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Columbia faculty member calls out open letter that defends anti-Israel views on campus: ‘Letter is a disgrace'
October 31 2023, 08:00

A Columbia University professor condemned an open letter penned and signed by Columbia and Barnard College professors in support of students who have made anti-Israel statements in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack.

Jennifer La'O, who teaches macroeconomics, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to condemn the letter. 

"As a @Columbia faculty member, I absolutely do NOT endorse this open letter," she posted. "This letter is a disgrace. I am disheartened and disappointed in my colleagues who have signed this."

Universities across the country, most notably Ivy Leagues colleges, have been ground zero for pro-Palestinian support in the U.S. following the surprise Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel that left at least 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers, including 33 Americans, dead. In addition, 239 hostages remain in captivity in Gaza. 


The faculty members published the letter Monday under the title: "An Open Letter from Columbia University and Barnard College Faculty in Defense of Robust Debate About the History and Meaning of the War in Israel/Gaza."

"The most recent devastating violence in Israel and Gaza that began on October 7, 2023 has had very disturbing reverberations on our campus – for all of us, students, faculty, staff, and the larger Columbia community," the letter began. "We write now to express grave concerns about how some of our students are being viciously targeted with doxing, public shaming, surveillance by members of our community, including other students, and reprisals from employers."

The letter calls on every person in the Columbia University community to do more to protect all students in response to "those who label our students anti-Semitic if they express empathy for the lives and dignity of Palestinians, and/or if they signed on to a student-written statement that situated the military action begun on October 7th within the larger context of the occupation of Palestine by Israel."


A recent student statement from Palestine Solidarity Groups at Columbia University called on the academic institution to "reassess its relationship with Israel" and added "we should not be surprised when resistance and violence break out"

"The weight of responsibility for the war and casualties undeniably lies with the Israeli extremist government and other Western governments, including the U.S. government, which fund and staunchly support Israeli aggression, apartheid and settler-colonization," the statement said. 

The faculty letter highlighted the student statement, arguing it claims "that peace and safety for all the peoples of Israel and Palestine will remain elusive unless and until the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory ends and accountability for that illegal occupation is achieved," stating such a belief is "not a radical or essentially controversial position."

"In our view, the student statement aims to recontextualize the events of October 7, 2023, pointing out that military operations and state violence did not begin that day, but rather it represented a military response by a people who had endured crushing and unrelenting state violence from an occupying power over many years," the statement said. "One could regard the events of October 7th as just one salvo in an ongoing war between an occupying state and the people it occupies, or as an occupied people exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation."


The faculty members admitted that "not all … agree with every one of the claims made in the students’ statement" but added such statements should not be considered antisemitic. 

"We are appalled that trucks broadcasting students’ names and images are circling the campus, identifying them individually as ‘Columbia’s Leading Anti-Semites’, and that some students have had offers of employment withdrawn by employers that sought to punish them for signing the student statement, or for being merely affiliated with student groups associated with the statement," the statement said. 

Columbia University said it had no comment, but directed Fox News Digital to a separate statement from the university's faculty members that expressed their commitment to the university’s ties with Israel. 

"The establishment of the state of Israel was a direct response to the Holocaust, but Zionism long predates the Holocaust, and Israel has provided refuge to Jews who needed it in many instances after the Holocaust," the statement reads. "To treat Zionism as an illegitimate and fundamentally oppressive movement is to ignore history and to deny Jews a measure of empathy and respect."

"Proposing disengagement from Israel, in rhetoric that harshly characterizes the Jewish national project, has consequences here in New York too," the statement concludes. "At a moment when violent hate crimes, often including antisemitic violence, have erupted across the world, including here, it is all the more important for Columbia to model an environment in which students feel free to air competing perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

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