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‘We’re in a very dangerous place as a country,’ says Columbia law alum

Michael Rosenzweig, a new member of the board of directors at the Democratic Majority for Israel, told JNS about his views on rising antisemitism in academia, particularly at his alma mater.

Michael Rosenzweig
Michael Rosenzweig. Credit: Courtesy.

Democratic Majority for Israel announced a new member of its board of directors on April 18: lawyer, academic and nonprofit leader Michael Rosenzweig.

Mark Mellman, president and CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, said Rosenzweig’s “dedication to advancing the causes of democracy, education and the pro-Israel community aligns perfectly with our mission, and we are thrilled to welcome him aboard.”

Rosenzweig attended the University of Michigan and Columbia Law School, becoming a James Kent Scholar. During his career, he has served as a clerk in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and taught at the University of Michigan Law School. In the nonprofit world, he was CEO of Hands on Atlanta.

He told JNS how affected he has been by the rise of antisemitism on college campuses, and, in particular, at Columbia, his alma mater.

Rosenzweig said in an interview with JNS on April 19 that he was “gratified by the clarity” of testimony given two days earlier by Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia, at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. The next day, on April 18, Shafik called in the New York City Police Department to deal with pro-Hamas agitators at the Ivy League school, when more than 100 arrests were made.

“I believe what she did was appropriate,” he told JNS. “There can’t be any ambiguity. There can’t be any doubt or qualification. These behaviors—these threatening antisemitic behaviors—are simply unacceptable on the campus and everywhere else. And we have to be very clear in saying that out loud.”

On April 25, Rosenzweig again spoke to JNS—this time about the tent encampments and disruptive behavior of the past week, particularly on the first two days of Passover.

“The recent and growing turmoil on college campuses demonstrates how critically important it is to distinguish free speech from harassment and antisemitism,” he said. “Universities rightly uphold the ideal of free speech. But when a line is crossed and appropriate protest morphs into outright harassment and vicious antisemitism, universities have a clear obligation to stand firmly against the latter.”

Rosenzweig warned that failing to see that distinction yields “dangerous and fuzzy thinking, which has no place anywhere, but especially on college campuses claiming to impart the importance of critical thought.”

He added, “I think we’re in a very dangerous place as a country. I think that extremism has been given license across the political spectrum. There’s antisemitism on the right. There’s antisemitism on the left. And just as there is racism and homophobia and so on, they’re all grievously unacceptable.”

Rosenzweig pointed to an ongoing issue with the quality of learning in America: “One of the problems on campus today is a function of what’s happened to our educational system. There simply is not the same emphasis on careful critical thinking that we like to associate with our best universities and colleges, so you see people on campuses often students saying outrageously erroneous things.”

He mentioned a survey indicating that many protesting students sounding calls of “from the river to the sea” don’t even know what bodies of water the slogan references, saying “that level of ignorance is horrible, and I think it is an indictment of our educational system.”

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