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Columbia University President Defends Institution’s Failure to Protect Jewish Students

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik testified for over three hours before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday about her administration’s alleged failure to address antisemitism, which has prompted a congressional investigation and prompted widespread backlash against one of America’s most prestigious schools.

“Trying to reconcile the free speech rights of those who wanted to protest and the rights of Jewish students to be in an environment free of discrimination and harassment has been the central challenge on our campus and numerous others across the country,” said Shafik, who admitted she prepped many hours for Wednesday’s hearing. “Regrettably, the events of [Hamas’ invasion of Israel on] Oct. 7 brought to the fore an undercurrent of antisemitism that is a major challenge, and like many other universities Columbia has seen a rise in antisemitic incidents.”

Shafik went on to defend her record, insisting that she and other high-level administrators promptly acknowledged the severity of antisemitism fueled by anti-Israel animus. Columbia’s president argued she took concrete steps to ensure that the rights and safety of Jewish students were protected without qualification, including opening contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Shafik added that she attended a vigil which commemorated the lives of Israelis who died on Oct. 7 and has spent “most of my time since becoming president on these issues, holding over 200 meetings with group of students, faculty, alumni, donors, parents, some of whom are here.”

Wednesday’s hearing, titled “Crisis at Columbia,” invoked for many observers the infamous testimony of Claudine Gay and Elizabeth Magill, who both appeared before the same congressional committee in December to discuss campus antisemitism and refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews would constitute a violation of school rules against bullying and harassment. Days later, Magill resigned as the president of the University of Pennsylvania; Gay followed suit at Harvard University about a month after the hearing.

Unlike Gay and Magill, Shafik did not provide the same equivocating answers to direct questions about the treatment of Jewish students in her care. However, she would not say that chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a popular slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel — was antisemitic, opting instead to say it was “hurtful.” Shafik did say that any student or professor who advocates murdering Jews is in violation of Columbia’s community standards.

Shafik received many questions about the school’s continued employment of professor Joseph Massad, who has a long history of uttering allegedly antisemitic statements in his classroom and said after Oct. 7 that Hamas’ violence was “awesome.” Lawmakers demanded to know whether Massad has been reprimanded by the university, questions to which Shafik did not provide clear answers. She claimed that he has been “spoken to” by the head of his department and removed from a leadership position, but US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) responded that this change has not yet been reflected on the university’s website.

Another professor, Mohammed Abdou, who was hired after cheering Hamas’ atrocities publicly, has been terminated, Shafik said, adding that he “will never” be invited back.

“Don’t you think it’s a problem when the hiring process of Columbia is hiring someone who makes those statements, hired after he makes those statements?” Stefanik asked.

“I agree with you that I think we need to look at how to toughen up those requirements,” Shafik said. “We do have a requirement, but I think we need to look at how we can make them more effective.”

Stefanik then brought up another controversial Columbia professor.

“Let me ask you about Professor Catherine Frank from the Columbia Law School who said that all Israeli students who have served in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] are dangerous and shouldn’t be on campus,” Stefanik continued. “What disciplinary actions have been taken against that professor?”

“She has been spoken to by a very senior person in the administration,” Shafik answered, adding that Frank has said she misspoke and that “she will be finding a way to clarify her position.”

Stefanik then denounced what she described as a double standard on college campuses: that antisemitic statements uttered by students and professors about Jews are rarely, if ever, followed by disciplinary measures dictated by the school’s strict anti-discrimination policies. Stefanik argued that antisemitism “is tolerated” at Columbia University and that the school’s response to it has never signaled otherwise. Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) added that there are no circumstances under which similar treatment of minority groups, such as Black students, would be allowed.

During her testimony, Shafik claimed that over a dozen students have been suspended for antisemitic conduct and holding an unauthorized event, titled “Resistance 101,” to which a member of a terrorist organization was invited. However, committee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), responded that since Oct. 7, only Jewish students have been suspended for allegedly spraying an “odorous” fragrance near anti-Zionist protesters, an incident mentioned by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to seemingly undermine the verbal and physical abuse to which Jewish students at Columbia have been subjected.

“Only three students were given interim suspensions for antisemitic conduct. All three were lifted or dropped to probation, including a student who repeatedly harassed students screaming, ‘F—k the Jews.’ Of the ten suspensions that came in response to the Resistance 101, five were lifted because Columbia determined they were not involved,” Foxx said during her closing remarks. “The only two Columbia students who remain suspended for incidents related to Oct. 7 that took place before we called Dr. Shafik to testify are the two Jewish students suspended for spraying the odorous substance Representative Omar referred to. Dr. Shafik’s testimony was misleading there, too. Documents Columbia produced to the committee show it was a non-toxic, gag spray. While that was an inappropriate action, for months Jewish students have been vilified with false accusations of a ‘chemical attack,’ and Columbia failed to correct the record.”

She added, “Radical antisemitic faculty remain a huge problem throughout Columbia … while some changes have begun on campus, there is still a significant amount of work to be done.”

Several Jewish civil rights groups have alleged that Columbia allowed antisemitism to explode on campus and endanger the welfare of Jewish students and faculty after Oct. 7.

“F—k the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab” are among the chants that anti-Zionist students have yelled on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, according to a lawsuit filed in February.

Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

After bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence, the complaint filed in February alleged. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Columbia University remains under investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

https://www.algemeiner.com/2024/04/17/us-lawmakers-interrogate-columbia-university-president-response-surging-campus-antisemitism/