Jewish Students at Columbia University ‘Outraged,’ ‘Distressed’ by Antisemitic Graffiti on Campus
The vandalization on Wednesday of a Columbia University Teachers College professor’s office with antisemitic graffiti has left Jewish students on campus “outraged,” “distressed” and “on edge,” campus leaders told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
“Jewish students and professionals on campus are outraged,” said Brian Cohen, executive director of Columbia/Barnard Hillel. “The students with whom my colleagues and I spoke to today are on edge and angry, but they are determined to continue to live vibrant, engaged Jewish lives on campus.”
Vice President of the pro-Israel campus group Students Supporting Israel (SSI), Ofir Dayan, told The Algemeiner that “people are distressed” and charged that the incident was a product of “the environment here on campus,” which is “a breeding ground for these kinds of events.”
The Jewish professor targeted in the attack, Elizabeth Midlarsky, told campus newspaper the Columbia Spectator that she was “in shock” following the incident, in which her office was covered with swastikas and antisemitic slurs. Midlarsky, who teaches psychology and education and has written widely on the topic of the Holocaust, added, “I stopped for a moment, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Midlarsky also said she was not surprised by the incident, because she has a “relatively visible status as a Jew.”
Teachers College President Thomas Bailey also condemned the attack, saying, “We unequivocally condemn any expression of hatred, which has no place in our society. We are outraged and horrified by this act of aggression and use of this vile anti-Semitic symbol against a valued member of our community.”
“Please rest assured that we are working with police to discover the perpetrator of this hateful act,” he added. “I also want to reaffirm the College’s commitment — and my own — to providing a respectful and welcoming environment for all, and to protecting the safety and dignity of all members of our community.”
Hillel’s Cohen added that he was “grateful that the NYPD is investigating and I hope the perpetrator is caught and brought to justice.”
SSI’s Dayan, however, was sharply critical of the administration at Columbia.
“It has to do a lot with the environment here on campus,” she said. “When I have friends coming up to me and saying their professors are teaching books called The Invention of the Jews and the university’s allowing that, and the university is allowing people professors like Hamid Dabashi to say that Israel is the root of all evil in the world and people like Rashid Khalidi can spread their hatred across campus, yes, I’m not surprised that something like that happens. And I would not be surprised if these hate crimes, these antisemitic acts are even enough for the administration to learn its lesson.”
Dayan was referring to academic Shlomo Sand’s book The Invention of the Jewish People, which rejects the idea of Jewish peoplehood and claims most Jews are descended from other ethnic groups that converted to Judaism.
Dabashi is a ferociously anti-Israel Iranian professor at Columbia who has claimed Israel is an apartheid state and a tool of American imperialism. Khalidi is an anti-Zionist Palestinian academic who supports boycotts of Israel and has called the two-state solution “impossible.”
Referring to the often-violent anti-Israel campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, Dayan said, “My colleagues in Students Supporting Israel submitted a 13-page complaint against SJP saying how they’re targeting us.” The university “just dismissed it and did not say anything.”
She also noted that the university also once hosted then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.
SSI issued an official statement of its own following the incident, saying, “We are appalled and horrified by this anti-Semitic crime, but at the same time, we are not surprised. Columbia has become a breeding ground for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic propaganda. As such, the university has allowed for this kind of bigotry to flourish.”
“Their consistent dismissal of complaints made by students targeted by ‘anti-Israel’ professors and students, along with their seeming compliance with the distribution of anti-Semitic materials in the classrooms, has made this act possible,” the statement charged.
“We call on Columbia to not only punish the perpetrators of this horrible crime,” it added, “but also to learn a lesson and more consistently and vigorously reject all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism inside and outside the classroom.”
Dayan, who is the daughter of Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, was the subject of a September 29 article in the New York Post detailing the antisemitic intimidation she and other Jewish students have faced from radical organizations on campus, especially SJP.
In one incident, a girl heard her speaking Hebrew and “started screaming, ‘Stop killing Muslim babies! . . . You’re a murderer!’ Then she screamed, ‘Zionist, get out!’ A nearby public-safety administrator did nothing.”
In another incident, SJP members saw her outside a pro-Israel event and “started screaming their slogans with a microphone to intimidate us. There were at least 50 SJP members blocking the walkway. They were really angry and it was scary. I believed it would escalate to physical violence.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for vandalizing Midlarsky’s office, it said in a statement.
It connected the incident to an uptick in antisemitic actions and threats in recent weeks. Evan R. Bernstein, regional director of ADL for New York and New Jersey, said, “Within the past few weeks alone, we have received hundreds of calls reporting incidents to our offices. These incidents have included arson at religious institutions, anti-Semitic assaults, and hateful vandalism at multiple high schools and other public places across the region.”
“While we hope this reward facilitates the quick apprehension of the individual or individuals responsible for this most recent horrific incident, we all have a role to play in preventing these incidents from happening in the first instance,” he added. “We must continue to stand up and speak out against bigotry and hatred to avoid what we fear is becoming a grave and troubling normalization of hate in our region.”