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October 5, 2018 4:26 pm

At Protest, Students Say Columbia University Fails to Protect Zionists From Harassment

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Dalia Zahger, president of Students Supporting Israel, speaking at a rally at Columbia University on September 4, 2018. Photo: Ofir Dayan.

A student group at Columbia University protested on Thursday against what it described as the administration’s tolerance of harassment directed at Zionists.

Some 50 members of Students Supporting Israel, Columbia alumni, and community members gathered before the university’s main gates in the afternoon, holding Israeli flags and signs that read, “all students deserve protection,” and “don’t dismiss, act on this.”

SSI’s grievances are rooted in a complaint plaint filed in January with Columbia’s Student Governing Board, which said that anti-Zionist clubs have fostered “an unacceptably hostile environment,” and “systematically maligned, harassed and silenced” Zionist voices.

The administration did not take any action based on this or several other subsequent complaints, SSI said. The school has also been criticized for tolerating professors who take a hard-line stance against Israel, like Hamid Dabashi, who in May claimed that the Jewish state is behind “[e]very dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.”

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Dabashi’s comments were condemned in a petition signed by nearly 250 affiliated with Columbia and Barnard College, including 35 faculty and staff members.

“We don’t expect anything extra than any other student group, we just want to make sure that Columbia enforces their own rules of conduct,” SSI President Dalia Zahger said during the protest. “It’s not just about us, it’s not just about Israel, it’s for every single student to be able to stand up and have their complaints heard and not dismissed.”

The group also distanced itself from three individuals affiliated with the far-right Jewish Defense League who were present at the event.

“Because we strongly condemn the beliefs and actions of those who associate with JDL in any capacity, our leadership immediately and sternly asked these individuals to leave the premises,” the SSI said in a statement on Thursday. “Instead of walking away, however, they simply moved around the police barricade and protested inappropriately a mere ten feet away from us. We apologize for any distress the three individuals caused.”

The rally was not co-sponsored by other Columbia student groups, though the president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel acknowledged that the “campus can certainly be difficult to navigate for pro-Israel students.”

“Students here are used to anti-Israel clubs denouncing the nature and legitimacy of Israel,” Adele Stolovitz told The Algemeiner. “Nonetheless, we encourage our members to think for themselves and rely on the community that we try to instill as a source of dialogue and security.”

The university said in a statement on Thursday that it condemns antisemitism “in any form,” and “will always work with students who have concerns about their physical safety, allow debate on contentious questions where our students hold strong views, and provide essential personal and group support.”

When conflict arises, students can meet “with Columbia’s offices that focus on discrimination and harassment and file reports about specific concerns,” the statement noted. “Those reports are reviewed promptly, and investigations and sanctions may follow, depending on the circumstances.”

“Importantly, in light of recent news reporting, it is also essential to recognize that Columbia proudly stands as one of the great academic centers of Jewish life, culture and scholarship,” the school added. “The wealth of research, teaching and learning at Columbia is enriched by the University’s widely respected Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, our strong partnerships with Israeli universities, and our longstanding joint degree programs with Jewish Theological Seminary.”

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