OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Jewish students, do not go home!

An open letter by Columbia University students demonstrates the courage that the university, its students and the country need.

Protesters hold anti-Israel, anti-Jewish banners outside of Columbia University's campus after the academic institution suspended its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: Here Now/Shutterstock.
Protesters hold anti-Israel, anti-Jewish banners outside of Columbia University's campus after the academic institution suspended its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, Nov. 15, 2023. Credit: Here Now/Shutterstock.
Charles A. Stone
Charles A. Stone is a professor in the Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship at the Koppelman School of Business at Brooklyn College.

In reaction to the antisemitic rhetoric and violence radiating out of the Columbia University Gaza Solidarity Encampment and the mob outside the university gates, Rabbi Elie Buechler of Columbia advised Jewish students on April 21 to go home.

Sadly, this was necessary advice. The protests in and around Columbia were seething with antisemitic hate. A broiling antisemitic mob is only an inch away from becoming an antisemitic riot.

Tragically, Columbia has devolved into a forum for pro-terrorist and antisemitic agitation. But so long as anti-Zionism is treated as a legitimate ideology by professors, students and administrators, antisemitism will continue to contaminate academia.

But Jewish students should not go home. They should face down hate and defend their civil rights. They should walk in groups to their campus library and do some research on the 1960s sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensborough, N.C.

They will be inspired by what four African-American men—“The Greensboro Four”—accomplished there. The men were students at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina. They decided to hold a sit-in to confront segregation at the “Whites Only” Woolworth lunch counter.

Their choice to sit peacefully and endure hatred and ignorance until they were served helped make America a better place. They inspired students across the South to hold similar sit-ins. Make no mistake, the four men certainly feared for their lives as they sat day after day at the lunch counter. But they did not go home.

The four authors of the open letter “In Our Name: A Message from Jewish Students at Columbia University” showed similar courage.

The letter makes a passionate defense of Zionism and Jewish identity. It calls on fellow students to defend students’ right to be both Zionists and respected members of the student body. It asks all students to engage without rage.

The four authors started a movement that will hopefully create a wave of support. Since May 8, when the letter began to circulate, it has been signed by 679 Columbia, Barnard and Jewish Theological Seminary students. The number of signatories is still growing.

The letter asserts, “We are targeted for our belief that Israel, our ancestral and religious homeland, has a right to exist. We are targeted by those who misuse the word ‘Zionist’ as a sanitized slur for ‘Jew,’ synonymous with ‘racist,’ ‘oppressive’ or ‘genocidal.’ We know all too well that antisemitism is shapeshifting.”

The letter acknowledges that while people can debate the policies of the Israeli government, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute. It is not up for discussion. Neither is the Jewish people’s right to exist.

If campus antisemitism continues in the fall, Jewish students should not go home.  If their classmates applaud terror, spout virulent antisemitic threats or engage in antisemitic violence, they should not go home. If their classmates advocate for the elimination of Israel, they should not go home. If their classmates defame, slander and libel them, they should not go home.

When the fall semester begins, the signatories of “In Our Name: A Message from Jewish Students at Columbia University” must set the tone for the rest of the country. Their decision to attend classes rather than go home can save Columbia from itself. The signatories will be doing a service to future generations of students who genuinely value civil debate, the pursuit of knowledge and scientific discovery.

I believe that the majority of students there are committed to the stated values of their university: “At Columbia, we strive to educate future generations, create knowledge that will take humanity forward, and invest in community, both locally and globally. Our mission cannot succeed without a commitment to thoughtful, rigorous debate that respects our collective rights to learn, work and live together, free of bigotry, intimidation and harassment.”

If Columbia no longer embraces these values, then it needs to be fixed—immediately.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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