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Jewish Students to Confront Columbia U President at Congressional Hearing Over Campus Anti-Semitism

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

In a significant development highlighting the growing concerns over anti-Semitism on college campuses, Jewish students from Columbia University are set to confront President Minouche Shafik during a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., as was reported by The New York Post on Sunday. The students’ testimonies come amidst mounting pressure on university leaders to address and combat anti-Semitism within academic institutions.

Scheduled for Wednesday, the hearing, titled “Columbia in Crisis: Columbia University’s Response to Anti-Semitism,” will provide a platform for students to voice their experiences of anti-Semitic incidents on campus and demand accountability from university administration, according to the information provided in the Post report. The students will also engage in personal meetings with members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has been vocal in her advocacy against anti-Semitism in higher education.

The students will also engage in personal meetings with members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has been vocal in her advocacy against anti-Semitism in higher education. In a statement to The Post, Stefanik condemned the pervasive anti-Semitism at Columbia University, characterizing it as symptomatic of a broader systemic problem within the higher education system. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Stefanik’s involvement underscores the seriousness of the issue, as her pointed questions in prior hearings have led to significant repercussions for university leaders. Notably, the Post report revealed that her interrogation contributed to the removal of presidents from prestigious institutions such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who struggled to provide satisfactory responses regarding their handling of anti-Semitism.

In a statement to The Post, Stefanik condemned the pervasive anti-Semitism at Columbia University, characterizing it as symptomatic of a broader systemic problem within the higher education system. The Post report also said that from calls for the genocide of Jews to the presence of swastikas on campus property, anti-Semitic incidents have become distressingly common, creating an environment where Jewish students feel unsafe and marginalized.

The House Committee on Education and The Workforce’s decision to host a hearing specifically focused on Columbia University’s response to anti-Semitism signals a recognition of the severity of the issue and the importance of holding academic institutions accountable for fostering inclusive and respectful environments for all students.

The university expressed willingness to engage in discussions about its efforts to address these issues, emphasizing a proactive approach to ensure the safety and well-being of the campus community, as was explained in the Post report.

The timing of these discussions is significant, as they coincide with a wave of incidents on college campuses across the United States in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas attacks against Israel. The escalating tensions in the Middle East have reverberated globally, leading to increased polarization and contentious debates within academic institutions.

One particular incident has drawn attention to Columbia University’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations within its academic ranks. A public health graduate student, Marc Nock, accused Professor Abdul Kayum Ahmed of making disparaging remarks about Jewish philanthropists Joseph Mailman and Armand Hammer. According to Nock, Ahmed suggested that the School of Public Health and its building in Washington Heights should not be named after Jews, insinuating that their contributions amounted to “blood money,” as was affirmed by the Post. Nock characterized Ahmed’s comments as perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes and fostering a hostile learning environment.

A public health graduate student, Marc Nock, accused Professor Abdul Kayum Ahmed of making disparaging remarks about Jewish philanthropists Joseph Mailman and Armand Hammer. Photo Credit: law.columbia.edu

Ahmed reportedly received a letter from Columbia’s School of Public Health, indicating that his employment as a professor would not be renewed next year. The Post report revealed that while the letter did not explicitly cite criticism of Ahmed’s statements or advocacy as a reason, the decision has raised questions about the university’s response to allegations of anti-Semitism.

Several academic leaders have faced criticism for their anti-Israel commentary following the recent attacks, sparking debates about freedom of expression, academic freedom, and the boundaries of acceptable discourse on college campuses.

Nock expressed hopes that Columbia will take proactive measures to prevent the hiring of professors who propagate hate and discrimination. The report in the Post said that Nock’s sentiments reflect broader concerns among students about the need for decisive action to combat antisemitism and promote tolerance and respect on campus.

Yola Ashkenazie, a student at Columbia-affiliated Barnard College, shared her experiences of feeling targeted and threatened as a Jewish student on the Morningside campus. As was detailed in the Post report, Ashkenazie recounted incidents where Israeli students were spat on for speaking Hebrew and where she herself was subjected to online harassment for expressing pro-Israel views. The emergence of social media platforms such as “Barfnard,” which reposted a photo of Ashkenazie carrying an Israeli flag, calls attention to the challenges faced by Jewish students in navigating a campus environment fraught with tensions and hostility.

The Post also reported that Ashkenazie recounted instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric, including chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” and slogans such as “We Don’t Want Zionism here.” Ashkenazie expressed the distressing sentiment that such rhetoric implies that Jewish students such as herself do not belong on campus.

Ashkenazie also welcomed the upcoming congressional hearing, which will scrutinize Columbia University’s response to anti-Semitism. As per the Post report, she hopes that the hearing will compel the administration to develop a concrete plan to address the fears and concerns of students who feel unsafe on campus.

Yaffa Mashkabov, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of Social Work, shared her own troubling encounter with anti-Semitism in the classroom. As explained in the Post report, Mashkabov recalled a fellow student justifying the rape and kidnapping of Israelis, leaving her stunned and disheartened. As an observant Jew, Mashkabov spoke of the lawsuit filed against the School of Social Work for its treatment of an orthodox Jewish student.

Moreover, the information in the Post report noted that Mashkabov referenced an anti-Semitic flier depicting a skunk in the colors of the Israeli flag and a Star of David, which surfaced on Columbia’s Morningside campus. She offered her view that anti-Semitism is not merely a feeling but a tangible reality faced by Jewish students, and expressed hope that the attention garnered by Congress will lead to positive change.

The incidents described by Ashkenazie and Mashkabov reflect a disturbing trend of anti-Semitism that has permeated Columbia University’s campus, prompting urgent calls for action. The upcoming congressional hearing represents a pivotal moment for the university to address these concerns and implement measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all students.

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