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Orthodox group at Columbia advises Jewish students to leave campus amid anti-war protests 

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Jewish students concerned about their safety amid a new wave of anti-war protests at Columbia University, received mixed messages on Sunday about staying on campus during the holiday of Passover.

Rabbi Elie Buechler, who leads the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Columbia and Barnard, advised over 290 students in a WhatsApp message to return home until it is safe for them to be on campus again. “It deeply pains to me to say that I would strong recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” Buechler wrote.

He added: “It is not our job as Jews to ensure our own safety on campus. No one should have to endure this level of hatred, let alone at school.”

However, the local chapter of Hillel International recommended that students stay put. Brian Cohen, the executive director of Hillel at Columbia and Barnard, said in a Facebook message that the university and the city of New York are responsible for ensuring the safety of all students. The organization designated the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life, where Hillel is housed, for students looking for a quiet place to study or be with friends. 

The turmoil at Columbia, which has seen ongoing demonstrations against the war in Gaza since the Oct 7 Hamas attack on Israel, intensified in recent days. Students and local activist groups gathered on and off the campus over the weekend to protest the administration’s authorization of a police crackdown on students who had pitched tents — they call it the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” — on Columbia’s lawn and the suspension of three students for their involvement in the protests. More than 100 people were arrested on Thursday, including Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi. 

That followed Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik’s testimony before a Congressional committee on Wednesday, where some House members grilled her on the college’s response to antisemitism, while others questioned her commitment to protecting pro-Palestinian speech.

Jewish students said they felt uncomfortable and unheard on campus. 

On Saturday, a group of Jewish students singing the Israeli national anthem next to an Israeli flag were harassed by pro-Palestinian protesters. Among the protesters, one individual, wearing a keffiyeh was filmed holding a sign that read “Al Qasam’s next target” – referencing Hamas’ military wing — with an arrow pointing at the students. 

In a statement on Sunday, Hillel called on the university to “act immediately in restoring calm to campus” and for the city government to “ensure that students can walk up and down Broadway and Amsterdam without fear of harassment.”

 

The post Orthodox group at Columbia advises Jewish students to leave campus amid anti-war protests  appeared first on The Forward.

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