I was a deeply unpopular student at Columbia for a simple reason: I was a Zionist. When I posted photos on Instagram of swastikas graffitied across campus, I received private messages telling me I was “attention-seeking.” When I hosted pro-Israel events, commenters online accused me of blood libel.
I left Columbia earlier this year in part because of this bullying. And now, after more than 1,300 Jews were slaughtered by Hamas in Israel, the hatred that once hid behind my Instagram DMs is appearing in broad daylight right at my alma mater, an Ivy League bastion that has educated politicians, CEOs, and Nobel Prize winners.
On Wednesday, female Maxwell Friedman, 19, was arrested and charged with assault after she beat an Israeli student with a stick outside the school’s main library.
The following day, hundreds of students gathered outside Columbia’s Alma Mater statue to cheer on the mass genocide of Jews. (In this, they were merely echoing the views published by tenured professor Joseph Massad, who described the scene of “Palestinian fighters from Gaza breaking through Israel’s prison fence” as “awesome.”)
For hours, students encircled the quad, waving Palestinian flags and chanting the ten rally cries sanctioned by on-campus activists, including “End the Zionist occupation” and “Stop defending apartheid.”
Many covered their faces, pulling sweatshirts over their heads in the face of cameras. A few wore N95 masks, sunglasses, and hats all at once. Earlier, one of the student groups behind the event, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, encouraged participants to cover their faces “for safety from doxxing.”
A counterprotest of Jewish students stood mostly silent except for one point, when they sang in Hebrew. Later, as they poured out of the front gate on Broadway, some walked with their heads hung low, their eyes averted.
“Something has changed,” Sophie Kasson, an 19-year-old Jewish student at Columbia, told The Free Press.
This weekend, she says, is parents’ weekend. She had been looking forward to bringing her mother to a Shabbat service at the university’s Hillel, a community for Jews on campus.
But former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal has called for a day of global jihad on Friday, and the group’s commander Mahmoud al-Zahar said “the entire planet will be under our law; there will be no more Jews or Christian traitors.”
Given the threats, she might just stay inside.
“My parents have warned me plenty of times that this isn’t really the safest place to be Jewish,” she says of the campus, which she says has “a very big pro-Palestine movement,” endorsed by many professors.
She pauses, fumbling to grab her necklace: “And now with all of this happening, they’re increasingly worried. And so am I.”
To be clear, this is not just a Columbia problem.
On Tuesday, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a Jewish student’s dorm room was set on fire. No other door in the hall was vandalized, and the student believes she was targeted due to her outspoken support of Israel. Police are now investigating this as a possible hate crime.
At Stanford on Wednesday, the Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a “teach-in” attended by about 250 people, where a source told The Free Press that a student speaker advised the crowd that the Israeli government’s “goal is to kill all Palestinians.”
On Thursday at Stanford it was reported that an instructor divided his students at a mandatory undergraduate course called “Civil, Liberal and Global Education” into two camps: Jews and non-Jews. The teacher told the Jewish students to gather their things, stand in a corner, and said, “This is what Israel does to the Palestinians.” The teacher then asked, “How many people died in the Holocaust?” When a student said, “Six million,” the teacher replied, “Colonizers killed more than 6 million. Israel is a colonizer.” In a public statement, Stanford revealed multiple students had reported this conduct, and it was now investigating “identity-based targeting of students.”
Also on Thursday, George Mason University in Virginia students waved Palestinian flags and chanted “glory to the resistance fighters.”
At UCLA, many hundreds of students gathered to chant: “intifada, intifada”—a call for an violent uprising against Israel.
At the University of Washington, a crowd of Students for Justice in Palestine filled the air with chants of “There is only one solution” as a Jewish student cried and begged an administrator, “They want us dead. How are you allowing this?” Olivia Feldman, the 20-year-old co-president of Students Supporting Israel at the college, told The Free Press, “I’ve been called a terrorist and a colonizer. I’ve been called a baby killer in the past. A lot of students are really afraid to go to class tomorrow.”
On Thursday, a Fox News reporter said that at least three protesters at the University of Massachusetts Amherst followed her into a parking garage, demanding to know her ethnicity, address, and phone number. When she refused, one of the protesters told her “I’ll have my lawyers contact you” and “have a terrible day.” (One of our reporters was denied an interview at a rally earlier this week because she was not Arab.)
It’s happening off campuses, too. Jewish people across the West—from London and Paris to New York and Sydney—are seeing the creeping telltale signs of hate.
The NYPD has been ordered to be out in force and in uniform all day Friday, amid fears of violence. Religious centers have been told to ensure all their doors are locked and guards remain on high alert. Jewish day schools across the city are ratcheting up security. Jews aren’t the only ones suffering from violence; three Palestinian supporters were reportedly attacked by a group waving Israeli flags on Wednesday night.
In Toronto, three men were arrested for making threats to the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto. Authorities are now investigating the incident as a hate crime.
In Paris, after the government banned pro-Palestinian protests out of fear of civil unrest, several hundred still showed up in the downtown area chanting “Israel murderer.” Riot police eventually disbanded the crowd using tear gas.
In front of the Sydney Opera House in Australia Tuesday night, over one thousand protestors demanded “gas the Jews.” A group of men attended another rally in Melbourne that night, where they reportedly said they were “on the hunt to kill Jews.”
In London, women in hijabs were seen ripping down posters of Israeli hostages from buildings in the streets and scurrying away. At least three Jewish schools—Ateres Beis Yaakov Primary School, Torah Vodaas Primary School, and Menorah High School—are closed until Monday as a precautionary measure.
Alexis Price told The Free Press that her childrens’ Jewish day school in north London is trying to stay open while amping up security. Normally, the school has two guards and a fence. On Friday, they are beefing up with two police officers and three community volunteer guards.
“It’s going to look like a prison,” said the 40-year-old mother of two kids, aged nine and five.
Price said boys have been told not to wear their kippahs on their way to school. She added that she knows families who’ve pulled their kids from class all week to keep them safe.
“I discussed it with my husband because I am scared, but we decided to send the kids because what sort of message would we be sending them if we didn’t?” Price said. “We don’t want to let the terrorists win.”
Aliza Licht, a 49-year-old entrepreneur and author based in New York City, told The Free Press that while her inbox and social media feeds have been filled with fear, her local community has inspired her with their strength.
“We know that if we support each other, we will get past this,” Licht said.
On Friday, she is sending her daughter to school and later that night, she will join a group of New Yorkers who are planning to lean out of their windows or head to their rooftops and sing the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
“My grandparents did not survive the Holocaust for me to be silent,” she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story identified Maxwell Friedman as a Columbia student.
Free Press staffers Olivia Reingold, Francesca Block, and Julia Steinberg and London-based freelance writer Nicole Lambert contributed reporting to this piece. Read Bari’s column Campus Cowardice and Where the Buck Stops.
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