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Rabbi urges Jewish students to leave Columbia for their safety

A well-known rabbi from Columbia University and its affiliated Barnard College called on Jewish students on Sunday to “return home as soon as possible” after pro-Palestinian protests on campus that he said have threatened their safety as tensions escalate. at the Ivy League school in New York City continues to rise.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, director of the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program at Columbia and the all-female Barnard, recommended that students stay away from the university until safety conditions are significantly improved.

“What we are seeing on and around campus is terrible and tragic,” Buechler said in an online post. “The events of the past few days, especially last night, have made it clear that Columbia University public safety and the (New York Police Department) cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students in the face of extreme anti-Semitism and anarchy.”

Buechler declined to answer questions in an email to USA TODAY, citing his duties caring for students and preparing for the upcoming Passover, but he confirmed he sent the message.

Columbia is the latest American school to face growing campus unrest over the war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by Hamas’ brutal border attacks on Israeli communities on October 7. Israel’s subsequent bombardment of Gaza has created a serious humanitarian crisis there and sparked nationwide protests. demand a ceasefire.

On Thursday, New York police arrested more than a hundred protesters in Columbia who had set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” a day earlier. Columbia University Apartheid Divest, along with Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, said it organized the encampment to “protest Columbia University’s continued financial investments in companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine .”

Students occupy the Columbia University campus in support of Palestinians in New York City on April 19, 2024.Students occupy the Columbia University campus in support of Palestinians in New York City on April 19, 2024.

Students occupy the Columbia University campus in support of Palestinians in New York City on April 19, 2024.

Columbia student sees a ‘tsunami of hate’

David Lederer listens to the rabbi’s words as tensions rise. As a sophomore financial engineering student at Columbia, Lederer told TODAY via email that he planned to stay at the school “despite a tsunami of hate that has consumed our campus,” but he changed his mind after his experience convinced him Saturday evening it was no longer safe.

Lederer said he, his brother Jonathan and a group of fellow Jewish students went to a site near the pro-Palestinian demonstrations to sing peace songs and show their support for Israel.

A masked person snatched one of their Israeli flags, said Lederer, who provided it video capturing that incident and others. When Jonathan tried to retrieve the flag, he was “surrounded by a crowd,” Lederer said, adding that the agitators threw objects at his brother, one of which hit him hard in the face.

Later, his group saw other Jewish students being harassed, having their own Israeli flag taken away and nearly set on fire until they intervened. The other students were then “chased from campus by the crowd and booed with anti-Semitic statements such as: ‘Go back to Poland,’” Lederer said, pointing to the absence of security officers at the scene.

“Columbia has lost its campus. Jewish students are no longer safe on campus,” said Lederer, who was irritated by the sight of pro-Hamas signs during the protest. “It is Columbia’s failure to enforce its own policies that has led to an incredibly dangerous situation on campus for its Jewish students.”

An even more threatening sign was held by a woman with her face covered, alluding to the Hamas military branch with the words “Al-Qasam’s next targets,” while an arrow pointed to Lederer and his associates.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, considered a terrorist group by several countries, was deeply involved in the October 7 attacks.

Student activists set up a protest camp in support of Palestinians at the New School on April 21, 2024 in New York City.Student activists set up a protest camp in support of Palestinians at the New School on April 21, 2024 in New York City.

Student activists set up a protest camp in support of Palestinians at the New School on April 21, 2024 in New York City.

White House: ‘Attacking Jewish students is unconscionable’

On Sunday, the White House condemned all attacks on Jewish students on college campuses.

“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,” said deputy press secretary White House, Andrew Bates. said. “And repeating the rhetoric of terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable.”

In a letter Friday to university President Nemat (Minouche) Shafik, the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association alleged that students have been suspended and that some faculty members are involved in the protests, expressed concern about the “imminent” violence against Jewish students, and called for more effective security measures and said: “Columbia is now under mafia rule.”

That followed Thursday’s arrest of anti-war protesters in Columbia, including the daughter of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

The day before, Shafik was one of four Columbia officials to testify at a congressional hearing, sometimes facing controversial questions about anti-Semitism on campus as part of a Department of Education investigation into allegations of discrimination.

All four said the calls for genocide of Jews violated Columbia’s rules. But while Shafik defended the university’s actions to combat anti-Semitism, saying, “It will not be tolerated and it is not acceptable,” Columbia trustee Claire Shipman said, “we have a moral crisis on our campus.”

On Sunday, the Jewish organization Hillel posted a message of support for students at Columbia and Barnard.

“We do not believe that Jewish students should leave,” it said. ‘We believe that the university and the city must do more to guarantee the safety of our students.’

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rabbi urges Columbia students to leave campus for their safety