Following the weekend of Oct. 7, two events confused Columbia University: An annual holiday and a horrific act of terrorism.
First, the holiday: Oct. 9 was Columbus Day, an occasion that offends many. Columbia chooses to celebrate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” instead in order to, in their view, honor the oppressed over the oppressors. The university affirmed its commitment to “Healing & Restoration of Indigenous Peoples and their Homeland” and stayed open for business.
Columbia, of course, is literally named Columbia University. To ignore Columbus at Columbia requires either incuriosity or cognitive dissonance.
Clearly, Columbia is confused.
Its confusion appears to be compounded by the very fact that Jews are indigenous to the Land of Israel. Columbia seems to find it difficult to fit this fact into its grand narratives of oppressors and oppressed. Rather than wading into the historical context of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the university simply erases the Jews from discussions of peoples who deserve “healing and restoration.”
Next, the horrific: On Oct. 7, in an act of racist, genocidal evil, Hamas attacked Israel, committing a series of demonic crimes against humanity. The details are now nauseatingly familiar, but they must be spoken. Terrorists from Hamas murdered infants, raped women, paraded corpses, kidnapped children and deliberately slaughtered over two hundred peaceniks at a concert. There are at least 1,400 dead, including dozens of Americans, and over 200 kidnapped. Each victim is a human soul that deserves recognition.
But Columbia University apparently refuses to recognize these human souls. It has studiously refrained from condemning Hamas and its war crimes. This self-styled bastion of social justice, home to both Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Critical Race Theory, preferred not to take a stand against this act of attempted genocide.
This is much in contrast to university conduct when non-Jewish human beings are involved. A week after the murder of George Floyd, Columbia’s doctors and nurses marked nine minutes of silence to symbolically express “unity against racism and a shared commitment to making Black lives matter.” Following the Supreme Court decision against affirmative action, then-Columbia President Lee Bollinger lamented that “it feels tragic” and Columbia’s deans confirmed their commitment to promoting diversity by other means.
In response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage, however, current President Minouche Shafik expressed vague concern and ambivalence: “Little is certain except that fighting and human suffering are not likely to end soon.”
Little is certain?
In fact, a great many things are certain: Hamas’s act of depraved inhumanity was evil. It was racist. It should be condemned. If Shafik can describe this as “little,” then her capacity for compassion is decidedly paltry. If she really believes it is not “certain”—I very much doubt she does—then she is willfully ignorant.
Shafik went on to “strongly encourage Columbia faculty to find ways of bringing clarity and context to this painful moment,” while steering clear of clarity or context herself. She concluded by expressing her commitment to “these values” without bothering to say what “these values” might be. Remarkably, statements from the NFL and Playboy (not traditionally known for their moral leadership) put Shafik’s absurd gibberish to shame.
Columbia can and will continue hosting heated debates over Israel. There will be time to do so in the coming months. But now is the time to condemn evil without “context” or qualification. Let it be said again: Hamas is evil. Its members are evil. Everyone who took part in the barbarism of Oct. 7 is evil. To say otherwise is racist and inhuman.
On a personal note, I am sad that I must write these words anonymously. But I must be realistic about the future of my research, my patients, my trainees, my salary and my career. And at the moment, it is unclear what kind of speech is tolerated at Columbia. In 2002, Joseph Massad stated that as a “Jewish supremacist and racist state,” Israel “should be threatened.” In 2009, Columbia made him a tenured professor. It is now clear that Columbia granted tenure to a genocidal racist. Following the Oct. 7 attacks, Massad expressed “jubilation and awe” at the atrocities and suffered no consequences.
Contrast this with the case of Jeffrey Lieberman, former chair of the Department of Psychiatry, who wrote a bizarre tweet referring to a Black woman as a “freak of nature” due to the darkness of her skin. Despite quickly apologizing to the “Black community, to women” and his colleagues, he was suspended and resigned. Columbia can defend Massad on the grounds of free speech or defenestrate Lieberman on the grounds of social justice. It cannot do both without hypocrisy.
Even more concerning was the recent physical assault on an Israeli student following the victim’s peaceful expression of support for Israel. I have yet to find a statement from Columbia regarding the incident.
As a result, I am not confident that my views can be expressed without jeopardizing my position. It now appears that genocidal racism is acceptable at Columbia. Condemnations of genocidal racism, such as my own, may not be.
Columbia is confused. Or it is evil. It must choose. If it is the former, then it needs to end its confusion once and for all.
The author is an assistant professor at the Columbia University Medical Center who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by campus antisemites.