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Columbia University president defends efforts to combat antisemitism

Video caption, Watch: Columbia University president responds on anti-Semitism

The head of Columbia University defended her institution’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism to members of Congress.

Dr. Nemat Shafik was interviewed amid a debate over free speech on American campuses, which intensified during the war between Israel and Gaza that erupted in October.

Two other Ivy League college heads resigned last year after facing backlash for their own responses.

Dr. Shafik condemned anti-Semitism, but was less clear when asked about a specific pro-Palestinian slogan.

Appearing before the House Education and Workforce Committee, Dr. Shafik was asked whether phrases used by some activists, such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, were anti-Semitic.

“I hear it as such, some people don’t… it’s a difficult question because some people consider it anti-Semitic, some people don’t,” she said.

Jewish groups say the slogan – which refers to the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – is a call for the destruction of the State of Israel. Those who defend the phrase say it is a rallying cry for Palestinian independence.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war, congressional Republicans have accused elite U.S. universities of becoming havens for anti-Jewish hatred.

Dr. Shafik earlier said: “Columbia strives to be a community free of discrimination and hatred in all its forms, and we condemn the anti-Semitism that is so pervasive today. »

When asked if calls for the genocide of Jews were against university policy, Dr. Shafik responded unequivocally that it was.

Three other New York college officials testified at Wednesday’s hearing and gave the same answer to that question.

“I think you are right that we are experiencing a moral crisis on our campus,” Claire Shipman, co-chair of the board, told the committee.

“You are probably tired of hearing that I find the behavior of some of our students, of some of our teachers, unacceptable.”

While Dr. Shafik said there has been a rise in this hatred on campus since October, she said the university is working to protect students.

She told the hearing that 15 students had been suspended and six were on probation for violating rules regarding protests on campus.

Last year, leaders of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were condemned by politicians and alumni for their appearance at a hearing before the same committee from the room.

The presidents of Harvard and UPenn resigned after facing backlash for refusing to clearly answer the question of whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” was against their university’s policy.

Earlier this week, another controversy erupted after the University of Southern California (USC) canceled a student’s graduation speech, due to backlash over her social media activity in Israel .

Asna Tabassum – who was chosen to give a speech because of her high academic achievements – said she had been silenced, but the university cited risks to campus security.

Before Wednesday’s congressional hearing, pro-Palestinian student activists from Columbia set up tents on the campus lawn and pledged to occupy the space until the university divests from companies with ties with Israel, according to the student newspaper Columbia Spectator and Fox News.

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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