In October, Columbia released a short statement—two brief paragraphs—in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. They used extremely vague, non-specific language and somehow neglected to mention Jews or antisemitism. In taking an intersectional approach rather than one that explicitly decried anti-Jewish bigotry, they also diluted and drew attention away from the specifically antisemitic nature of the crime, which shocked the community and personally affected many Columbia students. In the administration’s more recent statement on the enormous red swastikas and the antisemitic slur spray-painted on the walls of 77-year-old Jewish Holocaust studies professor Elizabeth Midlarsky’s office on Wednesday, the Administration wrote two generic, three-line paragraphs expressing its “shock and anger” and listing the school’s available resources in this “difficult time.” If this statement was in any sense an attempt to make up for their previously lacking one, they did not do so adequately.
On multiple other occasions, the administration has written thoroughly detailed statements to assuage students’ concerns. For example, in their statement on contentious speakers at Columbia, five exhaustive paragraphs were dedicated to assuring students that their safety and wellbeing would be ensured, along with a note that these speakers’ messages contradict Columbia’s core values and commitment to diversity. Perhaps the response to CUCR speakers would feel less inopportune and inconsistent if the administration provided a more detailed response to what happened on Wednesday—especially considering Columbia’s large population of Jewish undergraduates, many of whom have felt their safety and well-being have been compromised by this gruesome hate crime on our own campus.
In just the last year alone, numerous Columbia professors have also invoked dangerous antisemitic tropes in order to criticize Israel. While criticism of the Jewish state is perfectly acceptable and warranted, using harmful canards in order to do so is not. On one occasion, Professor Rashid Khalidi stated during a radio interview that Israel supporters would “infest” the Trump administration. He used the same word three times. In doing so, he implicates that Zionists are vermin. This Nazi-era rhetoric dehumanizes an entire group of people, many of whom are Jewish, by likening them to pests. Another Columbia professor, Hamid Dabashi, wrote numerous controversial Facebook posts this summer, including one in which he called Israel a “key actor” in “every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.” His claim invokes the familiar antisemitic trope that Jews are responsible for all the world’s evils. Though he does not mention Jews specifically, his comment is reminiscent of language historically weaponized against Jews, much like Khalidi’s language.
Both professors still teach here, and Columbia did not care to make a statement or distance itself from their careless, irresponsible, and potentially dangerous rhetoric.
I’m only highlighting a couple of incidents that have taken place during my time so far at Columbia, but rest assured, there have been many more. Some Jewish students have historically reported feeling intimidated or discriminated against on religious grounds by other professors who were later granted tenure. And, as Professor Midlarsky suggested, Wednesday’s blatant and vitriolic antisemitic graffiti is disgusting and shocking, but it is not surprising. It shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point. If you weren’t already aware, Columbia itself is a breeding ground for antisemitism. And following Pittsburgh, the U.S. has witnessed more than a few recent incidents of antisemitic vandalism at other universities including Duke, Cornell, and Penn State.
The Barnard and Columbia undergraduate student bodies have a large population of Jewish students compared to the Jewish population in the greater United States. After what happened on Wednesday, Jewish students deserved to know that a virulent antisemite might be sitting next to us in lecture. And yet neither Public Safety nor a single Barnard or Columbia administrator notified the undergraduate student body of this obviously antisemitic hate crime until nearly 24 hours later. I’m disappointed as usual in the Columbia administration for never seeming to treat antisemitism with the urgency and legitimacy it deserves, and, as a result, for allowing this kind of hatred to fester on our campus. In standing idly by as professors and students spread antisemitic ideas, the administration is complicit in the normalization of this hatred and bigotry at Columbia.
What’s going to happen now? The police will hopefully find the suspect, everyone will be outraged, and then we’ll all forget about this in a week. I ask that you don’t allow this cycle to repeat so easily. Please treat antisemitism with the gravity you do other forms of bigotry. Stop supporting organizations, businesses, and leaders who refuse to distance themselves from antisemites like Louis Farrakhan or impose double standards on Jews. Stop supporting student groups on campus that spread antisemitic messages under the guise of anti-Zionism. And stop letting Columbia’s antisemitism problem go unchecked. Just because antisemitism has existed for millennia doesn’t mean that we should accept it as inevitable. And just because it’s taken on a million different forms, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t recognize it for what it truly is—hate.
We must insist that our politicians, schools, professors, and even friends do better. Not just when something horrible like this happens, but always.
The author is a senior at Barnard College studying political science and Judaic studies. She partakes in way too many political clubs at Columbia and loves to argue with anyone willing to give her the time of day.
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