Protest Planned at Columbia University as ‘Pro-Israel Students Harassed, Systematically Silenced on Campus’
Students at Columbia University in New York and their allies are planning to protest the administration’s response to what they describe as a culture of hostility towards Zionists.
The demonstration — planned to take place on Thursday afternoon outside the school’s main gates — is organized by Columbia’s Students Supporting Israel club. The group claimed while promoting the event that “pro-Israel students are harassed and systematically silenced on our own campus.”
The charge echoes an SSI complaint filed in January with Columbia’s Student Governing Board, which accused anti-Zionist groups including Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) of fostering “an unacceptably hostile environment for those who wish to exercise their constitutionally protected rights in ways that differ from the narratives of these groups.”
The complaint was later raised with the administration in March, though an official said it did not warrant any action.
SSI said it has since filed several complaints about subsequent incidents involving anti-Zionist students. These include a direct Facebook message one of their board members received in September from the official Columbia/Barnard JVP account, asking, “Why do you enjoy being such a hateful person genuinely curious.”
Another complaint objected to a “Gaza solidarity rally” held by JVP and SJP in April, a couple of hundred feet away from where SSI was hosting a candle lighting in commemoration of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The group alleged that while the behavior detailed in their complaints breaches the university’s rules of conduct, the administration “has taken no action … and left us — its students — without any protection from harassment and bullying.”
Dalia Zahger, president of SSI, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that her group refuses “to have our complaints so easily dismissed when they clearly present, with evidence, that violations have happened. We will not wait until something violent happens and it is too late.”
“We do believe that our voice ‘counts less’ than others on campus,” she continued, “and this protest is for every student who felt this way — whether on the same issue or not, or same campus or not. [Justice] and freedom of speech is [something] everyone deserves.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Ofir Dayan, SSI’s co-vice president and daughter of Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul general in New York.
Dayan told the New York Post last month that she felt personally threatened by Columbia’s SJP, and accused the school of failing to protect her and her peers. She recalled being harassed several times on campus — including when speaking in Hebrew on the phone, and when leaving an SSI event with Israeli beauty queen Titi Aynaw.
“The moment [members of SJP] saw us, they started screaming their slogans with a microphone to intimidate us,” she said of the latter incident. “There were at least 50 SJP members blocking the walkway. … I believed it would escalate to physical violence.”
She said the dean of Columbia’s School of General Studies, Lisa Rosen-Metsch, reached out to her following the Post interview, and will meet with her and Zahger next week.
Victor Muslin — head of the Columbia/Barnard chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), which opposes “campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias” — said the rally aims to pressure the administration to properly investigate SSI complaints detailing harassment, and “take appropriate action to discipline” the perpetrators.
He called on the university to ensure that “freedom of speech of all students is protected equally” — including by disciplining those who disrupt events organized by Zionist groups — and to address “incitement on and off campus by Columbia faculty” like Hamid Dabashi, who in May claimed Israel is behind “[e]very dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.”
Dabashi, who teaches Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, at the time also denounced “opponents of the Iran Nuclear deal” as “diehard Fifth Column Zionists.”
His comments prompted Muslin to organize a petition signed that month by nearly 250 Columbia alumni, students, faculty, and community members — along with officials from national Jewish and Zionist groups — which called on the administration to “Relieve Professor Dabashi of teaching responsibilities until he commits to recognizing and ending his anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
Rabbi Yonah Blum, the co-director of Chabad at Columbia University and a signatory of the ACF letter, said at the time that he had “seen a dramatic uptick in the amount of students who are seeking shelter from the intimidation they are feeling on campus due to increasing anti-Israel and anti-Jewish comments and incidents in the classrooms and on campus.”
Columbia Provost John Coatsworth and Executive Vice President of University Life Suzanne Goldberg replied to ACF the following month by expressing their institution’s commitment to freedom of expression, even in the face of views that some may “find highly objectionable.”
“We urge you and all who are involved in this discussion to distinguish freedom of expression and its consequences from the enduring embrace of Jewish life and scholarship on our campus,” the administrators wrote, calling Columbia “one of the great academic centers of Jewish life, culture and scholarship.”
A representative for Columbia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.