EAST VILLAGE — The Israel-Hamas war has led to a shocking rise of antisemitism on college campuses across the country, according to concerned advocates and students, who said the situation is growing more dangerous by the day.
In the latest development, a group of Jewish students at Columbia University held a press conference on Monday, Oct. 30, criticizing the school for what they said is an inadequate job of protecting them in the wake of incidents that included an assault on an Israeli student who was attacked while putting up “Kidnapped” posters of people held by Hamas.
“The university’s inaction has made us question whether Columbia University can actually maintain an environment where all students feel welcome and safe on campus,” said student Yoni Kurtz.
“This hate will not disappear on its own,” he added.
Meanwhile, a group of more than 100 Columbia University professors signed a letter defending pro-Palestinian students who had supported Hamas and called the Oct. 7 attack a military action. The professors urged the school to protect the students from reverberations.
In another troubling development, Cornell University was on alert on Sunday, Oct. 29, after threats of violence against Jewish students at the Ivy League school were posted online. The Center for Jewish Living, a building on campus where kosher meals are served, was also targeted in the online postings.
The threats included a call for people to slit Jewish students’ throats, the Cornell Sun, the student newspaper, reported. Cornell Hillel, a Jewish student organization, urged students to stay away from the center as a precaution.
In a statement, Cornell President Martha Pollack called the threats “horrendous, antisemitic messages.”
Cornell University officials contacted the FBI to report the threats and vowed to protect students.
In a post on X, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the threats “disgusting and hateful,” adding that they were “the latest in a series of concerning incidents on college campuses.”
The threats come in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel — which killed more than 1,400 people — and Israel’s subsequent military actions in Gaza, where 8,000 Palestinians have died.
The conflict has led to demonstrations by pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel advocates in cities all over the world, including New York, where pro-Palestinian protesters shut down the Brookyn Bridge on Sunday.
The divisions played out at The Cooper Union on Wednesday, Oct. 25, when a pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the school’s Foundation Building spilled inside. Some protesters broke away from the main group, entered the building, banged on the windows of the library chanting anti-Israel slogans and pushed their posters against the glass.
Several Jewish students who were inside the building at the time were so alarmed that they went into the library, locked the door, and remained there until the demonstration was over.
NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said, “There were no direct threats” and “there was no danger and there were no threats to any students in that school.” The NYPD did have officers on hand at the school the following day.
The tensions were still in evidence when a press conference called by Brooklyn City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov on Thursday, Oct. 26, erupted into free-for-all after a student shouted down a lawyer hired by the parents of the students who had barricaded themselves in the library.
Lawyer Gerard Filitti was announcing that the families intended to sue The Cooper Union for failure to secure the Jewish students’ safety when a young woman emerged from the crowd to confront him.
“This is fake news!” the woman shouted. “That is not what happened. I was there.”
The woman, who identified herself as a Cooper Union student but did not give her name, said the protesters who entered the Foundation Building were not violent or pro-Hamas, but pro-Palestinian. “There is harm happening to both the Palestinians and the Jewish students,” she said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we’re dealing with,” Filitti said, adding that outbursts like this were part of the reason Jewish students feel like they can’t freely express their views on campus.
The students who had been hiding in the library had been scheduled to speak at the press conference but backed out at the last minute, Filitti said. “They are afraid to be here today because of what happened yesterday,” he said.
The mother of one of the Jewish students said “my son has been afraid to come to school since Monday, Oct. 9,” the first day of classes after the Hamas attack on Israel.
Vernikov, who had been in contact with the students, charged that Cooper Union President Laura Sparks failed to protect the students’ safety and called on her to resign.
The Cooper Union would not comment on the calls for Sparks’ resignation but referred a reporter to a statement the president issued in which she cited that there was “erroneous and conflicting information circulating” about the Oct. 25 incident.
“There is no place at Cooper for hateful and violent language or actions,” Sparks stated.
Gabriel Kepets, a Cooper Union graduate student studying engineering, said he wasn’t afraid as a Jew to attend classes but added that he was concerned about the library incident. “It’s very upsetting,” he told The Tablet.
The Ohio State Senate has been cataloging anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in recent weeks, including:
• A Columbia University professor called the Hamas attack “awesome” and a “stunning victory.” His comments stirred calls for his resignation. A petition calling for him to resign garnered 30,000 signatures.
• A Yale University professor wrote on X that Israel is “a murderous, genocidal settler state” and Palestinians have every right to resist through armed struggle.
• A professor at Stanford University was suspended after he allegedly forced Jewish students in two of his classes to stand in a corner while he called them “colonizers.” The same professor also allegedly called Hamas members “freedom fighters.”
• A University of Virginia professor is under investigation for allegedly offering students extra credit if they attended an event sponsored by the group Students for Justice in Palestine to “stand in solidarity with Palestinians resisting occupation.”