MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 7th of November, 2023. This is WORLD Radio. Thanks for joining us and good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: rising anti-semitism in higher education.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people in Washington D.C. protested in support of Palestinians with a chant that means the elimination of the state of Israel.
CROWD CHANTING: From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.
REICHARD: Meanwhile, university administrators are being pulled into unwinnable situations. Pro-Palestinian professors and students demand the right to protest Israel’s war to root out Hamas in Gaza …while Jewish alumni and donors threaten to pull their funding if schools continue to tolerate antisemitism.
EICHER: At Columbia University, school officials have created task forces to respond to allegations of antisemitism on campus and doxing of students. Doxing is the practice of publishing private or identifying information about specific people with the intent to intimidate.
REICHARD: WORLD Radio Reporter Mary Muncy visited the Ivy League school in New York City to see what’s happening.
BARNARD FRESHMAN: I don't wear my Star of David around my neck anymore because I'm scared someone will attack me.
MARY MUNCY, REPORTER: This Jewish freshman is standing in Columbia University’s courtyard… at a vigil for people kidnapped by Hamas. For security reasons, she and other students at the vigil didn’t give me their names.
BARNARD FRESHMAN: I don't walk around Columbia's campus without being with someone else, or being on the phone with someone.
She keeps thinking about a Jewish student attacked on her campus last month. That student was placing posters of people kidnapped by Hamas when another student yelled and hit the student with a stick. Police arrested the student on charges of assault and harassment… and classified the incident as a hate crime.
But this freshman decided to show her support at the Columbia vigil.
She and about 20 other students stand around a display of roses representing the 242 people Hamas has kidnapped in the war.
Nearby, a Jewish upperclassman says she is here for more than a vigil.
BARNARD SENIOR: I guess I'm here just just for some, some support just to be around people who can sort of understand what I'm going through.
About three weeks ago, students gathered in the courtyard and held Columbia’s first large pro-Palestinian demonstration. Columbia closed the campus to outsiders during the event for safety concerns. That’s really unusual. People from outside the school had been joining protests, and they have joined several other protests on campus since then.
Two weeks later, a group of more than 100 professors at Columbia signed a statement supporting the students’ right to express their views.
I contacted the pro-Palestinian groups on Columbia’s campus and more than 15 professors who signed the statement. None agreed to speak with me.
But Jewish students from campuses across the country did want to talk.
PNINA: My name is Pnina. I'm a freshman at Tulane.
SOFFER: I'm a junior at the George Washington University...
DAVID FRISCH: My name is David Frisch. I'm in my first year at Harvard Law School.
These students watched with alarm as pro-Palestinian student organizations started releasing statements.
At Harvard, 36 separate student groups signed a statement blaming Israel for the terrorist attacks of October 7. Almost all of them have since removed themselves from that list.
Other campuses have seen violence related to the unrest—everything from protests that turn violent, to students harassed individually. Cornell even canceled classes on Friday due to death threats against Jewish students.
Meanwhile, the conservative media group Accuracy in Media has been revealing the identities of pro-Palestinian students at Harvard and Columbia, a practice called doxxing.
WCVB: The names and faces of Harvard students are displayed under the title “Harvard’s leading antisemites.”
WCVB: This billboard truck was here on Mass Ave just outside campus for about two and a half hours.
NEWSNATION: This has gotten insane, and these are students.
But those are just the loud things, the ones that grab media attention, and that journalists have open access to.
While the Jewish vigil was taking place in the courtyard at Columbia last week, some law students were attending informational sessions on the conflict hosted by the group Columbia Law Students for Palestine.
The event organizers refused to let me attend, and declined to share recordings of the events with me. That said, one of the event speakers was Peter Beinart. Here he is in an interview with MSNBC from October 10th.
BEINART: If Palestinians don’t have basic rights, new Palestinians organizations will grow up, and they may do terrible things too because brutalized people do brutal things sometimes.
A few days later, Beinart wrote in a New York Times column that the Oct. 7 murder of 1,700 civilians, including women and children, was a natural reaction to not being able to peacefully protest and resist Israeli oppression.
At George Washington University, Jewish student Sabrina Soffer says a few days after the war began, The Elliot School of International Affairs put together a panel on the conflict with five or six people.
SOFFER: So students are coming in here looking at five different people thinking that this is a balanced panel. But none of them supported Israel.
Soffer went to the panel and said the speakers used what she called catchy, intellectual language like what students would hear in class.
SOFFER: This is, I think, actually the most subtle and dangerous and almost, I would call it insidious, way of-of molding the minds of young people.
But this isn’t just an intellectual issue.
Every Jewish student I talked to knew someone in Israel, and many of them are scared to wear outward signs of their faith in public.
The question of how administrations will respond is still largely unanswered. so for now, this Columbia upperclassman says she’ll keep going as always:
BARNARD SENIOR: We're all just people who are just trying to get through our days and like, keep up with school and with work.
She’s grieving her friends who died in the first attacks and hoping conversations about Hamas’s actions change for the better.
BARNARD SENIOR: I don't want to have to be fighting for like, to try and convince people that their death isn't justified.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy at Columbia University in New York.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.