government, the organization reneged on its decision following pressure from pro-Palestinian groups.
“We believe in showcasing the truth on the ground within its accurate context, followed with strong efforts in promoting coexistence,” Rudy Rochman, president of Columbia’s SSI chapter, said in a statement. “We also feel it is necessary to stand up to the lies being portrayed as truths.”
However, Daniella Greenbaum, a Columbia University student and president of the pro-Israel group Aryeh on campus, told the Jerusalem Post that while her organization had nothing to do with displaying the Pinocchio, “the story that it was taken down for anti-Semitic purposes or that Jewish voices on campus are being silenced is a highly sensationalized one.”
According to Greenbaum, the reason the inflatable doll was taken down was due to bureaucracy and not bias. Since SSI is not yet officially recognized as a student group at Columbia, she said, any booking of space the organization receives is “a gift from the student governing board.” The SSI had not filled out the correct paperwork to book the space for the Pinocchio display, so it was removed.
“I do not condone the casual usage of the words ‘anti-Semitism,’ ‘oppression,’ or ‘silencing,’ ” she said.
According to the Post, Aryeh, the Columbia Students Association for Israel, deals frequently with calls for divestment on campus and has started a counter-divestment campaign called “Invest in Peace,” which aims to show that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is “divisive” and “unproductive.”
Greenbaum said that BDS-affiliated groups at the university have begun to call for another intifada.
“They called it civil disobedience,” she said. “That crossed the line, that did feel anti-Semitic, targeting and scary. Until that tangible call for violence, this was all just rhetoric and discourse and it was all fine.
“At the end of the day, we are an institution that believes in free speech and so students are free to call for whatever they’d like,” Greenbaum said. “Whether the board of the university will actually divest, that’s a different question.”
She also said that members of her organization would love the chance to speak to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the group responsible for displaying the mock security barrier, but that SJP’s policy does not allow for dialogue.
“That’s unfortunate, but that’s how they’ve chosen to play this game,” she said.
Breitbart reported last week that some 40 Columbia University faculty members signed a petition urging the institution to divest from companies that “supply, perpetuate, and profit from a system that has subjugated the Palestinian people.”
The petition’s signatories called upon the university “to take a moral stance against Israel’s violence in all its forms.”
Israel Apartheid Week is being held on campuses across the United States throughout the month of March.