newsSchools & Higher Education

Israeli Columbia professor: ‘The worst is yet to come’

Shai Davidai, who has been denied entry to the campus after pro-Palestinian protesters took over the public plaza, warns that the threat to Jews will only grow.

Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia University, testifies about campus antisemitism before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 17, 2024. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia University, testifies about campus antisemitism before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 17, 2024. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

“I didn’t think something like this could happen in 2024,” said Israeli Columbia University assistant professor Shai Davidai on Tuesday, a day after he was barred from entering the university’s main campus due to ongoing pro-Palestinian protests there.

The Ivy League university has become the center of U.S. anti-Israel protests, inspiring similar protests at other universities across the country.

“What has been happening here in recent days did not happen overnight. It was built over half a year in which they called for attacking Jews, encouraging an intifada, calling for violence; but no one was willing to address it,” said Davidai.

On Monday, Davidai was refused entry to the campus after security officials said they could not vouch for his safety, denying him the opportunity to go to work at the Management Division of Columbia Business School, where he teaches and researches. 

The elite university’s main court had been converted into a “tent city” hosting hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters without authorization, some wearing keffiyehs and waving signs calling for an intifada.

“The tents came after the protesters understood the laws don’t apply to them,” said Davidai.

By the time Columbia University President Minouche Shafik testified before the U.S. House in mid-April, protest tents had already been pitched all over the institution’s main plaza.

“There is a process of brainwashing here with doctrine,” said Davidai. “Like how lawyers, doctors, and journalists in Germany suddenly supported the extermination of Jews and Hitler. We’re talking about students and faculty who underwent a brainwashing process,” he added. “This is indeed a similar process to what happened in Germany, but it is more accelerated due to social media and because the universities have given it their seal of approval,” he said. 

Several days before the interview, NYPD officers entered Columbia to disperse the massive protests. Around 108 students were arrested for trespassing but were soon released.

Davidai sees President Shafik as solely responsible for the chaos and severe harm to Jewish students’ sense of security.

“The NYPD is ready and prepared to enter the campus and disperse the protests, but the only person choosing to keep the Hamas supporters inside and the police out is the university president,” he said. “The police want to protect the Jewish students, but the university is not allowing it.”

Davidai criticized Shafik for taking six months to publicly use the word “Hamas.” She “finally admitted Hamas is related to all this during the hearing in the House, but the university cares about two things—money and public relations. If they let the police in, it will hurt their public image,” he said.

Shafik can take action, he continued, but “doesn’t want to.”

“Right now, the university is negotiating with terrorists, and we can’t know what will happen next,” he said. “The university is not clearing the illegal encampments because it is negotiating with the protest leaders. These ‘leaders’ are brainwashing the protesters, taking their phones and forbidding them from speaking to the media, while the university administration negotiates with these Hamasniks.”

Davidai emphasized the harm already done to Jewish students’ security on campus.

“Most of them…already started leaving campus between Saturday and Sunday; they were simply afraid and fled. They were afraid for their lives, just like that,” he said. “Most of them don’t want to return to campus and I don’t blame them. I also don’t feel comfortable. I don’t go near there, I saw the brainwashing that’s going on there, and it’s clear the university can’t vouch for my safety. There are currently people on campus holding signs saying ‘We support Hamas rockets, the Al-Qassam Brigades, here is your next target’ with an arrow pointing at Jewish students. I’m not letting them try this on me.” 

Since Oct. 7, the respected professor of social psychology and son of the founders of the cardiac pacemaker unit at Sheba Medical Center has been voicing his opinion regarding the university and criticizing its conduct in the face of the displays of hatred on campus. His viral video speaking on the university plaza about the administration’s refusal to speak out against student organizations supporting terrorism took the internet by storm in the war’s early days.

“I’m a lecturer, I’m Israeli, but above all, I’m a father,” he said. “I have two beautiful children, and I’m speaking to you as a father. And I want you to know: We can’t protect your children from student organizations supporting terrorism, because the president of Columbia University is not willing to speak out against student organizations supporting terrorism.”

Davidai acknowledged that the viral video “marked” him in the eyes of the university’s administration.

“Since February, they’ve been investigating me to prevent me from speaking out against the administration,” he said. “They’re trying to frame me on the basis of that video, claiming I harassed students. But they also want to send a message to the other Jewish and Israeli professors—not to take a stance,” he added.

“The university is essentially telling them, ‘If you do what Davidai did, then we’ll treat you like Davidai.’ But they thought that if they questioned me, I would be silent. The opposite turned out—I will not be silent. Unfortunately, this frightens the other Jewish professors,” he continued.

“The commencement ceremony for the graduates is supposed to take place in about two weeks, but [the students’] families don’t know what’s going on. Will they be safe on campus? Will there even be an event? Personally, I don’t know what will happen to my professional future, nothing is known, except for the fact that the university is not bringing in the police to disperse the occupation.”

Professor Davidai believes “the worst is yet to come.”

“As long as we have Hamas-supporting lecturers on campus, the situation will not change. They are going to receive a new batch of students in August, whose minds they will also brainwash,” he said. “So long as the law is not enforced and so long as they don’t state that everyone needs to be protected, this will not change. It’s very easy to close your eyes when it’s about Jews, because we are a very small minority here, and they don’t care about us. So they prefer to sacrifice us as an offering so that they can prove their liberalism.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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