Inside storyNew Jewish alumni group has over 1,000 members

As suspended anti-Israel groups at Columbia go unhindered, Jewish alumni despair

When SJP & JVP were ordered off campus for violating school policy, pro-Israel students rejoiced. Now they see little change in behavior – and little enforcement against it

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Chanting 'Intifada revolution' during 'Hatikvah', January 19, 2024 (Courtesy CJAA)

NEW YORK — The Columbia Jewish Alumni Association is running out of patience with Columbia University president Manouche Shafik.

Founded after the October 7 Hamas onslaught to hold the university accountable for escalating campus antisemitism and to help mentor Jewish students, the CJAA hoped the start of the spring semester would be different. But after two suspended campus organizations — Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) — staged a demonstration called “Hands Off Gaza and Yemen” on January 19 without facing any disciplinary action, whatever optimism the group had evaporated.

“The question for us is how long should [Shafik] be given the benefit of the doubt before we say she is part of the problem,” said Ari Shrage, a Columbia Jewish Alumni Association (CJAA) board member.

Campus antisemitism has been on the rise across the United States since the Hamas-led October 7 massacre that saw 1,200 people brutally murdered, most of them civilians, and 253 kidnapped.

Frustrated and distressed, the association, which now has more than 1,000 members, is imploring influential alumni and donors — such as billionaire Leon Cooperman, who announced in October that he would no longer donate to his alma mater — to step up and speak out.

It is also gathering and sharing information in a bid to convince the university to take action. This includes collecting videos of demonstrations that aren’t university-approved as well as screenshots of social media posts containing hate speech or promoting activities that are banned for the suspended group.

An Instagram post by the suspended group Students for Justice in Palestine calls for an emergency demonstration in support of Yemen and Gaza, as well as divestment from Israel. (Courtesy CJAA)

“We are 100 percent focused on what is happening on campus. We heard from students that they didn’t know there are people working very hard to help them. That’s not the case. They should know there is a large group of people working tirelessly. We are working every angle to fix this,” said Shrage.

“This” refers to the numerous teach-ins, antisemitic social media posts, and demonstrations like the ones over the last two weeks where keffiyeh-clad students stood on the steps of Low Library chanting “Intifada revolution,” kicked down barricades, and chanted “Yemen, Yemen, make us proud, turn another ship around,” in support of the Iran-backed Houthis, a designated terror organization based in Yemen that has been attacking commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden since the outbreak of the Gaza war.

According to the university, several anti-Israel student demonstrators reported requiring medical attention after being sprayed with a foul-smelling substance during the January 19 protest. The New York City Police Department is now investigating “what appear to have been serious crimes, possible hate crimes,” according to a January 22 statement from Columbia.

That statement is another example of the double standard that’s been on display since October, Shrage said.

“Nothing excuses spraying protesters. However, it’s deeply disturbing and hypocritical that the university only worried about students being sprayed, but not a mob of students calling for the murder of everyone in Israel, cheering for a terrorist organization, and calling the police the KKK. Of course, it’s also ironic that the same students who were calling the NYPD the KKK a few hours later sought out New York’s finest’s help,” he said.

Anti-Israel protestoes at Columbia University hold signs comparing the New York Police Department to the KKK, January 2024. (Courtesy CJAA)

Also on January 19, Barnard College invited SJP founder Hatem Bazian to speak during its “day of dialogue and reflection.” The college, which is affiliated with Columbia University, canceled all its classes so students could participate in the “landmark event.” Bazian, who also founded American Muslims for Palestine, has in the past accused Israel of having a policy of organ harvesting from Palestinians.

“Last Friday’s protests were unsanctioned. We are asking community members to abide by the university’s event policies and procedures that are in place in order to ensure, to the best of our ability, that we are able to deploy resources for the safety of everyone in our community,” a university spokesperson said.

Columbia didn’t answer whether the leaders of SJP or JVP will face disciplinary action for repeatedly violating university policies.

However, preventing unregistered groups who ignore the university’s rules from using space reserved for registered student groups has proved challenging, according to a university spokesperson.

Jewish students with orange balloons for Bibas family, who were kidnapped from Israel during the October 7 massacre, at Columbia University, January 2024. (Courtesy CJAA)

For example, on January 24, SJP and JVP, together with Columbia University Apartheid Divest, walked out of classes in an “emergency protest,” displacing students who had reserved the sundial to promote a vegan lifestyle.

That same day, the university closed all the campus gates except one to anyone who didn’t have a Columbia University ID as a security measure.

At the close of the fall semester, the association was cautiously optimistic that the university would finally address the antisemitism that had permeated the Morningside campus.

Anti-Israel protestors on the steps of Low Memorial Library at Columbia University, January 19, 2024. (Courtesy CJAA)

After all, it suspended SJP and JVP in November for violating campus policy, Shrage said. More than 1,000 Jewish alumni signed a note thanking the university for taking that step. At the time, the CJAA also requested a meeting with Shafik to discuss their concerns and ways the campus could address antisemitism.

So far Shafik hasn’t accepted their invitation.

Despite the cold shoulder, the association remains focused on keeping the spotlight on the situation.

“I have great affection for Columbia, but I want things to change. I have two high school students who are thinking about college and when I witnessed what was happening on college campuses across the country, and Columbia, I found it distressing,” said CJAA member Benjamin Atkins.

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