Editorial: Combatting Surging Antisemitism on College Campuses

Editorial: Combatting Surging Antisemitism on College Campuses

Our country is being torn apart by antisemitism and we have had enough.

We’re not going to debate the politics of Palestine and Israel. Students and faculty are entitled to their own opinions and we encourage them to enter productive and respectful discourse.

We are, however, tired of hearing hate from both sides. We are tired of watching people band together over hate rather than kindness.

During Passover, one of the holiest weeks of the year for the Jewish community, Chabad at Columbia shared in a social media post that Jewish students have had offensive language thrown at them, such as being told to “go back to Poland” and “stop killing children.”

We are tired of watching people band together over hate rather than kindness.

College campus protests erupted following a violent attack by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7, 2023, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,200 individuals, mainly civilians, and the capture of around 250 hostages.

Subsequently, in the conflict that followed, Israel’s actions led to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry and Al Jazeera.

The Columbia Spectator reported that while the protests ensued, Rachel Freilich ‘27 noticed another student recording and laughing, which left her wondering: “If someone on my campus not only is just going to glorify and justify Hamas’ terror attacks, call on them to come and kill me next, and then laugh about it, like why should I stay here, at a place that seems to be failing to protect me and calling on terrorists to come into the University and kill me?”

Additionally, protestors at Columbia University formed a human chain that obstructed the movement of Jewish students on campus. This act should be viewed as reprehensible and hateful, even without historical context.

However, recalling historical precedents enhances the gravity of the situation. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “in April 1933, German law restricted the number of Jewish students at German schools and universities. In the same month, further legislation sharply curtailed ‘Jewish activity’ in the medical and legal professions. Subsequent decrees restricted reimbursement of Jewish doctors from public (state) health insurance funds.”

This hatred seeped into American higher education early on.

As Jewish immigration increased in the early 1900s, the numbers of Jews were restricted at institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and now, a century later, we watch Jews experience hateful discrimination on college campuses once more.

A particularly egregious example occurred at Harvard, where, under the presidency of A. Lawrence Lowell from 1909 to 1933, these restrictive policies were strictly enforced.

“The anti-Semitic feeling among the students is increasing, and it grows in proportion to the increase in the number of Jews,” Lowell said. “If their number should become 40 percent of the student body, the race feeling would become intense.”

One Jewish student leader on campus, Harry Starr, responded, “We learned that it was numbers that mattered; bad or good, too many Jews were not liked. Rich or poor, brilliant or dull, polished or crude—[the problem was] too many Jews.”

In 2024, a human chain restricting Jewish movement at Columbia University, blocking Jews from free movement in an open space, stands as a clear sign of the ongoing fight against not only ignorance, but also antisemitism.

We faced college shutdowns due to COVID-19, and now we find our education heckled again due to some pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses that are actively hateful toward Jews.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to threaten. It is unacceptable to believe that threats fall in line with freedom of speech, and all must be taken seriously.

Not to mention, according to the New York Post, not one of the over 200 protestors arrested will recieve a criminal record.

In the wake of the protests, Columbia announced a plan to shift classes to a hybrid schedule and required faculty to offer a remote option for exams. Even one of the School’s rabbis called for Jewish students to return home instead of staying on campus.

Now, according to the New York Times, over 100 students have been arrested for engaging in pro-Palestine protests that threatened Jewish students.

At New York University, police were forced to pepper spray protesters who displayed “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior,” according to Time Magazine.

And this hate is not confined to the East Coast. According to a local NBC News affiliate, protesters at California State Polytechnic University have “started using furniture, tents, chains, and zip ties to block the building’s entrances.”

Harvard University has taken an alternative route by locking most of its gates and preventing access to its campus to the public.

However, Columbia Ph.D. student Christian Deleon told reporters that students should be able to voice their opinions and engage in protest if they so choose: “We should all be able to use these kinds of spaces to protest, to make our voices heard,” he said.

It is irrefutable that schools should limit student voices when those voices express hate and threaten other students. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to threaten. It is unacceptable to believe that threats fall in line with freedom of speech, and all must be taken seriously.

We believe that the most important thing for our country, and our School, is to foster an inclusive environment where students can engage in constructive discourse. But right now, that’s not happening.

When we are in times of crisis, it is essential to rally together. We cannot allow hatred to penetrate our walls—or our souls.

Editor’s Note: Our intention is not to amplify the voice of hate, ignorance, and antisemitism. We intend to amplify the voices only of those who call for peace, kindness, and respect. 

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About the Contributor
Amelia Bowman '25, Cathy Wu '24, Evan Michaeli '24, Edward Flint '26

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  • Irene PragerMay 5, 2024 at 9:36 am

    Well written and so important. We cannot sit silent. We must speak up.