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At a turning point? Columbia arrests and anti-Jewish harassment shut down campus

There were only remote classes at Columbia University on Monday as protests, clashes and arrests rendered the campus a cauldron of tension and fear.

A surge in antisemitism, attacks and harassment has made life extremely uncomfortable for Jewish students at colleges across the country, and Columbia has become ground zero after police arrested more than 100 protesters there late last week.

It’s hard to fathom that the gated Upper Manhattan campus, so familiar to me from my days earning a master’s in journalism there, felt compelled to keep students away as the Biden White House condemned anti-Jewish hatred heading into the first night of Passover.

I believe we’re at a long-overdue turning point. Just four months ago, Harvard President Claudine Gay and Penn President Liz Magill couldn’t bring themselves to denounce antisemitism at a congressional hearing, which ultimately cost them their jobs. Now Columbia President Minouche Shafik, under pressure after a similar hearing, has cracked down on demonstrators who break the rules.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY ANTI-ISRAEL PROTESTERS: 5 DRAMATIC MOMENTS FROM A WEEK OF CHAOS

Antisemitic incidents have surged since Hamas terrorists committed unspeakable acts of brutality on Oct. 7 in launching the war against Israel. But whatever your view of the war, including rising civilian casualties and widespread hunger in Gaza, my sense is that a growing number of Americans are just fed up with out-of-control protests by those who would wipe Israel off the map.

Elie Buechler, a rabbi who heads the Orthodox Union’s learning center at Columbia and its sister school Barnard College, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students on Sunday saying police had not guaranteed their safety “in the face of extreme antisemitism and anarchy,” and that they should stay home “until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved.”

“It is not our job as Jews to ensure our own safety on campus,” the rabbi wrote. 

There was some backlash against Buechler, as if he was advocating surrender, but he said it pained him to have to make this recommendation.

COLUMBIA RABBI TELLS JEWISH STUDENTS TO LEAVE CAMPUS, WARNS THAT SCHOOL, NYPD ‘CANNOT GUARANTEE YOUR SAFETY’

I’m all for free speech and the right to protest, but when pro-Palestinian demonstrators set up 50 tents in the middle of campus, the school warned them that they would be automatically suspended and arrested if they refused police orders to vacate.

The initial media coverage focused on the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar, Isra Hirsi, who was one of those arrested. There is no evidence she was treated differently than anyone else. Hirsi, a member of the anti-Israel group Apartheid Divest, told Teen Vogue she has nowhere to live and no way to get food after she was evicted from her $90,000-a-year Barnard dorm and dining hall.

The Minnesota congresswoman said she is “enormously proud” of her daughter.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, said he is “horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism at and around the Columbia University campus.”

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Shafik, in banning in-person classes, denounced the “intimidating and harassing behavior” on campus. “Anti-Semitic(sic) language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken.” 

She added that some people not affiliated with Columbia have “exploited” these tensions “to pursue their own agendas.”

Shafik said she was trying “to balance the rights of students to express political views” with protecting other students “from rhetoric that amounts to harassment and discrimination.”

Some of the school’s 5,000 Jewish students were cursed out, according to the Columbia chapter of Chabad, with protesters shouting “all you do is colonize, “go back to Europe” and “go back to Poland.” 

Some demonstrators, according to a post by one student, tried to burn a stolen Israeli flag, while some Jewish students found themselves splashed with water. Police officers were also called the KKK and there were chants about a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.”

Woman looking at camera (center) Scenes from campus protests (background)

This is beyond outrageous. Some of these protesters, who tried to put up tents once again, are not just against Israel, they clearly despise Jews. That is at the root of this deep-seated bigotry that has made life intolerable for Jewish students at Columbia and beyond.

(There is a slice of Jewish students who say they agree with the protesters that Gaza death tolls are unacceptable, though I don’t get how they square that with calls for Israel’s destruction.)

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A student identified as Katie told FOX’s Martha MacCallum: “It’s sickening. And truly, it’s heartbreaking to think that I go to school with people who have these horrible anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-American beliefs. It’s really quite disturbing to think that these people are allowed to be around me and my classmates and to see my friends, people I recognize on these videos being screamed at that these people condone their rape and murder. And it’s just so beyond disturbing.”

Eden Yadegar speaks at press conference

Katie, describing herself as an Iranian who escaped religious persecution in the country that directly and unsuccessfully bombarded Israel for the first time, said Columbia has “hired professors who have said that these attacks on Oct. 7 were awesome, were great victories for the Palestinian martyrs and who have been known to be antisemitic, and that Professor Joseph Massad teaches the class on Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Columbia. And you wonder how these students get indoctrinated with these beliefs….I think it’s a rejection of American values.”

The woman, who was poised and passionate, added that the ongoing ordeal prompted her to move off-campus. 

“It changed my life as a student completely. I worked my whole life to get into Columbia. Worked hard to go. This is my dream school. I came to hear from people with differing beliefs and to learn from them. And it has made the entire experience miserable,” she said. “Quite frankly, I cannot wait to get out of there and I will never return.”

There comes a time when millions who had looked away or stayed silent rise up and say enough. I think we are on the brink of that moment. 

There is something about the combination of Columbia, the New York media market, the arrests, the tent city and the bile directed at Jewish students that has tipped the scales.

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