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March 9, 2020 4:06 pm

Columbia Jewish Groups Express Appreciation for President’s Condemnation of Antisemitism, but Note ‘Still a Long Way to Go’ in Fight Against Hate on Campus

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Columbia University. Photo: Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.

Jewish student groups at Columbia University expressed appreciation for a statement against antisemitism issued by the school’s president, while warning that more must be done to deal with a campus atmosphere that was becoming “more and more hostile” toward Jews and Israel.

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger issued a statement to the university senate plenary on Friday expressing “concern” about “rising antisemitism on our campus,” connecting it to the activities of the anti-Israel BDS movement, to which he declared his opposition.

“What must be avoided at all costs, and what I fear is happening today, is a process of mentality that goes from hard-fought debates about very real and vital issues to hostility and even hatred toward all members of groups of people simply by virtue of a religious, racial, national, or ethnic relationship,” he asserted. “This must not happen.”

Brian Cohen — the Lavine Family Executive Director at Columbia’s Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life — told The Algemeiner on Monday, “President Bollinger’s statement on antisemitism and BDS to the university senate is very significant. It is one of the strongest statements I have seen from a university president.”

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“I look forward to continue working with President Bollinger and his team to further improve the situation on campus for Jewish students, and any other students who are the victims of hate,” he added.

Ofir Dayan, head of the university’s branch of Students Supporting Israel, said, “President Bollinger’s statement on antisemitism was an excellent one but overdue.”

“For years, Jewish and pro-Israel students, chief among them Students Supporting Israel, have been warning that Columbia is becoming more and more hostile towards them and we are glad to see the university is replacing its usual indifference with a strong response,” she added.

“We commend President Bollinger for his important statement, more important than ever when we are approaching a referendum at Columbia supporting the hateful BDS movement,” Dayan noted. “However, it needs to be remembered that there is still a long way to go until our beloved university rids itself of hate and antisemitism.”

In his statement, Bollinger referred to an upcoming BDS-sponsored proposal demanding divestment from Israeli companies, saying, “My concern today, however, is not just with this proposal, but with the broader atmosphere in which this and other related issues are being debated.”

“When there is a rising antisemitism in this country and around the world, even a single instance of it in any context is more alarming than it might otherwise be,” he said. “I plead with everyone on our campus to be careful and vigilant against legitimate debate turning into anger, then to hatred and demonization, and invidious discrimination.”

“I can say that Jewish students are feeling this, and it’s wrong,” Bollinger emphasized. “I feel it, and it’s wrong. We all feel it, and it’s wrong.”

Bollinger refuted, however, that notion that Columbia was institutionally antisemitic, asserting, “This is, of course, preposterous. No Jewish student, faculty member, or staff I know believes this to be the case; nor do I.”

“But the absurdity of the claim does not and should not stop me or us from speaking out against instances and episodes of antisemitism that do exist,” he said.

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