In a passionate denouncement on Monday, around 20 Jewish students from Columbia University and Barnard College expressed their deep concern over the university's perceived "inaction against antisemitism" following the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack. Adorned with yarmulkes, Star of David necklaces, and blue and white wristbands bearing the message "you are not alone," the students decried the lack of a "meaningful" response from the university to various incidents, including the attack on a Jewish student, online death threats, and hateful graffiti on the elite campus.
The protest at Morningside Heights in Manhattan unfolded just hours after over 100 professors signed a letter defending students who supported Hamas's "military action," resulting in the death of 1,400 Israelis. Eli Shmidman, a second-year law student, shared his personal encounter with antisemitism on Oct. 19, recounting how a fellow student shouted "f–k the Jews" at him. Despite the university identifying the student responsible, no action has been taken.
Shmidman emphasized the broader impact of such incidents, stating, "'F–k the Jews.' Those words were not said here on Amsterdam, not on Broadway; those words were said in Jerome Greene Hall — Columbia’s law school building. I know this incident occurred because it happened to me. I was the one whom the antisemite chose to direct that message to. But this was an attack on me; he said 'f–k the Jews,' it was an attack on all Jews."
He criticized the university's response to statements from student groups justifying the Hamas attack, citing a lack of condemnation and action. Shmidman also highlighted the chanting of antisemitic slogans by some students, questioning the university's silence in the face of such rhetoric.
The narrative underscored a broader dissatisfaction among Jewish students with the university's handling of antisemitic incidents, pointing to a perceived failure to address and condemn expressions of hate on campus.
In a recent online article, Joseph Massad, a politics and history teacher at Columbia University, openly praised Hamas' terror attacks, describing them as "astonishing," "astounding," and an "incredible" victory for the Palestinian resistance against "cruel colonizers." Despite this stance, the university has not taken any action or issued a comment on Massad's position.
Jessica Brenner, a psychology student at Barnard College, expressed heightened anxiety about attending classes, stating, "I feel walking on campus many people just want me to die." She highlighted a pervasive atmosphere of antisemitism, particularly in light of Columbia professors justifying Hamas' actions.
Noah Fay, a student at Barnard and Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, echoed Brenner's concerns, noting the prevalence of anti-Jewish propaganda at Columbia. Fay drew parallels with historical events, questioning how propaganda could lead to the mobilization of individuals, drawing attention to the saturation of anti-Israel propaganda on campus.
Yoni Kurtz, a history student at Columbia University, directly called out President Minouche Shafik for not adequately protecting Jewish students on campus. Kurtz cited firsthand observations of students engaging in antisemitic behavior, including parroting offensive tropes and endorsing calls for violence against civilians. The testimonies collectively underscore a disturbing atmosphere on campus that some students perceive as fostering and tolerating antisemitism.
"The university's response has amounted to empty statements, not action. Do not abandon your students, Columbia; take action now," pleaded Eli Shmidman, a second-year law student, expressing dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of antisemitic incidents on campus. He particularly criticized a faculty statement on Monday, viewing it as a sign that the administration has allowed antisemitic rhetoric to proliferate at Columbia.
Columbia spokeswoman Samantha Slater countered, stating that President Shafik has sent three messages of solidarity and tolerance to the student body. She emphasized the swift condemnation of a swastika in the International Affairs Building, describing it as a "symbol of antisemitism, hatred, and racial supremacy." Slater emphasized the university's commitment to combating hate and ensuring the safety of all students, especially Jewish students facing discrimination or harassment.
However, concerns persist among the student body. The university did cancel an on-campus event last week that suggested "Zionists" were unwelcome, indicating a tense atmosphere. During a demonstration, a student yelled "free Palestine" without encountering a counter-protest. Ken Vasques, a fourth-year English major, highlighted the prevailing unease on campus, noting a sense of impending tension. Vans parked outside the school have reportedly doxxed people, with students taking it upon themselves to cover them daily. Despite this, Vasques criticized the university's apparent inaction, stating, "You would think the school would put the students' safety first."
He further described a cautious atmosphere among both students and professors, with some classes moved to Zoom due to the tense campus environment. Vasques highlighted the need for mindful expression, indicating a shared feeling of self-censorship among students and faculty alike. The complex dynamics at Columbia University underscore the challenges in fostering an inclusive and secure academic environment amid heightened tensions.
In conclusion, the atmosphere at Columbia University is charged with tension and concern, as evidenced by the impassioned pleas of students like Eli Shmidman and the unsettling experiences recounted by peers such as Jessica Brenner, Noah Fay, and Yoni Kurtz. The discontent stems from perceived inaction by the university administration in the face of rising antisemitism, exemplified by a teacher's open support for Hamas and incidents of hateful rhetoric on campus.
While the university spokesperson emphasizes President Minouche Shafik's messages of solidarity and swift condemnation of a swastika, students like Ken Vasques underscore an ongoing unease. The cancellation of an event warning "Zionists" was also not welcome and the reported doxxing incidents outside the campus add to the sense of apprehension.
The collective sentiment among students suggests a need for decisive action from the university to address antisemitism, safeguard the well-being of its diverse student body, and foster an environment where open dialogue can prevail over hate. As Columbia grapples with these challenges, the call for meaningful action echoes, urging the institution to prioritize the safety and inclusivity of all its students.