Columbia Unbecoming – Then and Now

When Algemeiner put Columbia University at the top of its list of the 40 worst Universities for Jewish students, Forward editor Laura E. Adkins doubted the list-makers’ methodology, invited students to chime in, and is now publishing vigorous debates. We write to enlarge and refocus the discussion.

It matters little if Columbia University is at the top, middle, or bottom of the list. It is also true that a university can support a robust Jewish life on campus -– with kosher food, Jewish holiday celebrations, a wonderful Hillel building —- while at the same time tolerating Jew hatred and student intimidation.

All these positive expressions of religious Jewish life were evident in 2004 when we produced the video Columbia Unbecoming, to document the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students mostly by Arab and Muslim professors from what is now called MESAAS (Middle Eastern, South Asian, And African Studies) who abused the power of their podia to propagandize and intimidate. These professors still teach at Columbia today. Here are some of their teachings:

The Jews are not a nation. The Jewish state is a racist state that does not have a right to exist.”

The ultimate achievement of Israel: the transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite, and the Palestinian into the Jew.

— Professor Joseph Massad

There is a vulgarity of character {Israeli Jews} that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture.

— Professor Hamid Debashi

And here is a sample of how Jewish students were being treated over 10 years ago:


Again, this all happened as Jewish students ate kosher food, celebrated holidays and enjoyed a marvelous Hillel building.

What matters is not the ranking of any one university. What’s important is that the hostility and mistreatment of Jewish students we noted in 2004 has metastasized. Over the last 12 years, anti-Israel animus has spread from these classroom lectures and discussions to the quad and beyond through an unholy alliance between radical leftist and Muslim student organizations that has manipulated identity politics and made anti-Israelism the very center of campus activism, and where being Jewish and/or pro-Israel is to be the target of a growing and very nasty and dangerous movement.

This hatred has become institutionalized on campuses across the country. It is the hatred that is allowed on campus. Many Jewish students who grew up with the utopian expectations of equality, diversity, inclusion, and a nurturing learning environment are shocked to discover a harsh and ugly reality on many campuses, which is mostly ignored by college officials.

We’ve recently produced a new film – “Hate Spaces the Politics of Intolerance on Campus” – to illustrate and analyze this ongoing hostility that is often Hillel-washed so it can be ignored.

Here is the trailer:


In 2004, Jewish students on campus were merely hectored. In 2016, campus Hillels hand out a Student Guide to Staying Safe on Campus.

Safety Guides for Jews on campus are needed because Jewish students are bullied, harassed, and even punched on American campuses. Their Holocaust memorial events are disrupted by students who scream, “the lessons of the Holocaust were not learned! You are child-murderers!” Campus menorahs have been desecrated. Events featuring pro-Israel speakers, when permitted, require heavy (and expensive) security, and even then have been violently disrupted.

Jewish students’ dorm rooms have been plastered with mock eviction notices to evoke Israel’s “eviction” of Palestinians. All too often Jewish students who express a pro-Israel opinion in class are shouted down or humiliated. Meanwhile, campus authorities mostly look the other way, excusing their inaction with a selective application of free speech and academic freedom.

The academic de-legitimization of Israel has made anti-Semitism fashionable on U.S. campuses. Israel has become the lightning rod for a diverse coalition of radical political activists, who mask their bigoted attacks on Israel as political discourse.

This anti-Israel movement is benefitting from the radical left infrastructure and ideology in the universities, which grafted the Palestinian cause to the social justice movement based on the bizarre academic theory of intersectionality. Intersectionality has brainwashed gays to totally ignore murderous Islamist homophobia while promoting hatred of the only nation in the Middle East that provides gays with human rights. Intersectionality has enabled a coalition of moral narcissists to, as Jay B. Gaskill would put it “cloak their narcissism in the trapping of social justice positioning.” Intersectionality zealots and campus social justice warriors conveniently ignore the Soviet Iranian massacres in Syria, the occupation and subjugation of Tibet, Cremia, Northern Cypress, the enslavement of Africans by jihadists, and the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

This all begs the question “How can this be happening in America?” The obvious answer is the failure of leadership on the campus, in the Jewish community, and in what used to be called “civil society.”

Jewish leaders have been unwilling to speak truth to power, unwilling to deal with the uncomfortable truth that the Left has abandoned the Jews, and that the influx of Muslims into our universities is fueling Jew hatred. Jewish leaders have also failed to notice certain structural factors on campus, now deeply embedded in the university setting, that enable sheer power to overcome reason: the overwhelmingly radical anti-Israel professoriate, the significant influence of the Middle East Studies departments with their Arabist view – and Arab funding, the various ethnic and gender studies departments united in hate under the banner of intersectonality.

The Jewish establishment has from the start mistaken the organized ideological assault for an academic debate over history, nationalism and human rights and in the face of these enormous institutionalized power blocks arrayed against Jewish students, chose to provide our students mostly facts and logic with which to fight. Jewish leaders were reluctant to use their political power to insure that Jewish students receive the same protections as other campus minorities, perhaps because they feared being accused with violating academic freedom and free speech — though the protectors of other minorities have no such fears. Jewish leadership fails to understand that we cannot win by fighting power with facts. In ideological battles, facts are not determinative, and not just at UNESCO or in the U.N. Security Council. As we experienced in Columbia in 2004 facts did not matter, the abusing professors were not censored, some even got tenured.

Things will not get better on campus unless Jewish leaders have a serious re-think. They need to remember the words of Fredrick Douglas:

“Find out what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact …measure of the injustice and wrong …which will be imposed on them.”

This story "Columbia Unbecoming – Then and Now" was written by Charles Jacobs.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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