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the pulpit

Speaking at Columbia University is a privilege, not a right

Students should be able to live and learn in a place where hatred will never be invited in or celebrated.

Columbia University. Credit: Pixabay.
Columbia University. Credit: Pixabay.
Romy Ronen and Michale Schueler

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia, is expected to address Columbia University’s World Leadership Forum on Sept. 25.

Dr. Mohamad has a long history of blatant anti-Semitism and fear-mongering. According to a 2012 post on his blog, he is “proud to be labeled anti-Semitic.” In his autobiography, A Doctor in the House, he claims that “Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively.” Dr. Mohamad has also used known tropes of Holocaust denial to make political points, stating in one BBC interview that “you cannot even mention that in the Holocaust it was not six million [Jews killed in the Holocaust].”

In 1997, he gave a speech claiming that the failure of the ringgit was due to a “Jewish agenda” led by Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros, peddling anti-Semitic tropes of “Jewish money” and a worldwide Jewish conspiracy in order to placate his constituents.

It is true that the First Amendment guarantees that any individual, including Dr. Mohamad, has the right to speak his mind without government censure. However, it does not mean that a person can say anything without social and/or academic consequences. Speaking at Columbia University is a privilege, not a right.

Why should anti-Semitism be outwardly expressed in a forum as prestigious as Columbia? Why should the 10,000 Jews on campus have to feel targeted, unsafe and uncomfortable? Why should hate speech and bigotry be given a free pass? Why should the already increasingly anti-Semitic environments on campuses worldwide be further exacerbated by a man who has unequivocally presented himself as a hater of the Jewish people? Former president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a proud anti-Semite, was already hosted by the Columbia’s World Leadership Forum. Why should this occur again?

We call on Columbia’s World Leadership Forum to cancel this event. If this is not possible, we call on the president of Columbia University, Dr. Lee Bollinger, to enforce a cancellation or, at least, denounce Dr. Mohamad’s previous anti-Semitic remarks on stage. Columbia University students have the right to live and learn in a place where hatred will never be invited in or celebrated. As E. E. Cummings wrote in his own writings regarding anti-Semitism, ”hatred bounces.”

Romy Ronen and Michale Schueler are sophomores at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Romy Ronen is a member of the Israeli-American Council-Act.IL New York Media Room and a board member of Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University.

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