Rising Antisemitism and Choosing Freedom

This weekend at Columbia and Yale, student demonstrators told Jewish students to “go back to Poland.” A Jewish woman at Yale was assaulted with a Palestinian flag. And an Orthodox rabbi at…

This weekend at Columbia and Yale, student demonstrators told Jewish students to “go back to Poland.” A Jewish woman at Yale was assaulted with a Palestinian flag. And an Orthodox rabbi at Columbia told students to go home for their safety. 

Demonstrators on these campuses shouted: “Say it loud and say it clear, we don’t want no Zionists here.” In one chant at Columbia, the protesters were heard saying “Go Hamas, we love you. We support your rockets, too.” and “We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.”

These campus activists are not simply “pro-Palestine” protesters. They are people who are openly celebrating Hamas and physically intimidating identifiably Jewish students who came near. We published the accounts of two of those students—Sahar Tartak and Jonathan Lederer—today.

Students—all of us—have a right to protest. We have a right to protest for dumb causes and horrible causes. At The Free Press, we will always defend that right. (See here and here, for example.) It is not, however, a First Amendment right to physically attack another person. It is not a First Amendment right to detain another person as part of your protest. 

The institutions that are supposed to be dedicated to the pursuit of truth have not only abandoned their mission—they have stood by and done nothing meaningful to condemn students who support terrorism, or to stop the horrific scenes of the past 48 hours. 

In fact, at Columbia they have done quite the opposite: on Monday morning the president announced that she is moving classes online. If that’s not cowering to the mob, I don’t know what is. Meanwhile, the NYPD has offered to help secure the safety of Jews on campus, but so far the president of Columbia has refused to let them on campus.

Since the very founding of America, this country has been a unique place for the Jewish people. That is because of America’s exceptional ideals and our willingness to defend them. 

But in the past six months these core American beliefs, once deemed immutable, have been challenged in ways that were previously unimaginable, as a rising wave of antisemitism and illiberalism have swept the country—a wave that was put on full display over the last few days, at the country’s most elite and prestigious universities.

Jews around the world are about to celebrate the holiday of Passover—otherwise known as the festival of freedom. But what does it mean this year to commemorate our freedom, when our freedom feels like it is contracting before our eyes? How can we defend the original principles that underpin our society? How can we find the courage to do so?

A few months ago, I gave a speech at the 92Y called “The State of World Jewry,” where I addressed these very questions. I argued that the state of world Jewry depends on the state of the free world. Right now, its condition is in jeopardy. Our holiday from history is over.

For those celebrating Passover, Chag Sameach. And as we say at the Passover seder, “Next year, may we all be free.”

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