Biden denounces ‘blatant antisemitism’ at Columbia University as Jewish students urged to leave campus

Explosive protests at the New York City college have made the campus ‘unsafe for Jewish students’


Chilling: An anti-Israel demonstrator at Columbia University screams to onlookers that October 7 will happen '10,000 [more] times' (Image: X/@JonasYDU)

Tensions at Columbia University in New York City have reached boiling point, with a rabbi connected to the Ivy League institution advising Jewish students to leave campus for their own safety and Joe Biden publicly denouncing the “harassment and calls for violence against Jews” at the US college as “blatant antisemitism”.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, of the university’s Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, sent a WhatsApp message to a group of 300 Jewish students “strongly” recommending they go home “as soon as possible” and that they stay there until the risk posed on campus has been reduced.

Referencing the increasingly fiery anti-Israel protests that have swept the campus, Buechler warned recent events at the university “have made it clear that Columbia University’s Public Safety [service] and the NYPD cannot guarantee Jewish students’ safety”.

The rabbi said: “It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved.”

His message came as tensions at the university – which had been rising since Hamas’s terror attack on Israel on October 7 – sharply escalated after officials at Columbia, including the university’s president, Dr Minouche Shafik, testified before Congress about antisemitism on campus. Following their appearance before Congress on Wednesday, the intensity of the protests on and around the insititution’s grounds has exploded, with numerous videos documenting the heated demonstrations shared online over the weekend.

In one video, a man can be seen shouting at two Jewish students: “Never forget the seventh of October”. Another man, whose face is covered in a keffiyeh and sunglasses yells: “That will happen not one more time, not five more times, not ten more times, not 100 more times, not 1,000 more times, but 10,000 times!” This is greeted with cheers from the surrounding demonstrators.

A separate video taken outside the university’s campus on Saturday night showed a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanting: “Go back to Poland.”

Meanwhile, in another video Jewish students appear to be surrounded by demonstrators at the university, and one of the mob can be heard saying: “We have Zionists at the entrance to our encampment.”

A fourth video shared online at the weekend shows a protestor praising the “Al-Aqsa flood that put the global intifada back on the table again.”

The young woman in the video tells supporters: “It is the sacrificial spirit of the Palestinian freedom fighters that will guide every struggle on every corner of the earth to victory.

"Remember that militancy breeds resistance. Thousands upon thousands of students around the world have been moved to rebel because of your militancy."

The level of hostility and antisemitic vitriol displayed by some demonstrators has now prompted the White House to step in.

In a statement released yesterday to mark Passover, which begins tonight, US President Joe Biden condemned the “blatant antisemitism” on display.

“Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses or anywhere in our country,” Biden said.

“The ancient story of persecution against Jews in the Haggadah also reminds us that we must speak out against the alarming surge of antisemitism – in our schools, communities and online. Silence is complicity.”

Columbia officials have said that Jewish students can attend classes virtually and potentially take exams online due to the situation.

Speaking earlier today, shortly before the beginning of Passover, Shafik said college leaders would be coming together to discuss a way to bring an end to “this crisis”.

Shafik said she was “saddened” by the events on campus, and condemned/ antisemitic language, and intimidating and harassing behaviour.

“The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas,” she said. “We need a reset.”

In a separate statement, shared with the broadcaster CNN, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said: “While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous.”

In response to the accusations of antisemitism, organisers of one of the protests, Columbia University Apartheid Divest and Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, said in a statement: “We have been peaceful.”

The group distanced itself from “inflammatory individuals who do not represent us”, saying: “We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solidarity being forged among students – Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black and pro-Palestinian classmates and colleagues who represent the full diversity of our country.”

Other political figures, including the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, have echoed the White House.

Adams said he was “horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism being spewed at and around the Columbia University campus” and that there was an “increased presence of [police] officers” in the area around Columbia’s campus.

New York governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said: “The First Amendment protects the right to protest but students also have a right to learn in an environment free from harassment or violence.”

A spokesperson for Columbia University said in a statement the safety of the university’s community is “our number one priority.”

The statement said: “We are acting on concerns we are hearing from our Jewish students and are providing additional support and resources to ensure that our community remains safe.”

Despite Buechler’s warning, Columbia campus Hillel said “We do not believe that Jewish students should leave” the campus.

Instead, “the University and the City need to do more to ensure the safety of our students”.

In a statement posted on Sunday on Twitter/X the Hillel said: “This is a time of genuine discomfort and even fear for many of us on campus.

“Columbia University and the City of New York must do more to protect students. We call on the University Administration to act immediately in restoring calm to campus. The City must ensure that students can walk up and down Broadway and Amsterdam without fear of harassment.”

Chabad at the university said they have been “horrified by what we witnessed” on and near Columbia’s campus but they have hired additional security to protect students during Passover and would continue to host events.

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