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Fight, Flight or Die – you get to choose

Columbia University has been in the news for the past few weeks due to their anti-Israel and anti-Jewish encampment.  UCLA has been for the same reason.  Portland State.  Northwestern.  Harvard.  Yale.  Penn.  University of Michigan. George Washington.  Cal Poly Humboldt.  Brown. Cornell.  Princeton.  University of Southern California.  Arizona State.  CCNY.  CUNY.  Plenty of Universities where students went beyond free speech and protests, violated University policies, intimidated Jewish students, blocked access to campus, and in the case of UCLA, violently attacked and beat a Jewish woman, Yale where a Jewish woman was stabbed in the eye, and Columbia where two Jewish men were attacked.

Then there are Universities like the University of Florida, University of Texas, Florida State University, University of South Florida, University of North Carolina.  University of Utah, University of Illinois, Mary Washington, Northeastern, Indiana, Wash U in St Louis, University of Pittsburgh, UConn, University of Utah. VCU, University of Georgia, Tulane, and Virginia Tech.  At each of these Universities, the University Presidents and leadership allowed free speech and protests but enforced their campus rules and regulations.  As such, when the protests went beyond free speech, they were broken up and people arrested.

For the most part, it’s the first group of schools that have been in the media.  That’s because of the old news adage, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’  We saw an incredible lack of leadership by the University Presidents at those schools.  Columbia President Minouche Shafik, fresh off her testimony to Congress, enabled the protesters, didn’t enforce the campus regulations, finally called in the NYPD, and then promptly apologized for doing it.  Jewish students were encouraged to finish the semester away from campus, being denied the equal protection of the law and equal access to the education they are paying for.  Chants of “go back to Poland”, ‘We are Hamas’ and ‘Globalize the intifada’ occurred on campus.  US Representatives Ilhan Omar and AOC showed up to support the active hatred of Jews on campus.  Omar even said, “We should not have to tolerate antisemitism or bigotry for all Jewish students, whether they are pro-genocide or anti-genocide.”

Khymani James, a student at Columbia and one of the leaders of Columbia University’s anti-Israel encampment threatened to kill Jews in a live stream meeting with the school.  Nothing happened until it became public when he was barred from campus.  He was then let back on campus until they were exposed again and he was suspended.  Columbia chose to be complicit with threats of violence against Jews.

These are threats to Jewish students.  The encampment grew and got more violent and more active.  Finally, they took over a campus building, barricading themselves inside and doing damage to the building.  After a ridiculous press conference with a student leader who demanded ‘humanitarian aid’ for those who chose to occupy the building and could leave at any time, did President Shafik relent and call in the NYPD to break up the protest.  She wasn’t interested in protecting the Jewish students, only protecting her campus buildings.

Northwestern President Michael Schill chose to give in to the student terrorists holding his campus hostage.  Brown University did the same thing.  Their lack of leadership, caving to the students’ bad behavior, breaking of the campus rules and regulations and criminal activities, is an embarrasment.

These Presidents and their administration have failed their test of leadership.  They have abandoned their Jewish students.  There are calls for their resignations as a result.  I can’t imagine any other group facing what Jewish students have faced in which the actions and behaviors of these Presidents and administrations would be acceptable.  At UCLA, their failure, along with the assault on a Jewish woman, resulted in Jewish students believing they had been abandoned and the Jewish community taking matters into their own hands, working to break up the antisemitic, illegal encampment, resulting in a riot.

We have a serious leadership problem on our campuses.  By not holding students and faculty accountable to the rules when it comes to Jewish students, they are guilty of endangering Jewish students’ safety.  They are committing Title VI violations and there may be civil rights lawsuits against them.  They have become a national joke, and the Universities are viewed unfavorably by most.  There is a reason you don’t negotiate with terrorists.  Reinforcing their bad behavior only ensures more bad behavior in the future.

Compare that to the University of Florida, who’s President, Ben Sasse, provided the campus rules and regulations in advance along with the consequences for violating them.  When the protesters went beyond free speech and violated the campus rules, the consequences were enforced.

Public statement by the University of Florida

Other universities took action after letting the protesters know they were violating the campus rules and would be arrested if they didn’t disperse.  When they didn’t, the police came in and arrested them. Actions have consequences. Failing to obey the rules and the law is illegal.

I want to be clear.  Free speech is important.  Being able to protest is important.  However, when people decide to break the rules or break the laws, there are consequences for their actions.  That’s what they were arrested for, their actions.  Protests matter and there is a line that cannot be crossed.  When the line is crossed, leadership has an obligation to act.

When I see some of our country’s leaders in an uproar because the protesters are held accountable, I get angry.  They know better and they know it is only happening because it is against the Jews.  When I see our country’s leaders and our Jewish communal leaders be silent about what is happening to Jewish students on campus, I get angry.  We cannot put our heads in the sand and hope it goes away.  We know better.  We know what comes next.  I’m grateful to our country’s leaders and our Jewish communal leaders who have spoken up and taken public positions.  There are far too few of them.

Sen. John Fetterman, Rep. Elise Stefanik, Rep. Ritchie Torres, and Speaker Mike Johnson have been leading public advocates to protect Jewish students on campus.  Others have joined them.  Yet far too many have been silent or supporting these encampments designed to terrorize, intimidate, and block Jewish students and faculty from entering campus.  In many cases they assaulted Jewish students. This has nothing to do with the war in Gaza.  It has nothing to do with humanitarian aid.  It has everything to do with antisemitism, Jew hatred.

Chris Cuomo, a TV talking head, spoke out eloquently against the rise of Jew hatred on these college campuses.  His comment on Twitter when he posted it was shocking.  “I never thought in America I would have Jewish people thanking me for arguing that they have a right to exist.”  It is worth watching.

UNRWA came out with an announcement that there is plenty of food available in Gaza but there isn’t money to buy it.  This is humanitarian aid, provided for free, that UNRWA is either allowing Hamas to steal or selling to Hamas who is selling it on the black market.  The more facts that come out, the worse people like AOC, Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Nancy Pelosi, Rashida Talib, and these protesters look.

May 1 starts Jewish Heritage Month.  President Biden issued a proclamation in which he references protecting the Jewish community in the United States but fails to mention anything happening on campus.  He talks about the hostages but has failed to pressure Qatar, who houses the leaders of Hamas, and continues to provide Iran, the funder of Hamas, with more money.  His words don’t match up with his actions.  We need to demand more of President Biden and of Congress.  We need to make our voices heard loudly.

As antisemitism, Jew hatred, increases in the United States, I see and hear more and more Jewish people speaking up and being outraged.  I am part of a group of parents who are concerned about what is happening on college campuses and I see the change as Jewish parents and students no long look to the Ivy League schools and look for safer campuses.  I have received calls and emails from parents who want to take advantage of Governor DeSantis’s decree that he will waive many of the transfer requirements for Jewish students to transfer to Florida Universities.  Yeshiva University extended their transfer deadline.  The Technion in Haifa has openly offered sanctuary for Jewish students, graduate students, and faculty who don’t feel safe at their University.

Public letter from The Technion

  This is America in 2024.  We need to face reality and act.  Raise our voices and speak out and speak up.  We need to thank our allies in other communities.  We need to thank our politicians who are supportive and make sure our voices are heard by those who hate Jews and fight for there to be more antisemitism, more Jew hatred.  If you haven’t been an activist, it’s time to become one.  Our collective silence has brought us to this point.  It is our collective action that will defeat Jew hatred.  It’s your choice, fight, flight, or die.

About the Author
Keith is a Partner at Amplify Partners, a consulting firm specializing in fundraising and campaign design, organizational development, and family philanthropy. With 25 years experience leading Jewish nonprofits, he has been in the Hillel, Federation, and JCC worlds.
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