The heated debate among Jewish faculty


This essay, signed by more than 100 Jewish faculty members at Columbia University, came in response to 23 other Jewish faculty who published an open letter in the Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper to University President Minouche Shafik before her congressional testimony under the headline: “Jewish faculty reject the weaponization of antisemitism.”

Here are a few “inconvenient truths” and “historical injustices” which can help you understand what “weaponizing antisemitism” looks like, both in history, and at Columbia.

We agree strongly with the legitimacy of debate over certain ideas, such as whether anti-Zionism can be separated from antisemitism. However, the common accusation that Jews and others are only using accusations of antisemitism as a “weapon” is a classic antisemitic trope, and a way of silencing Jewish voices and shutting down important debate.

When antisemitism encourages, glorifies, and justifies hate crimes, that is when it has been weaponized. Antisemitism as a weapon looks like 1,200 people being burned alive, gang raped, and tortured to death on Oct. 7. And it looks like 170 faculty at Columbia saying this genocidal terrorist attack was merely a justifiable “military action” that should be “contextualized.” Antisemitism as a weapon looks like 133 hostages still being held in Gaza. And it looks like hostage posters being ripped down and defaced on the Columbia campus.

Columbia students weaponized antisemitism with posters of skunks with Israeli flags on their backs posted around campus. Weaponized antisemitism looks like a truck parked outside a huge protest at Columbia that claimed “Israel steals Palestinian organs.”

We point out the inconsistency in allowing other minority groups at Columbia — except for Jews — to define harm based on the effect on the listener, rather than the intent of the speaker (even when some members of those minority groups experience harm differently).

Your opinion letter repeatedly downplays the harm that many Jews on campus have experienced. You say you care about keeping students “safe from real harm” while ignoring the numerous cases of faculty using their positions of power to engage in virulent hate speech like calling all Israeli students at Columbia “dangerous” because they served in the IDF, and engaging in other discriminatory actions that have been documented at Columbia for decades.

You minimize the countless and ongoing violations of university rules, such as ignoring university policies on protests, moving barricades, and disrupting invited speakers, events, and shared spaces. You seem to feel there is no “real harm” to Jews who witness protests where people scream “There is no safe place, death to the Zionist state!” “Globalize the Intifada!” and “We don’t want two states, we want all of it!” saying these protesters are simply “advocating for Palestinian liberation.”

You brush off the ongoing appearance of swastikas on walls and virulent posters in dorms, study partners refusing to work with Jews, and other reported and unreported cases of basic antisemitism. You ignore the danger of allowing actual terrorists to speak on campus without consequence.

You use the “As a Jew” argument to claim that your voices have not been heard, but ignore when other Jews are silenced, such as when Jewish and Israeli students and faculty who disagree with anti-Zionist views are unwelcome and ostracized.

For example, you don’t object to the CUAD BDS resolutions, which are inconsistent with intellectual pluralism by seeking to weaponize university institutions against Zionism (as opposed to having a debate over the question), and you don’t mention the initial rejection of the Law School’s “Law Students Against Antisemitism” because of their use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

You use the Jerusalem Definition of Antisemitism, but it is the IHRA Definition which has been accepted by more than 1,000 global entities including the United States government, 42 other countries, and 31 states including New York.

We wish that Columbia had been more effective at preventing physical and verbal attacks, harassment, death threats, and ongoing terrifying disruptions on campus, so that a congressional investigation, two lawsuits, and a U.S. Department of Education Investigation would not have been necessary.

Dear colleagues, you are still our family. We hope your hearts are big enough to have empathy for the pain of both Jews and Palestinians, and your minds are open enough to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue about our shared future.

We are certain Columbia can become a place where it is safe for Jews to express our diverse identities proudly, without silencing each other. We likely have many shared Jewish values, one of which is the mission to defend the oppressed and bring light onto the world. Let’s come together to celebrate our shared (if not painful) history and values and find a common way to end all forms of oppression and hatred.

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