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‘I have no campus to go back to’: Israeli students denounce US university demonstrations

Al Quds Day

Columbia University’s rabbi advised 290 Jewish students to leave campus due to safety concerns.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Israeli students studying at Columbia and Harvard Universities denounced American administrators for mishandling pro-Palestinian demonstrations on those campuses.

Demonstrators calling for universities to boycott and divest their holdings in Israel have set up tent camps and barricades at numerous American campuses.

Jews have been blocked from reaching classes and fear for their safety.

University officials in several instances threatened to expel or suspend students who did not evacuate tent encampments and on some campuses, police forcibly removed demonstrators.

Shimon Nataf, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the Columbia Law School in New York, told The Press Service of Israel that the protests are “fueled mostly by an antisemitic sentiment.”

Nataf, 38, was at Columbia when the protests began but returned to Jerusalem to spend the Passover holiday with family.

As the demonstrations escalated, Nataf canceled his plane ticket back to New York.

“We have reached a situation where, because of this atmosphere and because of the anemic and scandalous containment of antisemitism in Columbia, Jewish students have nowhere to go,” he told TPS-IL.

“They have no reason to come to campus, and this in my opinion is simply a scandal. I am a student like any other, and I have no campus to go to. I am very, very angry about the whole thing.”

Rabbi Elie Buechler, who is affiliated with Columbia University’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, made headlines on April 21 when he told a WhatsApp group of 290 Jewish students to leave campus because the university could not assure their safety.

Nonetheless, Nataf intends to eventually return to his studies in New York.

He said that while the Columbia administration has a zero-tolerance for demonstrations against gay rights, for example, “There is much more patience towards antisemitism. That’s all. That’s the whole story there.”

Police entered the campus at the request of the administration on Tuesday and dismantled the camp.

A second Israeli student, Guy told TPS-IL he intends to continue with plans to pursue his Ph.D in economics at Harvard, where a smaller protest camp has been set up.

The 28-year-old Jerusalem resident said he begins his studies in August and has only visited the Cambridge, Mass. campus for an open house.

Asked how he feels about the protests, Guy told TPS-IL, “This is quite a complex question for me. On the one hand, like many in Israel, I am very disturbed by the antisemitic phenomena that occur in the demonstrations and not least by the fact that they do not receive sharp condemnations from the demonstrators who are not necessarily antisemitic, but contribute to the normalization of antisemitism and give it legitimacy.”

He added, “Seeing videos of many protesters supporting Hamas and justifying the October 7 massacre is shocking and very disturbing.”

Guy went on to say, “On the other hand, I think there are also many legitimate criticisms of the demonstrations against Israel. In my opinion, it is legitimate to demonstrate against Israel’s war and policies, for example in issues such as humanitarian aid to the civilian population.”

Guy said he did not feel concerned about his safety. During his three-day visit to the university, “I received very respectful and pleasant treatment from the students and faculty of the Department of Economics, which significantly added to my sense of security ahead of the transition. Of course, there are some concerns due to the stories circulating on the networks, but my general impression is that, on the whole, Jewish and Israeli students at Harvard — of which there are quite a few — feel relatively safe in the area, even if less than before.”

He went on to add, “I really hope that this impression is correct.”

Meanwhile, Israeli President Isaac Herzog denounced the campus demonstrations as antisemitic and called on university administrators to take stronger action to protect Jewish students.

“We see prominent academic institutions, halls of history, culture, and education contaminated with hatred and anti-Semitism fueled by arrogance and ignorance, and driven by moral failings and disinformation. We watch in horror as the October 7 atrocities against Israel are celebrated and justified,” Herzog said.

“In the face of violence, harassment, and intimidation, when masked cowards smash windows and smash doors, when they attack the truth and manipulate history, together, we stand firm.”

At least 1,200 people were killed and 240 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Around 30 of the remaining 133 hostages are believed dead.

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