My nearly 87-year-old dad called me early one recent morning. In his thick, Brooklyn accent he exclaimed, “Hey Dana! What’s going on?!” I heard fear and uncertainty in his voice. As a loving parent who had sent his daughter to Cornell University 38 years ago, my dad was asking me to explain what was going on in the world — our world, his world. He said that he had never, in his 87 years, seen anything like the antisemitism that has risen over the last few weeks.
At my alma mater, a 21-year-old engineering student allegedly posted horrifying threats online, including calling on people to murder his fellow Cornell students who are Jewish. Prior to that, at an Oct. 15 rally on campus, an associate professor said he had been “exhilarated” at news of the vicious terrorist attack in Israel. These examples are just a few among many taking place at college campuses all across the country.
The rise in antisemitism stems from an insidious campaign that has been slowly brewing over the last 20 years, beginning with the Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which came about following the Second Intifada in 2004-2005. Omar Barghouti, an Arab-Israeli, founded the movement in order to destabilize the government of Israel. The movement has grown strong, particularly on college campuses, and has provided a platform for groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, college professors, musicians such as Roger Waters and Annie Lennox, and businesses such as Ben and Jerry’s.
At the same time, Arab states have donated billions of dollars to top U.S. universities in order to create satellite campuses, such as the Cornell Medical School in Qatar, as well as endowing Arab and Palestinian institutes on college campuses. At Columbia University, which I also attended, Professor Rashid Khalidi is currently the Edward Said chair of Palestine studies, a position created in 2003 with $4 million through donors from Saudi Arabia. Khalidi, a virulent critic of Israel, also heads the Institute for Palestine Studies at the university, created in 2010 by Arab donors.
I was lucky to have recently been able to delve deeply into studying the conflict at Columbia with prominent professors and to feel uncomfortable yet safe in a place for intellectual inquiry. In my experience in the classroom, Khalidi was just as critical of the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah as he was with Israel, the U.S., Britain and the oil rich Arab states. I learned from Khalidi that the Palestinians are victims of poor leadership, corruption and circumstance, and that the entire world is to blame for their misfortune, not only Israel.
But the idea of the classroom and the campus as a safe place for deep inquiry has been broken. Antisemitism and violence is on the rise. The explicit online threats at Cornell were such that the FBI was brought to campus. The kosher dining hall was closed. Hebrew class was held in a secret location. A Jewish a capella group rehearsed in a room behind a barricaded door.
At Columbia, Khalidi and 130 other professors, recently signed a letter fanning the flames of divisiveness. Shame on them. Instead, Khalidi should be standing with Professor Rebecca Kobrin and the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, as well as partnering with the Institute for the Center of Human Rights Studies, the Columbia Law School, Journalism School and the School of International and Public Affairs in order to create proper intellectual inquiry and dialogue.
Leaders must lead. Cornell University President Martha Pollack must do better in protecting Jewish students. The Ivy League must come together in order to combat hate speech. Students chanting “From the river to the sea” is a call for Jewish genocide in the state of Israel. In order to change the world and make it a better place, Columbia and other top institutions need to look after future leaders by not avoiding open discussion of the conflict. They must instead foster a mature, safe place to delve into its nuances, and avoid exacerbating antisemitism, violence and islamophobia.
Dana Post Adler is a graduate of Cornell University, New York University and Columbia University and is a Ph.D. student at FAU studying sociology and Jewish studies. She serves on the board of governors for the Jewish Agency for Israel, the board of directors for the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach and is chair of Delray Beach’s Site Plan, Review and Appearance Board.