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December 23, 2019 6:20 pm

Columbia University Faces Second Recent Complaint Alleging Antisemitic Discrimination

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Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Photo: Alex Proimos.

An alumna of Columbia University in New York submitted a complaint to the US Education Department on Tuesday alleging a hostile environment for Jewish students — the second of its kind recently filed.

Jamie Kreitman said she received a master’s degree in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures from Columbia in 1980, but was deterred from pursuing a doctorate — despite being “recommended for further studies by a sympathetic professor” — due to a climate of antisemitism, specifically among faculty in the area of Middle East studies.

She lodged her complaint against Columbia’s Middle East Institute (MEI) with the Office for Civil Rights, which last week also received a separate complaint alleging discrimination against Jewish and Israeli students and faculty at Columbia. The complaint is not based on her personal experience at the school, “but as a Jewish alumna with the concern that the hostile environment toward Jewish students has intensified exponentially,” she wrote.

Kreitman described Columbia’s Center for Palestinian Studies (CPS) and MEI, which receives federal funding as a Title VI National Resource Center, as a “hub for the spread of anti-Semitic misinformation and the promotion of anti-Semitic activities,” under the guise of scholarly debate on Israel.

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She maintained that programming sponsored in the past six months “falsely depicts Jews as foreigners and ‘congenital’ outsiders in Israel and the Palestinian territories, equates Zionism with racism, demonizes Zionists as establishing an apartheid state in Israel, and advocates for the annihilation of the Jewish state and its replacement with a Palestinian in which Jews do not seek to rule.”

Zionism is a movement supporting the reestablishment of a Jewish nation-state in Israel.

“The programming has been one-sided and does not present alternative points of view,” Kreitman charged. “These programs disseminate anti-Semitic ideas and encourage anti-Semitic actions, per the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition and examples, and create a hostile environment for Jews.”

A recent executive order issued by President Donald Trump, which reaffirmed that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends protections to Jews, called for enforcement agencies to “consider” the IHRA working definition and its supporting examples when considering potential violations. The examples include “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” among others.

Kreitman’s complaint pointed to several recent programs involving MEI and CPS faculty, including an October program with law, gender, and sexuality professor Katherine Franke, and attorneys Noura Erakat and Diala Shamas. During the event, “Noura Erekat equated Zionism with racism, demonized Jews as having a congenital tendency toward domination, advocated for the annihilation of the Jewish state, and denied the Jewish connection to the land of Israel,” Kreitman wrote in her complaint. “Professor Katherine Franke referred to Israel’s founders and defenders as engaged in a legal warfare to advance ‘settler colonial’ ambitions.”

Another instance was an off-campus November lecture by Joseph Massad, a professor of modern Arab politics, in which he claimed the “only thing” standing in the way of the “process of liquidating the Palestinian national struggle … is the ongoing Palestinian resistance to Israeli settler-colonialism and racism,” including “the armed resistance of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades to Israeli invasions in Gaza.” The Qassam Brigades are the armed wing of Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist group by the United States and other countries.

Kreitman called, in part, on Columbia to establish a system ensuring that faculty and staff can be disciplined over antisemitic speech and activities, and urged the school to publicly and specifically condemn such antisemitism, including when perpetrated by guest speakers and students groups.

She also advocated for the creation of a process to report antisemitic incidents, and for a program that would allow students and faculty to learn about and discuss traditional antisemitism “and new anti-Zionist anti-Semitic expressions.”

A representative for Columbia University declined to comment. The school, whose student government recently voted to hold a controversial referendum on divestment from Israel, has been repeatedly accused in recent years of tolerating a hostile environment for Jewish and Zionist students.

This October, the group Alums for Campus Fairness — which aims to mobilize alumni to counter antisemitism — released a 33-page report documenting “systemic antisemitism and an ingrained delegitimization of Israel” at Columbia and its sister school, Barnard College. Citing more than 100 incidents since the 2016-17 academic year, the report described the campuses as “arguably the most prominent settings for university-based anti-Semitism in the United States.” It also detailed “various bigoted and antisemitic statements, publications and actions” from Columbia and Barnard faculty and staff.

In September, Columbia came under criticism for inviting and providing a platform to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a supporter of the Palestinian national cause who has claimed that “the Jews rule the world by proxy” and that “the Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.”

The school also faced objections in May 2018 after Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, accused Israel of being behind “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world,” and called opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran “diehard Fifth Column Zionists working against the best interests of Americans and for the best interests of Israelis.”

His comments — which followed years of fiercely inflammatory statements on Zionists and Israelis — were denounced by Zionist groups on campus, as well as a coalition of nearly 250 Columbia and Barnard College alumni, students, faculty, staff, and community members, as well as officials from several national Jewish and Zionist groups.

“I cannot imagine the impact that such behavior has on both Jewish students and all students concerned with human decency,” wrote one professor at the time.

Columbia officials responded by expressing their institution’s commitment to freedom of expression, even in the face of views that some may “find highly objectionable,” and calling their school “one of the great academic centers of Jewish life, culture and scholarship.”

Earlier that same year, members of the Columbia group Students Supporting Israel (SSI) said in a complaint filed with Columbia’s Student Governing Board that anti-Zionist clubs on campus “have monopolized the conversation on campus relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict and have systematically maligned, harassed and silenced” Zionist voices.

“One individual’s right to protest does not supersede another individual’s right to lawfully assemble, speak and listen,” the group wrote in the complaint, which was raised with the administration in March 2018, though an official said it did not warrant any action.

SSI later organized a protest against what it described as the administration’s tolerance of harassment directed at Zionists.

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