What To Do If You're Concerned about Anti-Zionist Commencement Disruptions

University Presidents and Campus Leaders:

Over the past six months, since Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel, we have seen an unprecedented spike in antisemitism on our college campuses – more than 900 incidents last year, a 321% increase relative to the year prior. Now, some schools are facing a full-blown crisis.

At Columbia, students have set up and maintained an unauthorized “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on the South Lawn, persisting even after law enforcement arrested more than 100 students who had refused to leave. Since then, the school has struggled to maintain order. Video footage has emerged of masked protesters shouting, from outside the campus gates, “Go back to Poland” and “[October 7th] will happen not one more time, not five more times, not 10 more times, not 100 more times, not 1,000 more times, but 10,000 times!”  Another video shows a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanting, “F**k Israel. Israel is a b*tch,” while waving the Palestinian flag. There are reports of protesters trying to burn a Columbia student’s Israeli flag; Jewish students being splashed with liquid; and at least one individual holding a sign pointing to Jewish students that read “Al-Qassam's next targets,” a reference to Hamas. These acts and others like them have been roundly condemned by Columbia’s President as “intimidating and harassing behavior.”

Instead of condemning and distancing themselves from this rhetoric and conduct, national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has instead called on members to “take back our university” in order to show support for “comrades” on Columbia’s campus and elsewhere – calling their efforts supportive of a “Popular University For Gaza.” Now, at least 10 schools are confronting student-led encampments on their own campuses, with student groups at other schools announcing similar planned disruptions, including walkouts and protests in the days to come.

At Columbia, the campus being taken hostage by anti-Zionist fervor has effectively pushed the school to a breaking point. Students were discouraged from coming to campus today, and all classes were made remote in an effort to “deescalate the rancor” and allow the school to “consider next steps.” While perhaps necessary, these actions only underscore the severity of the underlying antisemitism crisis, not just at Columbia, but on campuses across the country, and the risk that absent clear, decisive action by campus leadership, the campus climate may worsen for all members of the campus community.

As ADL has been urging for months, when students violate campus policies or the law, there must be clear and immediate consequences. Members of the campus community must understand that while speech may be protected on campus, violations of time, place and manner restrictions – restrictions that are often necessary to ensure campus safety – are not. And while speech critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian cause is protected, threats, intimidation and harassment are not. Schools must be able to ensure adherence to their own rules, including through clear communication and robust and consistent enforcement of their own policies.

We implore you to take steps now to prevent further escalation. First, ensure close coordination with your security and law enforcement teams.  Law enforcement must be prepared to take action when conduct becomes criminal in order to protect the safety of all students. Second, ensure that there are clear consequences when conduct on campus violates school policies – especially in the form of threats and harassment by students who are intentionally concealing their identities for that purpose. Third, review and shore up your policies and protocols now to mitigate against the risk of students interfering with the rights of others on campus – whether through disruption of commencement ceremonies and other celebratory events, or by interfering with the ability of students to study for and take their end-of-year exams. Finally, campus presidents must use their voice. Jewish students need to hear you condemn antisemitic acts to make them feel safe, and the entire campus community must hear loud and clear that such language and/or acts do not fit with the values of the university.  Campus-based disruptions, and whether or not a school takes immediate action to address them, will continue to be taken into account and reflected in ADL’s Campus Antisemitism Report Card.

We hope you will join us in saying, “enough.”  Antisemitism has been allowed to escalate for far too long, with far too few consequences.  We implore you to take decisive action now to protect students on your campus, and I hope you will see ADL as a resource. 

Keep up to date with our fight against antisemitism, extremism and hate, and learn how you can make a difference.