26 April 2024

The role of rich benefactors in persuading private American universities to suppress free speech on their campuses was exposed at Harvard earlier this year when a billionaire hedge fund manager openly demanded the resignation its president for allegedly failing to suppress Palestine solidarity demonstrations. Here is another example, this time at Columbia, likewise a private Ivy League college. The Congressmen and women referred to in the article have likely benefited from the largesse of AIPAC in gaining or retaining office.

Major Jewish funder steps back as Columbia University rocked by anti-Israel protests

There were also calls for the resignation of Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik.

Robert Kraft, the Jewish billionaire donor who Columbia University’s Jewish student center is named after, said Monday that he “no longer” recognized the school and would stop supporting it “until corrective action is taken,” after a weekend of anti-Israel protests on campus led Columbia’s president to take the extraordinary step of moving all classes online out of concern for students’ safety.

Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, graduated from Columbia in 1963 and has been a major philanthropic backer of both Jewish life and athletics on campus. His $11.5 million gift led the campaign to create the Kraft Center, which opened in 2000 and serves as headquarters for the campus Hillel.

Tensions remained high Monday near Columbia’s gates at Broadway and 116th Street, where around 100 pro-Palestinian activists gathered. Two yelled “Free Palestine” as they were handcuffed. Many more congregated on the campus inside the gate, which was locked to outsiders.

“The recent harassment and rhetoric is vile and abhorrent,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who visited the school Monday morning. Four Democratic representatives, all of whom are Jewish, held a press conference outside the school Monday afternoon to voice their support. There are roughly 5,000 Jewish students at Columbia, comprising roughly 17% of its student population, according to Hillel International.

The turmoil at Columbia, which has seen ongoing demonstrations against the war in Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, intensified in recent days. Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafiktestified before a congressional committee on Wednesday, where some House members grilled her on the college’s response to antisemitism, while others questioned her commitment to protecting pro-Palestinian speech.

All 10 of New York’s Republican House representatives signed a letter calling for the resignation of Shafik, who is hoping to avoid the fates of her colleagues at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who were ousted from their jobs after a similar House hearing in December.

Students and local activist groups gathered on and off the campus over the weekend to protest the administration’s authorization of a police crackdown on students who had pitched tents — they call it the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” — on Columbia’s lawn and the suspension of three students for their involvement in the protests. More than 100 people were arrested Thursday, including Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, who leads the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Columbia and Barnard, advised over 290 students in a WhatsApp message to return home. “It deeply pains to me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” Buechler wrote.

Rabbi Yuda Drizin, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch at Columbia, passed out boxes of shmurah matzo to Jewish students on Sunday. “They see a rabbi handing out matzo proudly with a smile,” Drizin said, “and they feel like they are not alone; that someone is standing up for them.

Along with his wife, Naomi, Drizin plans to host a Seder on campus Monday night, and has hired extra security. “We refuse to yield to the forces of hate,” the rabbi said. “Instead, we’ll raise our voices in song and dance throughout the nights of Passover.”

At Yale nearly 50 people were arrested Monday, and more than 1,500 alumni, students and parents called on the school to divest from companies that are supporting the war in Israel. That follows an incident there Saturday night where a Jewish student reporting on protests was jabbed in the eye with a Palestinian flag. It incident occurred after a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators allegedly formed a human chain around two visibly Jewish students trying to enter campus.

There were also reports on Monday of pro-Palestinian activists setting up encampments at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and at Tufts University and MIT, both in the Boston area. Harvard is planning to shut down the 25-acre Harvard Yard for most of the week.

Mira Fox and Jacob Kornbluh contributed reporting.