There have been more than 100 incidents that have contributed to a hostile climate at Columbia University and its sister school, Barnard College, since the 2016-2017 academic year, according to a new report by Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF).
The organization – an American NGO comprised of university alumni who examine issues of antisemitism, demonization of Israel and bigotry on US college campuses – released its 33-page report on Thursday. It documents what ACF describes as “systemic antisemitism and an ingrained delegitimization of Israel” at Columbia and Barnard.
Its sourcing and categorizing methods were based on those used by the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit organization that has created an “incident database” of antisemitic activity that has occurred on US college and university campuses since 2015.
“This report reveals the disturbing truth about antisemitism at one of the highest regarded universities in the United States,” said ACF executive director Avi Gordon, noting that these campuses are “arguably the most prominent settings for university-based antisemitism in the United States.”
Each act highlighted in the report falls into one of four categories: antisemitic expressions through language; imagery or behavior that would be considered antisemitic according to the guidelines outlined by the US State Department’s definition of antisemitism; incidents targeting Jewish students and staff with harmful or hateful action based on their Judaism or perceived support for Israel; or activity related to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The report also records how Columbia and Barnard faculty members have targeted Jewish and Zionist students on social media, in opinion and editorial pieces, in classrooms, and while speaking at extracurricular programs.
In May, for example, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) held a “die-in” on the Columbia campus, at which it released a statement condoning terrorism and denying the right to Jewish self-determination. It referred to escalations on the Gaza border as part of “a linear path of violence that we can trace back decades, a path which concretely spells out the racist objective of Zionism: to create an ethno-supremacist state with no place for the indigenous Palestinians.” The statement went on to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing and incremental genocide.
Earlier this year, after Columbia’s student board failed to pass a pro-BDS bill, Columbia SJP and Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) issued the following statement: “Every year, more and more people and institutions recognize that Israel is an apartheid state… As more college students demand that their schools divest from companies that perpetrate crimes against Palestinians, as more congresspeople come out in support of Palestinians, and as more institutions divest, one thing is clear: Unconditional support for Israel is no longer viable, in discourse and otherwise.”
In February, SJP, JVP and Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) held an event called “Palestine & BDS 101.” On slide 28 of the event presentation, the following text was included: “Israel describes itself as the state of the Jewish people (there is no ‘Israeli nation’). This has led it to pursue several general racial policies [which include] demographic engineering of a racial majority and thus a ‘racial democracy.’”
A similar event held the same month by the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia included remarks by law professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, during which she claimed that “Israel does weapons tests on Palestinian children,” “Palestinian spaces are laboratories for the Israeli security industry,” and that Israel is “making money over children’s bodies and children’s lives.”
In October 2016, an individual walked around the campus gates holding a sign that said, “Google it!!! Jews financed black slavery.” In April 2018, an anti-Israel poster was found just outside of Columbia’s campus, which depicted IDF soldiers as insect exterminators, with the captions, “Shoot to kill! Protect your victory garden.” That same month, a spam email titled “ISRAEL DID 9/11” was sent out to hundreds of Barnard students. The email accused “Israel, Zionist Jews & American Traitors” of “perpetrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks” and said the “9/11 Commission Report is a 571-Page Zionist Lie.
And in November 2018, a Jewish professor’s office was vandalized with swastikas and the antisemitic term “Yid” was found spray painted in red in the entryway to the office.
“My generation of Jewish university students is expected to live in an environment where the demonization of the Jewish state, the Jewish people and Zionism are commonplace,” said Barnard sophomore Donna Shashoua.
Ofir Dayan, a junior at Columbia, said the situation on campus is “not only getting worse, but it is evolving.”
“People before me experienced students who were anti-Israel and antisemitic, but we are seeing this more and more from the faculty,” Dayan said. “You can talk to students, tell them how you feel – but at the end of the day, when professors make these kinds of statements, it is even more problematic.”
The kinds of statements about which Dayan is referring are documented in the ACF report, which highlights 11 anti-Israel, antisemitic professors, such as Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history. He has made claims that European antisemitism was the foundation of the Zionist movement and of Jews’ desire to immigrate to the land of Israel. He also accused Jewish Zionists of complicity in the creation of antisemitism and the Holocaust, and likened Israeli Jews to Nazis.
Professor Katherine Franke, who is a professor of law, gender and sexuality studies, refused to write reference letters for students seeking jobs or internships in Israel. In an editorial, Franke lamented feeling “as if I teach at the New York franchise of Hebrew University Law School.”
The professor with the greatest number of incidents is Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature. He has espoused extreme anti-Israel views on his personal Facebook page, including one comparing Israel to ISIS.
“What’s the difference between ISIS and ISRAEL?” an April 2019 post began. “ISIS murderous thugs conquered parts of Syria and declared a ‘caliphate,’ no decent human being on planet earth recognized their armed robbery or their ‘caliphate’ – their ISRAELI counterparts meanwhile conquered parts of Syria and declared it part of their Zionist settler colony – no decent human being on planet earth recognizes their armed robbery… ISIS does not have a platoon of clean shaven and well coiffured [sic] columnists at the New York Times propagating the cause of the terrorist outfit as the Zionists columnists do on a regular basis.”
In 2018, he posted that, “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name of ‘Israel’ will pop up as a key actor in the atrocities…” He also posted that, “The Israeli flag, the very term ‘Israel’ are now and forever synonymous with mass murderers… with massacres, with land thieves, with incremental genocide, with war crimes, with crimes against humanity.”
Dayan said that in one incident, Columbia’s University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action had to request that a different university professor grade pro-Israel students in a class run by one of the more anti-Israel faculty members, for fear the course professor would not grade them fairly.
“There are classes we just don’t take because we know that the professors are not for us, and we are scared of being failed just because of who we are,” Dayan said. “We are real people, on the ground, not feeling comfortable in the classrooms. In order to make Jewish students feel comfortable, we need to make changes.”
Dayan is the daughter of Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul-general in New York, and is the head of Columbia’s Students Supporting Israel chapter.
ACF is calling on administrators to take tangible steps to address the systematic discrimination against Jewish and Zionist students and faculty. Dayan, however, said she believes that the situation on campus will get worse before it gets better.
“Columbia will have to experience one huge incident for people to really realize and change,” she concluded.
A spokesperson for Columbia University said she could not give a response by press time.