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Perspectives

Ivy Leagues, so-called ‘anti-semitism’ and the US

Published April 23, 2024
Pro-Palestine supporters, some in tents, gather on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Photo: AFP
Pro-Palestine supporters, some in tents, gather on the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Photo: AFP

American higher learning institutions are at an inflection point. Last week, prestigious Columbia University – the Ivy League school located in the financial capital of the United States – did something unprecedented, but not surprising.

They had over 100 (peacefully) protesting students who were camping on university grounds arrested, declaring the protests “a clear and present danger” to the university.

Across the United States, students are calling for divesting from Israeli companies, amid its deadly assault on Gaza. Similar encampments have also begun at Yale, MIT, Tufts and others.

Columbia reportedly also sent emails to those arrested informing them that they were suspended and temporarily barred from their dorms.

This is following months of harassment of pro-Palestinian students on campus and clamping down on dissent.

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns as Gaza pounded

Soon after, three Head Barnard Student Admissions Representatives at Barnard College – Columbia’s sister school – resigned citing how in light of the arrests, they can “no longer be complicit in advertising this school to prospective students”.

“We are appalled with the college’s decision to suspend and evict students, many of whom identify as first-generation/low-income students of color,” they wrote.

“This is a complete contradiction of Barnard’s academic mission to ‘disagree better’.”

Last week, University of Southern California cancelled its Muslim valedictorian’s speech on account of ‘antisemitism’.

 Students from Massachusetts of Technology, Harvard University and others rally at a protest encampment by The Scientists Against Genocide on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kresge Lawn on April 22, 2024 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The encampment was set up to protest Israel’s military aggression in Gaza and the university’s relationship with the Israel Defense Forces. Photo: AFP
Students from Massachusetts of Technology, Harvard University and others rally at a protest encampment by The Scientists Against Genocide on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kresge Lawn on April 22, 2024 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The encampment was set up to protest Israel’s military aggression in Gaza and the university’s relationship with the Israel Defense Forces. Photo: AFP

The Muslim student – Asna Tabassum – had her speech revoked following complaints about her selection by two campus pro-Israeli groups that cited her social media support for Palestinians.

Again, the school cited it was on grounds of “safety” concerns, which Tabassum criticised.

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“I am both shocked by this decision and profoundly disappointed that the university is succumbing to a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice,” she wrote.

Fun fact: Tabassum happened to be minoring in Resistance to Genocide – that too, with a live Genocide unfolding in another part of the world.

Did the AIPAC really do away with it all?

I for one would have loved to see how she framed and articulated her speech in light of such events.

Following such criticism, USC went a step further and cancelled all commencement speeches. CNN anchor Michael Smerconish expressed his shock and dismay at this decision, with his report titled, ‘USC leaves students speechless’.

A Los Angeles Times editorial wrote, “We will not move past the crisis of the moment by silencing those with whom we disagree. The university is exactly the sort of place where such views must be heard. Otherwise, it is not a University.”

 People pray as New York University students set up a “Liberated Zone” tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business on April 22, 2024 in New York City. NYU students joined the growing number of students in colleges throughout the country to set up tent encampments on school grounds calling on their schools to divest from Israel and a ceasefire in Gaza. Nearly 50 people were arrested at Yale on Monday morning after the arrest last week of more than 100 protesters at Columbia University. Photo: AFP
People pray as New York University students set up a “Liberated Zone” tent encampment in Gould Plaza at NYU Stern School of Business on April 22, 2024 in New York City. NYU students joined the growing number of students in colleges throughout the country to set up tent encampments on school grounds calling on their schools to divest from Israel and a ceasefire in Gaza. Nearly 50 people were arrested at Yale on Monday morning after the arrest last week of more than 100 protesters at Columbia University. Photo: AFP

It’s a shame indeed. An entire graduating class at this celebrated West Coast institution was denied this celebratory and commemorative gesture – the words of wisdom, encouragement, advice – all due to alleged anti-Semitism and all on the grounds of – you guessed it – “safety”.

Ah safety. The fast-becoming empty and hollow shell of an excuse being touted by the Israeli government, IDF, the United States and all those wanting to shield Israel’s war-crimes.

Israel’s Gaza war has negatively impacted human rights, says US report

Another moral high.

Last week, Google fired 28 engineers who raised concerns over their involvement in Project Nimbus – a $1.2 billion joint contract to provide the Israeli government and military with cloud and artificial intelligence services.

Google decided they would rather do without these skilled professionals, rather than heed employee concerns.

All instances described above include young college students, graduates and professionals – the very ideal that made the United States revered and feared by those aspiring to taste a piece of the freedom, values and excellence that it touts itself to stand for.

But right now, these are the individuals who have had to now endure stymieing, isolation and subjugation, on account of their moral views and standing which will no doubt have repercussions within the United States and its global standing for years to come.

 Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a tent encampment in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on April 22, 2024 in Berkeley, California. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus where they set up a tent encampment in solidarity with protesters at Columbia University who are demanding a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. Photo: AFP
Pro-Palestinian protesters set up a tent encampment in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus on April 22, 2024 in Berkeley, California. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus where they set up a tent encampment in solidarity with protesters at Columbia University who are demanding a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. Photo: AFP

Aren’t finest higher learning institutions supposed to be crafting the next generation of leaders, inventors and thinkers? What will be the consequences of clamping down on them at this stage?

When did college campuses become a place of contention and aggression? If universities – especially Ivy League institutions – aren’t the place for dissent and debate, then what is?

If these students’ voices are shut down now, what will become of their expensive degrees and fresh undulated ideas, if this is how their education system has treated them. To think, perceive and analyse – aren’t these among the skills they chose these fine academic institutions for?

34,049 Palestinians killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive since Oct. 7, health ministry says

The same goes for Google. What of these young professionals who set out to make a difference in the world, pushing the envelope forward providing technological solutions, inevitably finding themselves on the wrong side of an unfolding genocide.

Were they this dispensable?

Apparently so.

A New York Times opinion columnist asked the question, “if our richest universities, cosseted by tenure and plumped with their ample endowments, cannot be citadels of free speech and forums for wrestling with the most difficult ideas, what hope is there for any other institution in our country?”

I couldn’t agree more. The mitts are off, and with it, the veil of academic freedom.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Faiza Virani

The writer is Life & Style Editor at Business Recorder

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Comments

200 characters
Nayyar Ali Zaidi Apr 24, 2024 02:33pm
Holocaust never happened. There's no such thing called 'anti-semitism'.
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Nayyar Ali Zaidi Apr 24, 2024 02:34pm
Holocaust never happened.
thumb_up Recommended (0) reply Reply