In a viral video, Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai denounced university president Minouche Shafik’s “cowardice” for allowing the proliferation of “pro-terror student organizations” on campus, and told parents that students were not safe.
Standing at a small pro-Israel rally at the school’s Morningside Heights campus in New York City on October 19, Davidai recorded what he called “An Open Letter to Every Parent in America.”
The academic said he was sending “a message to every parent in America who sends their kids to NYU, to Harvard, to Stanford, to Berkeley, and I want you to know one thing: We cannot protect your child.”
Columbia University has hosted both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies in the wake of the October 7 Hamas massacre in which terrorists invaded Israel in a multi-pronged attack, leaving some 1,400 dead, thousands wounded and some 200 hostages taken to Gaza.
In an impassioned speech, Davidai, a business management professor, described how the university has hosted pro-Palestinian demonstrations in which thousands attended, chanting pro-terror songs.
“They were celebrating the rape of teenage girls at a music festival in the name of resistance. They were celebrating this and the president of the university is allowing these pro-terror student organizations to march on our campuses,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or atheist like myself, rape is never okay, not as an act of resistance, not as an act of revenge. Rape is never okay.”
Davidai condemned the administration’s lack of denunciation of these overt acts of terror support, stating, “this is what cowards do.”
“I’ll name it now, president Minouche Shafik of Columbia University, you are a coward because if President Biden can come up and say, ‘No, this is unacceptable, this is inhumane,’ if Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City is able to say, ‘This is not okay,’ then where are you, president Shafik of Columbia University? We are waiting for you to eradicate all pro-terror student organizations from campus,” Davidai said.
In his 10-minute speech, Davidai said he felt compelled to stand up because he is afraid and “shivering” at the thought of walking on the Columbia campus.
“Imagine not being able to go to your work because your boss does not value your life, because your boss supports pro-terror organizations,” he said.
In his 10-minute video, Davidai began by stating that he is a professor and an Israeli, but was speaking out as a father.
“I have two beautiful children and I’m speaking to you as a dad and I want you to know: We cannot protect your children from pro-terror student organizations because the president of Columbia University will not speak out against pro-terror student organizations, because the president of Harvard University, the president of Stanford, the president of Berkeley, they will not speak out against pro-terror student organizations.
“And yet to the pro-terror student organizations on campus, here and at Harvard and at NYU, and at Stanford and at Berkeley and Northwestern, my two-year-old daughter is a legitimate target of resistance. That is what they are saying, you’re allowed to murder and kidnap my two-year-old daughter in the name of resistance and none of the presidents of universities all around the country are willing to take a stand.”
He declared he would never send his “amazing two-year-old daughter” to Columbia as it is managed now, because she would not be protected there.
Pointing to the New York skyline in the background, Davidai asked how this city, which suffered terror itself 20 years ago, could stand silent during such a celebration of violence.
“We would never allow the KKK to march on our campus. We would never allow a pro-ISIS demonstration on our campus. Can you imagine in the city that had to endure 9/11, the worst attack on American soil, can you imagine that here we have pro-terror student organizations?” asked Davidai.
Alongside students at Harvard University and New York University, Columbia was one of a handful of other universities where student organizations signed letters blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks.
A day after the attacks, tenured Middle East studies professor at Columbia University, Joseph Massad, penned a piece for the anti-Zionist website Electronic Intifada, describing them as “innovative,” a “major achievement,” and a source of “jubilation and awe.” Last week, the university was the site of an assault on an Israeli student.
Due to the perceived heightened risk of violence, the New York Police Department has increased its presence on the streets near and around the Morningside Heights campus, where access has been limited off and on to those carrying a valid school ID, The Columbia Spectator reported.
Shafik has issued two public statements since the October 7 war erupted and the university organized a high-level “rapid response” webinar on October 10 to examine “Israel’s next moves,” with faculty including Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is a professor of International and Public Affairs, and other journalists and analysts.
In her October 18 statement, Shafik expressed empathy that “students, faculty, staff and colleagues are suffering great distress over the terror attacks on Israel and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
She said the safety of members of the campus community is foremost and emphasized, “Debate, advocacy, and protest are essential ways for students to address and process political and social turmoil, and we are duty-bound to ensure they can gather and express themselves.”
Without identifying individuals, Shafik added she was “disheartened” by some “abhorrent rhetoric” she has heard from community members. “Unfortunately, some are using this moment to spread antisemitism, Islamophobia, bigotry against Palestinians and Israelis, and various other forms of hate,” she said, calling on the Columbia staff to use their voices “differently.”
“Unlike a political organization or advocacy group, Columbia’s role is to create space for our scholars and students to fill with their own moral and intellectual conversations, an essential function in a world in which that space is narrowing,” Shafik wrote.
Davidai is a former psychology professor who turned his focus from psych undergrads to MBA students because he “wanted to have a more immediate impact on the world and to see the spark of learning in my students’ eyes turn into action,” he recently told news outlet MBA Watch for its “2023 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors” series. He joined the Columbia faculty in 2019.
Davidai describes his research as examining people’s everyday judgments of themselves, other people, and society as a whole, looking at forces that shape and distort people’s subjective perceptions of the world. A vocal activist against Israel’s judicial overhaul, he has gained headlines for his work in the protest movement in Israel.
JTA contributed to this report.