Columbia University's glaring silence in the face of rising antisemitism on campus
Antisemitic and anti-Zionist messages have proliferated on the university's platform, exacerbated by the tepid response from much of the leadership
In the heart of New York City, Columbia University, a venerable institution, has long been recognized for its rigorous academic environment. However, beneath the surface of its esteemed reputation, a tempest brews, particularly for its Jewish and Israeli communities.
The recent terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel has not only intensified the geopolitical situation, but also starkly illuminated the pervasive and unsettling atmosphere on Columbia’s campus, especially for those with ties to Israel.
Columbia is often considered one of the most Israel-hostile campuses in the United States. The recent conflict has exacerbated this hostility, revealing a deeply concerning undercurrent of antisemitism and anti-Zionism that permeates both the student body and faculty.
Despite Columbia hosting a substantial Jewish and Israeli community, including numerous IDF veterans in its School of General Studies, the response to the recent conflict has been, at best, disheartening. In non-official Columbia group chats, antisemitic messages have surged since Saturday, ranging from vile messages wishing harm upon Israeli soldiers, to disturbing images and videos meant to taunt and intimidate Jewish students. A tangible fear has enveloped the Jewish community, with incidents such as mezuzahs being torn down from doorposts and the administration being contacted to address the palpable concerns for Jewish students' safety amidst this onslaught of antisemitism.
The faculty's stance, too, has been a source of trepidation. While a handful of professors have extended their support both academically and personally, a significant portion appears to adhere to Columbia's anti-Israel culture. Some professors have even been heard justifying Hamas' terrorist attacks as a "fight for basic human rights," while others have disregarded students' pleas for academic leniency during this tumultuous period. One student lamented, “Columbia is competitive and the pressure is high, the war in Israel falls during the midterm season and we feel very little to absolutely no support from our teachers.”
Statements issued by deans from several of Columbia’s 17 schools have been notably tepid and non-committal. Joseph Sorett, Dean of Columbia College, neutrally described the Hamas attack and Israel’s response as “the events in Israel and Gaza.” Gillian Lester, Dean of Columbia Law School, labeled it “the violence that erupted in Israel and Gaza this past weekend,” and Minouche Shafik, the freshly inaugurated president, acknowledged “the horrific attack on Israel this weekend and the ensuing violence.” However, one thing has been conspicuously absent: apart from the Dean of the School of General Studies — which hosts the largest Israeli population at Columbia — no senior leadership member has condemned Hamas for their terrorist attacks on Israel.
The President of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at Columbia articulated the frustration and heartbreak of many: “We are urging our administration to do better to support our Jewish students. [...] It’s heartbreaking and angering to see our administration doing the bare minimum to make sure our community is supported.” In the face of adversity, pro-Israel and Jewish-life organizations on campus have been commendably proactive, organizing vigils, protests, rallies, and tabling events to foster unity and counteract misinformation. The Jewish community has rallied together daily since Saturday, with SSI and other organizations working tirelessly to ensure that the truth is conveyed loudly and proudly.
As nearly a thousand students gathered for a vigil in front of the main library, the resolve was clear: “We’re doing everything we can to support our brothers and sisters in Israel. We’re fundraising and donating to the units of our peers and colleagues from Columbia who have gone back to fight,” says the President of SSI at Columbia.
The Jewish community’s concern for their safety is not unfounded. On Wednesday, an Israeli student was physically assaulted by a pro-Palestinian student on campus, with the aggressor arrested by campus police.
On Thursday, the Students for Justice for Palestine have organized a large “resistance day” rally. The Jewish community has decided to organize a silent counter-protest. The university has taken the unprecedented step of closing the campus to non-affiliates for the whole day, a gesture that reveals the serious concern for public safety.
In a time where unity and support are paramount, the question remains: Will Columbia University rise to the occasion and provide the necessary support and condemnation of antisemitism, or will its Jewish and Israeli communities continue to navigate this harrowing path on their own?