Biden blasts ‘alarming surge of antisemitism’ as pro-Palestinian rallies rock Columbia

Biden blasts ‘alarming surge of antisemitism’ as pro-Palestinian rallies rock Columbia

Anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrate outside Columbia University in New York City on April 20, 2024. (Leonardo Munoz / AFP)

The Biden administration on Sunday blasted recent anti-Israel protests that have been taking place at Columbia University, as Jewish groups on campus reacted to a message sent by the university’s Orthodox rabbi to Jewish students urging them to stay away from campus until it is deemed safe again.

In a statement marking the upcoming Passover holiday, US President Joe Biden slammed “harassment and calls for violence against Jews” amid intensified anti-Israel protests at the New York City university over the past week as “blatant antisemitism.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters have rallied regularly at Columbia since war in Gaza erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, but demonstrations ramped up in the past week after the university asked the NYPD to help dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment.

“Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses or anywhere in our country,” Biden said in the Passover statement. “The ancient story of persecution against Jews in the Haggadah also reminds us that we must speak out against the alarming surge of antisemitism – in our schools, communities and online. Silence is complicity.”

Late Sunday, two senior university administrators said the school would deploy extra security around the protests and throughout campus.

“The gathering of large crowds on campus and around the Morningside perimeter are causing considerable disruption and distress,” Columbia Chief Operating Officer Cas Holloway said in an email, according to student newspaper The Columbia Spectator.

Sarah Gillman, a senior official at Barnard College, which is part of Columbia, said extra school security officers were being deployed around campus and private security would guard its perimeter. She said access to the Upper Manhattan campus would be restricted to those with a school ID.

The moves were announced after Jewish groups called for more protection, with some urging the school to bring New York City police onto campus.

New York Mayor Eric Adams on Sunday said he was “horrified and disgusted” by reports of antisemitism at Columbia, and that police “will not hesitate to arrest anyone who is found to be breaking the law.”

However, he said, “Columbia University is a private institution on private property, which means the NYPD cannot have a presence on campus unless specifically requested by senior university officials.”

On Thursday, police arrested more than 100 people, including the daughter of US Representative Ilhan Omar, a strong critic of Israel while removing the pro-Palestinian tent encampment.

Rather than quell protests, the move raised their profile, with activists vowing to continue protesting Israel’s war in Gaza and policies toward Palestinians. On Sunday, solidarity protests spread to the New School in midtown Manhattan, with students there putting up a similar tent encampment.

At Columbia, protesters have held daily marches through campus, often banging on pots and pans and chanting slogans including calls for an intifada, or uprising against Israel. Hundreds of Israelis were murdered in terror attacks during two intifadas in the late 1980s and early 2000s.

Protesters at the demonstrations have also expressed identification with Hamas and called for more attacks similar to the one staged by Hamas on October 7.

Universities abroad, especially in the US, have been the scenes of large anti-Israel protests since October 7, which saw thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

While the protests at Columbia have been largely peaceful, they have spread alarm among Jews on campus and Jewish communities at large for calls and slogans seen as advocating for an end to Israel as a state and a Jewish homeland, considered by many to be an antisemitic position.

“Echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable. We condemn these statements in the strongest terms,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told The Times of Israel earlier Sunday.

There have been several reports of antisemitic harassment and at least one attack, university president Nemat Shafik told a congressional hearing last week.

According to student newspaper the Columbia Spectator, during a demonstration Saturday night, “a group of around 10 pro-Israel counterprotesters faced instances of anti-Semitism” at campus landmark the Sundial.

The tensions prompted the university’s Orthodox rabbi to send a message to Jewish students Sunday morning urging them to stay away from campus until it is deemed safe again.

In a letter first reported by CNN and confirmed via email, Rabbi Elie Beuchler said the near-daily anti-Israel protests were “terrible and tragic,” adding that as much as it “deeply pains” him, he recommends that Jewish students 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. No one should have to endure this level of hatred, let alone at school,” he wrote.

Following Beuchler’s letter, Columbia University agreed to allow students to attend classes remotely, according to messages sent in pro-Israel student groups.

The messages also said Jewish students who needed somewhere to stay on Sunday night would be offered accommodation at faculty homes.

Columbia’s Hillel issued its own statement breaking with the Orthodox rabbi, saying it did not believe Jewish students should leave the campus and that it would remain open to serve the community.

At the same time, Hillel made clear that it expects the university and New York City to do more to protect Jewish students.

“We call on the university administration to act immediately in restoring calm to campus. The city must ensure that students can walk up and down Broadway and Amsterdam without fear of harassment,” Columbia Hillel said.

The Columbia Jewish Alumni Association expressed “urgency and profound concern regarding the safety of Jewish students,” in a letter to Shafik.

“Jewish students are openly threatened and harassed and the administration’s response thus far has been grossly inadequate,” the alumni association wrote, calling on the president to address threats to Jewish students on campus.

“Now, more than ever, is the time to demonstrate true leadership: enforce the university rules with regard to protests and harassment and restore order and safety on campus. If you cannot stop the masked mobs, please have the NYPD do it,” the letter continued.

Source: The Times of Israel