'Their commitments to fight antisemitism have been hollow'

House committee to investigate Columbia’s ‘inadequate response’ to campus antisemitism

16-page letter slams the school for allowing a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students to thrive for over 2 decades, including through antisemitic statements by faculty after Oct. 7

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists gather for a protest at Columbia University, October 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists gather for a protest at Columbia University, October 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

NEW YORK — Columbia University’s handling of antisemitism is now the subject of an official Congressional committee investigation.

In a 16-page letter citing “grave concerns regarding the inadequacy of Columbia’s response to antisemitism on its campus,” the House Workforce and Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican, demanded Monday that Columbia furnish any and all documents related to antisemitic acts or incidents on campus by February 26.

It is the latest effort from the committee to hold universities accountable for antisemitism which, already present on many of these universities, mushroomed after the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught. Most recently, a Jewish freshman at Columbia described being harassed by violent anti-Israel protesters just outside of campus.

Aside from requests for documents directly relating to incidents of vandalism, assault, protest and harassment, the committee also requested information on foreign donations, including funding from Qatari sources, according to the February 12 letter. The letter charges that “an environment of pervasive antisemitism” had been “documented at Columbia for more than two
decades before the October 7, 2023, terrorist attack.”

Columbia, which launched a task force on antisemitism on November 1, is the latest university to become the subject of a House investigation into campus antisemitism. It joins Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Pro-Israel demonstrators sing a song during a protest at Columbia University after the October 7 Hamas atrocities, October 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

The Columbia Jewish Alumni Association (CJAA) welcomed the move.

“Today was the first step. Today Congress acknowledged that ‘pervasive antisemitism has been documented at Columbia for more than two decades’ and — like CJAA members — noted ‘grave concerns regarding the inadequacy of Columbia’s response to antisemitism on its campus,’” reads a statement posted on CJAA’s website.

“Let that sink in. The letter sends a powerful message to both Columbia and colleges across America: failing to protect Jewish students and take action against antisemitism potentially violates Federal statutes and is, at its core, morally repugnant,” the statement says.

Ari Shrage, one of CJAA’s founders, told The Times of Israel, “Columbia has been aware of antisemitism on campus for decades. Instead of addressing the issue 20 years ago, they swept it under the rug and the problem has gotten worse. I sincerely hope that they address the root causes rather than ignoring the problem and allowing it to become worse.”

The House Workforce and Education Committee letter, addressed to all Columbia leaders, singles out university president Dr. Minouche Shafik, saying her words stand in stark contrast to her actions.

“Columbia has consistently allowed anti-Israel groups to violate university policies and shown its commitments on antisemitism to be hollow,” says the congressional letter.

Anti-Israel demonstrators holding a sign that appears to justify the October 7 Hamas massacre participate in a rally at Columbia University in New York on November 15, 2023. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)

In addition to listing student-related incidents, the letter also addresses the numerous Columbia faculty who have reportedly made antisemitic remarks before and after October 7, when massive anti-Israel protests erupted following a Hamas-led massacre that saw 1,200 people killed in southern Israel, most of them civilians, and another 253 abducted to the Gaza Strip.

“For example, Professor of Modern Arab Politics Joseph Massad stands out for his lengthy record of antisemitic, anti-Israel, and pro-Hamas conduct,” the letter points out.

In an October 8 article for the website The Electronic Intifada, Massad praised the “innovative Palestinian resistance” and described the attack in terms such as “astonishing,” “astounding,” and “incredible.”

The letter also details multiple incidents where the university allowed events to take place without consequence, even when those events violated university policy.

NYPD officers push anti-Israel protesters off the street during the ‘All out for Palestine’ rally outside Columbia University in New York on February 2, 2024. (Photo by Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

For example, although the university suspended its campus chapters of the anti-Israel groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) on November 10 for violating student conduct codes — and, it can be noted, not because of their message — the groups continue to hold and publicize events.

“This stands at odds with President Shafik’s October 9, 2023, commitment that [the university’s] ‘first priority has been to make sure everyone connected to Columbia is safe,’ and Columbia’s statement that ‘President Shafik has repeatedly said that we will not tolerate antisemitic actions and are moving forcefully against antisemitic threats, images, and other violations as they are reported,’” says the letter.

A university spokesperson told The Times of Israel that, “We are committed to combating antisemitism and all forms of hatred. We have received the letter from Chairwoman Foxx and will cooperate fully with any investigation.”

Relieved that Congress is taking action, Shai Davidai, an assistant professor at the Columbia University Business School and outspoken critic of the university’s handling of campus antisemitism since October 7, said he was “extremely shocked by the sheer magnitude and systemic nature of the antisemitism on campus.”

“There was some stuff in that 16-page letter that I was unaware of; just seeing everything organized so clearly in a letter was a bit despairing because it highlighted to me how big the problem is and how unwilling the administration has been to deal with it,” said Davidai.

“This is a pattern of behavior that if not platformed by the university, is at least willingly accepted. My hope is that now when Congress is involved, the president of the university will start backing up her vacuous emails with actual actions,” he said.

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