Antisemitism

US Jews speak up as antisemitism soars on campuses amid Israel-Hamas war

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It’s hard to imagine what could be droll about antisemitism and the appalling display of pro-Hamas sympathy on college campuses in the United States and beyond. 

But Eretz Nehederet (“A Wonderful Country”), Israel’s popular comedy TV show, hit the mark with two colorfully costumed representatives of the “LGBTQ-H” movement standing in front of Columbia University’s iconic Diamond Law Library and glorifying the unspeakable horrors of October 7.

Actors Liat Harlev and Yuval Semo play two pro-Palestinian activists, poster children for the LGBTQ-H movement. The additional “H” is for Hamas, which Semo tells us “is so trending right now.”

In the skit, the actors reach out to a Hamas terrorist: “Saying hello to our Bestie Freedom Fighter, Abu Fatwa in Gaza, safe in the tunnels.” 

“Above, I have Allah and two million civilians protecting me,” comes the throaty, deadpan reply.

‘ERETZ NEHEDERET’ spoofs Columbia University: ‘LGBTQ-H movement – The H is for ‘Hamas.’ (credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)

“Community is so important these days,” the two ignoramuses chime in as Semo’s character gushes: “I wish I could be there with you.”

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“You can come to Gaza any time, and we will throw you from the roof, you homosexual dirt.”

“Do you hear? They want to throw me a rooftop party?”

“They are so welcoming and inclusive,” Harlev’s character replies. 

The sketch made me roar out loud, a good cathartic belly laugh in these unfathomable and absurd times. 

Israel’s home-grown version of Saturday Night Live was referencing the insanity at Columbia University and many other Ivy League campuses, where the most vocal pro-Hamas and antisemitic groups on campus – Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine – have, until recently, enjoyed free reign to spew intifada vitriol and cringe-worthy chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” 

In a recently aired interview on Chabad.org, Rebbetzin Naomi Dizen told popular JewishWomen.org podcast host Chana Weisberg that the tension on campus was “horrible.”

“It’s awful. There have been a lot of incidents. Students are scared to go to class with the chanting of “Intifada” in the hallways and rallies every few days. Many are feeling unsafe, unsettled, and disheartened,” she said.

What the heck is happening? 

How could bastions of higher education stoop so low? 

One esteemed institution after another, Ivy Leaguers and respected state and private universities have been dangerously redefined by a woke agenda. A moral travesty, this woke generation’s aim is to bring to heel what they see as the world’s “notorious colonizers.” Chief among them is – you guessed it – Israel. 

According to Rebbetzin Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt, a New York-based writer and expert on antisemitism, recently interviewed by Rabbi Scott Kahn for a riveting “Orthodox Conundrum” podcast produced by Jewish Coffee House, there are clear reasons why the epicenter for this surge in antisemitism seems to be elite college campuses. “There are foreign actors who have a political goal in the United States to create division and also to brainwash a whole generation of young American people. We’re seeing some really disturbing statistics. Young Americans hate Israel and hate Jews.” 

SINCE OCTOBER 7’s devastating attack on Israeli citizens and foreign nationals, the sympathy on college campuses for the Hamas blood slaughterers has been as disturbing as the academic leadership’s lack of an empathetic response and its failure to ensure the safety of its Jewish students. 

Thirty student groups at Harvard posted an open letter saying Israel was entirely responsible for Hamas violence on October 7

Jewish students locked themselves in a library at the Cooper Union as a mob outside accused Israel of genocide. 

In response to an editorial by Yale sophomore Sahar Tartak in the Yale Free Press “Is Yalies4Palestine a hate group?” the editorial board added a note about “unsubstantiated claims that Hamas raped women and beheaded men.” 

On it goes. 

Besides psychological threats, real physical threats and acts of violence prompted Israeli President Isaac Herzog to issue a letter to university leaders, calling on them to protect their Jewish students and saying that “… the events on campus are not a debate but a defilement of the university and its principles.”

Less reported is the toll that pro-Palestinian campus groups are having on the morale of faculty, mainly Jewish and Israeli professors. 

Shai Davidai, an Israeli-born and raised faculty member of Columbia Business School, is speaking out. On October 18, Davidai addressed an anti-terror vigil organized on campus by Israeli students at Columbia Business School. He implored a small group of Columbia students to take out their cellphones and record what he was about to say.

“About 40 of us were holding candles and posters of the kidnapped children, and people took turns speaking,” Davidai recalled. “It was brewing inside of me – the lack of action by the university. I knew that things can’t keep going the way they are. Going on campus and seeing pro-Hamas protests broke my heart. These universities are basically taking the stance that every child in the world should be protected – except Israeli and Jewish children.”

Trained as a social psychologist, Davidai is an expert in the psychology of economic inequality and the psychology of conflict. But this speech was the angst of a distraught parent. 

“I want this message to get to every parent who sent their kids to Columbia University and trusted their kids and their children’s safety with us,” Davidai said on camera. I want to get this message to every parent in America whose children go to Harvard, to Stanford, to Berkeley, and I want you to know one thing. We cannot protect your child. I’m not saying this as a professor… I’m talking to you as a dad.

“We have a few ground rules for what it means to be human. I assumed all of us in the civilized world agreed upon these. Raping is never okay. Murdering babies is never okay. Kidnapping elderly women is never okay. I think these are such fundamental ideas for a humane society, and all of a sudden to find out there are people in my university who think that these things are sometimes okay – as long as the victim is Jewish – is extremely difficult for me.”

Davidai told the Magazine: “I had an honest conversation with my wife, and we’re willing to put my job on the line because this is a moral issue. This isn’t a fad, it isn’t something that will go away. With issues of morality, I think every person would be willing to put everything on the line. 

“Academics like to use big abstract concepts and terms, but if we put their words into the concrete actions that have been taken by Hamas, we can clearly see what these universities are now refusing to condemn. 

“These universities refuse to condemn the intentional and premeditated massacre of Israeli kids and babies. This is what it’s all about: the devaluation of Jewish life.  And once you devalue a life, you basically start the process of removing that life from existence. It’s crystal clear to me,” he said.

Davidai continued: “We know from history that when the world accepts one pogrom, it lays the groundwork for the next one. That’s my worry. By not condemning Hamas’s crimes against humanity, the university is tacitly supporting the next massacre of Jews.” 

CHABAD.ORG SENIOR editor and longtime on-campus rabbi, Tzvi Freeman, in Atlanta, Georgia, makes the analogy to Nazi Germany: “The most educated academic country in the world was Germany. The greatest universities, the greatest philosophers, scientists, the arts. Their [the Nazis’] barbarism was scientific, rationalized, intellectual. Those who created the final solution all had post-graduate degrees.” 

Speaking via Zoom to the Magazine, Freeman, whose daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are Chabad emissaries to Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, describes the Jews on campus as “very torn.” 

“I have a lot of contact with students. Many are awakening because they’re seeing that people are using these [far Left] ideas to justify the worst form of violence. Certain members of academia have justified, rationalized, and celebrated the barbaric October 7 acts, and that’s very disturbing for many Jews on the Left. 

“The real point is that Jews – and most attend college – are being taught a very corrupt version of what is good and what is evil. If you’re a student and your rabbi told you one thing and your professors at Harvard are telling you another, who are you going to believe?

“On some campuses, you’re going to class after class, professor after professor, and each one is spewing the same ideology, the same venom for a 60k or more education per year. If you were in another environment, you’d realize it’s irrational, it’s bogus – but here, you fall for it. It’s very difficult to expect otherwise.” 

Freeman emphasizes that, more than ever, this isn’t a time to fall into despondency. Each year following the High Holy Days, Chabad organizes a pegisha, an extended communal Shabbat, attended by leading Jewish representatives from colleges across the US. They gather at 770 [Eastern Parkway], Chabad’s headquarters, and nearby venues, with one mission in mind: to strengthen Jewishness on campus.

Freeman was invited to speak and led several workshops at this event, which drew 1,200 college students to New York. Following the October 7 massacre, he reiterated the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s unwavering message over the five decades of leadership: “You are not a Jew because they want to destroy you. You are a Jew because you are an emissary of light to the world.” 

Following the pegisha, Chabad headquarters hosted its annual gathering of Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, with emissaries flying in from communities they serve in more than 100 countries. The 6,500 Chabad rabbis and lay leaders, many of whom are based on college campuses, came armed with some good news. In a survey taken at the gathering, the signs of a Jewish resurgence indicated nothing less than a “Jewish awakening” in all areas of the 50 United States and more than 100 countries. 

Chabad.org reports that chief among them is “an increase in attendance at Jewish programs and services, as well as a heightened sense of Jewish pride, connection to Israel, and stronger Jewish identity among community members.”

The survey further indicated: “Though 81% of those polled reported elevated levels of fear among Jewish community members, the survey also found that Jewish pride and connection has risen, with 93% of respondents answering affirmatively when asked whether community members felt a “stronger connection to the Jewish people” in the wake of the October 7 atrocities.”

After Columbia Business School Prof. Shai Davidai’s speech went viral – with more than 15 million views – he set up a website, Timetocondemn.com, to help the academic community educate themselves about the October 7 atrocities and be aware of whom to contact at Columbia University. 

In the first 24 hours, Timetocondemn.com had 25,000 views. Since then, Davidai, a self-described atheist, has been asked to speak in different synagogues, noting: “We’ve been so segregated between different sects in Judaism, and all of sudden this tragedy pulled us all together.”

AFTER DAVIDAI’S October 18 speech went viral, Jewish billionaire Henry Swieca made headlines, announcing that he would resign from the board of Columbia Business School, citing “moral cowardice” and making Jews feel “unsafe” on campus. 

He joins Les Wexner, Victoria’s Secret billionaire CEO, who pulled funding from Harvard; and billionaire hedge fund manager  Bill Ackman called on Harvard to release the names of students in each of the university’s organizations that hold Israel responsible for Hamas’s heinous acts, to ensure “that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”  

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I must stay somewhat optimistic because I don’t have the luxury to remain pessimistic,” Davidai said. 

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘Desperation is not a feasible plan.’ My wife and I shed many tears in the last month – and at the end of the day, there’s a good fight here that we have to keep fighting.”

And that good fight is reminding us that this is not Berlin in 1932. 

The Columbia Spectator reports that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is now guarding on-campus, large-scale demonstrations for the safety of all participants and community members.

But perhaps the most positive sign is a revival of Jewish pride trumping fear on campus. Naomi Drizen, emissary and co-director of Chabad at Columbia University, is seeing more Jews coming to the Shabbat table than ever before – 250 at last count.  

“We’re Jewish and we’re proud, and we’re not going to be intimidated,” she said. 

Fighting antisemitism on campus: Progress report

  • Oct. 14 – The Anti-Defamation League announces that dozens of national Jewish groups, campus organizations, and state legislators have signed a letter demanding that universities withdraw their school’s recognition of and funding for Students for Justice in Palestine as student chapters cheer Hamas’s barbaric attack on October 7 as a historic win. 
  • Oct. 30 –  US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, after meeting with Jewish students on campuses, announced that federally funded colleges could lose funding if they failed to address issues of harassment and safety.
  • Nov. 2 – Miguel Cardona issues a warning to American public schools and universities that government funding will be withheld if they fail to live up to their legal obligation to address both Islamophobia and antisemitism. 
  • Nov. 7 – President Isaac Herzog writes a letter to university and college presidents demanding action to protect their Jewish students: “The events on campus are not a debate but a defilement of the university and its principles. How can anyone endorsing, excusing, or glorifying the Hamas atrocities have a place in any college or in the civilized world?”
  • Nov. 7 –  Brandeis University becomes the first to remove recognition of the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, one month after the massacre. Brandeis announces SJP is no longer eligible to receive funding or hold activities on campus. 
  • Nov. 10 – Columbia University suspends two of its most toxic pro-Hamas groups – Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. 

Columbia professor leads new antisemitism task force

Ester Fuchs, professor of international and public affairs and political science at Columbia, readily admits there have been troubling signs of antisemitism brewing for many years at the university she’s been affiliated with for more than four decades.

“I would say for 20 years, either people were not taking these problems sufficiently seriously or they were ignoring them, and I think that is part of why we’re in a very difficult situation today,” said Fuchs.

In her view, the solution itself is enshrined in the academic values across the board. “We are not going to give up what we achieved because antisemitism is not consistent with the values of Columbia University or any of the other major universities in this country.

“We have a president at Columbia who has articulated that in three of her statements, and she appointed a task force on antisemitism, which I co-chair, with two other formidable academics at Columbia – the former dean of the law school, David Schisser, and the former dean of the journalism school, Nicholas Lemann.

“We’re in the process now of putting together our members for the task force across the university. Our president, Minouche Shafik, has met with us and made it expressly clear that her goal is action. She objects, and has said so in public statements, to all forms of antisemitism…

“I want to make it clear, we’re not window dressing for anybody. All three of us have been working in this space, and working at the university, and working in the social justice space, as well as in the legal space, in the Israel space, and other areas of academics that we do. We’re all engaged, and we all think that this is an opportunity now to make changes. We all view this as an opportunity to make a change, and I think that’s critically important,” Fuchs concluded. 

The writer served as public relations officer at Columbia Business School in the mid-1980s while working on her master’s degree in arts administration. She writes about transitioning from New York City to Tokyo in her memoir The Wagamama Bride: A Jewish Family Saga Made in Japan





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