Columbia University’s Jewish students urged by rabbi to ‘return home’ after protests

Adam Gray/Reuters

Student activists occupied the lawns of Columbia University for several days, calling on the university to end its financial ties with Israel.


A rabbi affiliated with Columbia University’s Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus advised Jewish students to “return home as soon as possible and stay home” amid ongoing protests denouncing and demanding the war in Gaza that the university would be divested from Israel.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, the rabbi of the learning initiative at Columbia/Barnard Hillel, confirmed to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that he sent a WhatsApp message to a group of about 300 mostly Orthodox Jewish students, “strongly” recommending they return home to turn and stay there. His message came ahead of Passover, a major Jewish holiday that was set to begin Monday evening.

Recent events at the university “have made it clear that Columbia University Public Safety and the NYPD cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students,” Buechler wrote in the message.

“It pains me to say that I would strongly advise you to return home as soon as possible and to stay at home until the reality on and around campus has improved dramatically,” the message read.

The rabbi sent the message after videos circulated showing a man outside the university saying, “Never forget the seventh of October,” and “that won’t happen one more time, not five more times, not ten more times, not another hundred times. not another 1,000 times, but 10,000 times!”

In addition to the student protests on campus, groups of demonstrators have also gathered outside the campus gates. The video does not indicate whether the screamer is affiliated with the university.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest discussed the “unassociated incidents” in an Instagram story, writing that their “priority is the safety of everyone,” which “means not antagonizing counter-protesters or unnecessarily escalating situations.”

CNN has contacted Columbia University about Rabbi Buechler’s message to Jewish students.

Saturday was the fourth day of demonstrations at the prestigious school, with students camping overnight on the school’s lawns.

Columbia’s Campus Rabbi Yonah Hain shared a statement with CNN saying the university’s Center for Jewish Student Life is and will remain open and welcoming students.

On Thursday, the university’s president asked the NYPD to remove student protesters, leading to the arrest of more than 100 people. “The arrested students were peaceful, did not resist and said what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” said NYPD Chief of Police John Chell.

CNN has reached out to Columbia University and the university’s Socially Responsible Investment Advisory Committee for more information about their investments and for comment on the protest organizers’ allegations.

The encampment was jointly organized by Columbia University Apartheid Divest – a student-led coalition of more than a hundred organizations – Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, to protest what they describe as the university’s “continued financial investments in companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and military occupation of Palestine,” said a press release from Columbia University Apartheid Divest.

The protests come as the death toll from Israel’s war in Gaza continues to rise. At least 34,097 Palestinians have been killed and 76,980 injured since October, according to the enclave’s health ministry. Israel launched continued attacks after a Hamas attack on October 7 killed more than 1,200 people.

The demonstrations – and the suspension and arrests of the students involved – have led to solidarity rallies at other universities, including Yale, Harvard, the University of North Carolina and Boston University.

In January, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel was “plausibly” violating genocide laws in its war against Gaza and ordered Israel to take “all measures” to prevent genocide.

In response, Israel rejected what it called the “strongly distorted” accusation of genocide leveled against it by South Africa over its military action in Gaza, telling the United Nations Supreme Court that the case was an attempt to ” to distort the meaning of the term’. .