White House condemns ‘despicable anti-Semitism’ and terrorist rhetoric at anti-Israel protests at Columbia University

The White House denounced alleged anti-Semitism at Columbia University ahead of Passover as protests against the war in Gaza continue.

Student demonstrators have demanded that the university divest from “companies complicit in genocide” as the country enters its seventh month of war since the October 7 attacks. Protests continued into their fifth day on Sunday, but reports of anti-Semitism and violent rhetoric have emerged.

The White House condemned any hate-filled, targeted speech. “While every American has the right to peaceful protection, the calls for violence and physical intimidation against Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly anti-Semitic, unconscionable and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America. America,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.

“And repeating the rhetoric of terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable. We condemn these statements in the strongest terms,” he added.

The statement comes hours after a Columbia/Barnard Hillel rabbi advised about 300 mostly Orthodox Jewish students to stay home given the “terrible and tragic” situation on the Ivy League campus.

Rabbi Elie Buechler wrote in a WhatsApp message shared with CNN’s Jake Tapper that he “strongly” recommends that they “return home as soon as possible and stay home until the reality on and around campus has dramatically improved.”

“The events of the past few days, especially last night, have made it clear that Columbia University Public Safety and the NYPD cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students in the face of extreme anti-Semitism and anarchy,” Rabbi Buechler wrote.

A Jewish student told CNN: “Columbia students organizing in solidarity with Palestine – including Jewish students – have faced harassment, doxxing and now arrest by the NYPD. These are the top threats to the safety of Jewish Columbia students.”

“On the other hand, student protesters have been leading interfaith congregational prayers for several days now, and tomorrow Passover Seder will be held at the Gaza Solidarity Camp,” he continued. “Saying that student protesters are a threat to Jewish students is a dangerous slander.”

The rabbi sent the message ahead of Passover, which begins on Monday.

The university’s president was questioned by Congress this week about anti-Semitism on college campuses. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar pressured Dr. Minouche Shafik over the attacks on pro-Palestinian protesters.

Dr. Shafik sparked outrage among some students when she suggested to the House of Representatives that some of the chants often heard at pro-Palestinian protests were anti-Semitic.

A day later, arrests and suspensions began on campus. Dr. Shafik sent a letter to the Columbia community saying she had to “make a decision that I hoped would never be necessary.”

“Out of grave concern for the safety of Columbia’s campus, I have authorized the New York Police Department to begin clearing the South Lawn of Morningside campus encampment set up by students early Wednesday morning,” the spokesperson said . school president added.

“The individuals who established the encampment violated a long list of rules and policies,” she wrote.

On the same day, Rep. Omar’s daughter was among a wave of students suspended from school this week for participating in the protest camp.

The protests are ongoing as more than 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of Israel’s counter-offensive to the October 7, 2023 Hamas attacks, which killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostage in Israel.

On Saturday, the House of Representatives approved a major aid package for Israel and Gaza. The bill amounts to donating roughly $4 billion to Israel’s defense and about $9 billion to humanitarian aid in Gaza. The measure still needs to be passed by the Senate, which is expected to happen next week.