On April 17, Columbia President Minouche Shafik, along with two other board trustees and a Task Force on Antisemitism co-chair, testified before Congress to address allegations of antisemitism on campus.

On Wednesday, April 17 at 10:15 am, Columbia University President, Minouche Shafik, testified before Congress in a hearing titled “Columbia in Crisis: Columbia University’s Response to Antisemitism.” The hearing was held by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who said that “some of the worst cases of antisemitic assaults, harassment, and vandalism on campus [sic] have occurred at Columbia University.” Elaborating on the goals for this hearing, Chairwoman Foxx added that “the Committee must hear from Columbia’s leadership in person to learn how the school is addressing antisemitism on its campus.” 

Columbia Board of Trustees Co-Chairs, Claire Shipman and David Greenwald, and David Schizer, a co-chair of the Task Force on Antisemitism, also testified. 

In anticipation of her testimony, Shafik published an article in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, April 16, sharing what she planned to testify. She began by comparing the events of October 7 to those of September 11, 2001, saying that both events have “changed the world.” 

“It is my hope,” Shafik writes, “that we can begin to find common ground in finding solutions to antisemitism—not just to make college campuses safer and more welcoming to Jewish students, but for the sake of our democracy.” She acknowledges the Jewish and Israeli members of the Columbia community with connections to the October 7th attack, as well as other members of the community with ties to “the ensuing war in Gaza,” saying they “were part of a larger story of Palestinian displacement, as well as a continuing and escalating humanitarian catastrophe.” She adds that, as president, her first response to the events of October 7 was to ensure the community’s physical safety and security.

In the months following October 7, students on Columbia’s campuses have been protesting in response to the events in Israel and Gaza. After Columbia’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace were suspended for holding an unauthorized demonstration in November, as well as other policy changes made by the university in recent months, the university has increasingly been accused of censoring students’ free speech. In response to these criticisms, Shafik says that “a more complicated issue was the conflict between the free-speech rights of pro-Palestinian protesters and the impact that these protests were having on our Jewish students and their supporters.” She characterized some comments made at protests and on social media as “unsettling and frightening,” highlighting the need for “ a supportive environment or at least an environment free of fear, harassment and discrimination.” 

Shafik emphasized that the University has a right to debate, and that much of protestors’ “passion” comes from “genuine political disagreement, not from personal hatred or bias or support for terrorism.” She adds that speech should be protected as long as it doesn’t “cross the line into threats, discrimination or harassment.” Specifically, she says that nobody should call for genocide against anybody else. More generally, she acknowledges that it is hard to draw a stark line between what speech is and isn’t permitted. 

In response to the pushback surrounding the University’s recent policy establishing designated protest areas and guidelines for the pre-approval of demonstrations, Shafik writes that “this approach allows for fewer limits on speech—usually a desirable value at a university—because those who don’t want to hear what is being said need not listen. It also means that the core functions of the university—teaching and learning, research in libraries and labs—can continue uninterrupted.” 

Shafik urges readers “to remember that universities and their presidents aren’t politicians,” but rather serve more as “constructive facilitators, not commentators.” She adds that communication from the university should just speak on student life as opposed to commentary on political or current events. Further, students and faculty “should feel unconstrained” in their own opinions. 

Finally, Shafik writes that “it is not the responsibility of Jewish people to eradicate antisemitism. That is a job for all of us.” Shafik does not give direct examples of antisemitism on Columbia’s campus nor does she say what exactly has been implemented by the University beyond designating spaces for protests. 

Columbia in Crisis: Columbia University’s Response to Antisemitism

Foxx opened the hearing by highlighting Columbia’s handling of incidents related to antisemitism on campus. She stated that she is concerned about  “gross negligence” in response. She mentioned various protests, unsanctioned events and the assault, and emphasized the importance of ensuring that “antisemitism must have no safe harbor within universities.” 

Bobby Scott (D-VA), acknowledged the history of white supremacism on college campuses, particularly noting the 2017 UVA White-Supremacist Rally. He stated his strong belief that there is “no excuse for antisemitism,” but that the committee should “not put on political theater” and need to “recenter [the] conversation around our obligation to provide all students a safe learning environment.” He then redirected his remarks to address the reduced funding of the Committee on Education and Work Force by Republicans, which he claims has restrictied them in handling more cases surrounding hate.

Foxx responded, agreeing with the sentiments of abhorrence toward white supremacist beliefs, and countered Scott’s reference to the events as something not done by the students of UVA. Before Shafik and the other university members testified, a video of Columbia Pro-Palestine protests and chants was played with a foreboding sound accompanying it. 

Each individual testifying was given 5 minutes to speak, though they had already submitted statements to Congress in advance of the hearing. 

Shafik opened her testimony by stating that “Columbia strives to be a community free of discrimination and hate in all its forms” and condemned antisemitism. She stated that the Hamas attacks of October 7 brought an “undercurrent of antisemitism” around the world and at Columbia. In response to this event, the University has brought additional security to campus, including the NYPD and FBI.  They have held over 20 meetings with parents, students, university officials, and others to hear their concerns and suggestions. She added that she also launched University task forces, listening forums, and educational programs as a result. 

Ultimately, she stated that she understands four major concepts: one, that safety is paramount; two, that care and compassion deserves to be applied equally to everyone; three, that freedom of speech is essential; four, that the ultimate answer to antisemitism is education. Shafik and her colleagues are “trying to reconcile the free speech rights of those who wanted to protest and the rights of Jewish students to be in an environment free of discrimination” and stated that “harassment has been the central challenge on our campus.” 

David Schizer followed Shafik’s testimony by iterating the “chilling surge of antisemitism” on campus. As the CEO of a Jewish Humanitarian organization, he expressed his desire to provide a welcoming place for Jewish people. He believes that “being a Zionist should not excuse anyone from a dance group or any other.” Through his leadership, he stated that now protests are only allowed in designated locations and not in academic buildings and that the University must “be better” about enforcing this policy. There is a need for guidelines against antisemitism that are similar to the ones against gender, he said, and that the University must avoid creating double standards between Jewish students and others.

Claire Shipman echoed Schizer’s beliefs in stating that “antisemitism has no place at Columbia or in our society.” She expressed it was “difficult and heartbreaking” for her to learn that members of the community feel unsafe. Since the October 7 attacks, Columbia University has faced “extreme pressure tests” from the amount of “unprecedented protests.” While the University has suspended student groups and individual students, they are “far from done” and she is “not satisfied with where Columbia is at the moment.” She concluded her statement by acknowledging the need for conversation about  Israel and Palestine to be more peaceful.

Greenwald recognized the hearing as a part of a broader problem. As a “proud Jewish-American” and a graduate of Columbia Law School, he stated that he comes to issues on antisemitism with a personal stake. He believes that “universities are a place for lively debates” but that hate has no place at universities.

Foxx then opened the floor up for questions. Shafik, Schizer, Shipman, and Greenwald spent over 3 hours answering questions regarding professors, events, and antisemitism on campus.

Included in the questioning were debates surrounding sanctioned and unsanctioned events on campus, professors, free speech, and student safety. Further, Democrats pushed for an increase in funding for the committee. 

Scott (D-VA) questioned, “What does it say when there have been no hearings on racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, or how you can make campuses safe for transgender students?… Are those not problems?” Shipman responded by emphasizing that antisemitism is a “specific problem.”

Regarding Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Events on Campus

Foxx opened the questioning by noting the unsanctioned “Resistance 101” on April 4. While this unauthorized event took place, Columbia promised that participants would be facing disciplinary action. It was clarified that the discipline in place was in the form of letters sent out to identified participants. 

Shafik noted the new demonstration policy on campus for students who attend unsanctioned events. There is a hierarchy of punishment for students participating in multiple unauthorized demonstrations.  Students who receive multiple letters will have the offenses “stay on their records.” In extreme cases, those students may be suspended or expelled. Shafik continued that Columbia policies were not prepared for the scale of the protests, so the policies reflect the lack of changes. Foxx mentioned the suspended student who spoke at an unauthorized protest on April 4, wondering if the current enforcement is sufficient. Shafik countered by mentioning the suspension of 15 students and said that “students are getting the message.”

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) also asked about the Resistance 101 event and the use of private investigators. Shafik stated that the people who were invited to the event were inciting violence and the students who “refused to cooperate with the investigation” were suspended until they cooperated.

Following the October 7 attack, Jewish and Israeli students attempted to book a room for an event, which they were denied. Shafik stated that this was corrected. She noted that Columbia was “one of the first universities to suspend Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace,” when she was questioned on how they prevent groups from organizing events on campus.

Schizer also mentioned that designated protest spaces come with rules, and disciplinary measures will be taken if students fail to adhere to these guidelines.

Omar (D-MN) clarified with Shafik the types of protests occuring on campus. Shafik ensured that there has not been a protest against Jewish people, Muslims, Arabs, or Palestinians. Omar asked about the protests being “pro-war and anti-war” and Shafik agreed. Schizer and Shipman disagreed with this sentiment, saying there have been anti-Jewish protests. Shafik then restated her beliefs on the events at the protest, restating that “Anti-Jewish things were said at protests,” in regards to alleged chants such as “F the Jews, death to Jews, F Israel, no safe place death to the Zionist state, Jews Out.” The Congressional video played before the testimonies included on individual who yelled “Fuck the Jews, Fuck Israel” but it is unclear of his affiliation to protests or the University.

Regarding Professors on Campus

Professors Joseph Massad, Mohamed Abdou, Katherine Franke, and Shai Davidai all were brought up during Wednesday’s hearing. Professor Massad, professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies was, at the time of the hearing, listed as the Current Chair of the Academic Review Committee. Representative Tim Walberg (R-MI) questioned this current position of Massad, highlighting his October 8 article surrounding the October 7 attack calling it “powerful.” Shafik responded that she condemns that statement and that he has been reproached for it. She claimed that Massad is no longer the chair of the committee, which Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) told Shafik was not the wording on the University website. According to the New York Times, a University spokesman said Professor Massad’s term as chair of an academic review panel was “already set to end after this semester.”

Shipman and Greenwald asserted that he should be removed as chair of the committee. Despite Massad being a tenured professor, the trustees stated that they would not approve his tenure if they had to do so today. 

Manning (D-NC) also questioned Massad’s current status as a teacher. Shafik stated that she only knew he is on the faculty, but is unsure if he is actively teaching. 

Stefanik (R-NY) who has grown in popularity from her perspectives on past hearings, questioned Shafik’s process of hiring, noting the hiring of Visiting Professor in Modern Arab Studies Mohamed Abdou after October 7 after he shared alleged “pro-Hamas rhetoric”. Shafik shared her “repugnance” at his views and has stated that there are currently 5 cases of faculty members being taken out of the classroom and dismissed. Regarding Abdou, she testified that he has been asked to leave and “will never work at Columbia again.” In his hiring process he was asked, like all hirees, to sign an attestation confirming that he had not been guilty of discrimination, but Shafik noted that they needed to “toughen up those requirements.” While Shafik stated that Abdou is probably grading papers, he was at the protest on campus happening co-currently.

Katherine Franke, a Professor at Columbia Law School, was also brought up in the hearing for her statement that “all Israeli students who served in the IDF are dangerous” and they shouldn’t be on campus. Shafik has noted that a senior administrator has spoken to Franke and Franke affirmed that was not what she intended to say. Franke has not publicly apologized, but Shafik believes that Franke will “find a way to clarify her position.” Stefanik believes this sends a message that the University tolerates antisemitic rhetoric.

Shai Davidai is a Professor at Columbia Business School whom Omar (D-MN) discussed. She asked about the rules regarding discrimination for professors, including Davidai, and Shafik stated that he is currently under investigation for harassment, and has had over 50 complaints.

For Professors on campus in general, Shafik “aims to give students a broad [selection] of courses.” Students are able to choose who to study with and there are a broad range of views available from pro-Israel to anti-Israel professors. While Massad, Frank, and Davidai are under investigation, there are no other ongoing complaints surrounding other professors. 

Representative Brandon Williams (R-NY) asked Shafik if there have been faculty members (or students) who have been asked to step down to retire or leave the University because of “denouncements by fellow staff members or accusations by students, pressures from outside groups” in the past 20 years. Greenwald and Shipman both stated that there have not been in the past 10 years. Williams asked if professors need to sign Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements, to which Shafik responded no. 

Williams (R-NY) told Shafik,“Personally I think you’re in deep denial about the culture at Columbia.”

Regarding Free Speech on Campus

Regarding student speech on campus, Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) asked the Columbia panel if “calling for the genocide of Jews violates Columba’s Code of Conduct.” Each of the panelists assured Bonamici that it did, and following the answers, Bonamici continued to ask if protest statements such as “by any means necessary” also violate the code of conduct. Shafik responded that those chants are “incredibly distressing” and that she considers those chants “abhorrent.” She stated that students who want to chant should have a space to do so, but they haven’t determined when specific language crosses the line of being prohibited. Schizer continued that the chants are repugnant, but “free speech matters,” free speech shouldn’t prevent others from sharing their perspectives, but also should not extend to harassment and discrimination. Shafik also noted that the University has issued a statement that  “[such] language is hurtful and we would prefer not to hear it.”

Representative Alma Adams (D-NC) questioned the diverse student body on campus, particularly highlighting the diversity of progress and perspectives. Schizer and Greenwald highlighted the importance of a diverse student body and Shipman followed that sentiment by noting the importance of “respect” on campus, stating that it has been “sorely lacking.”

When questioned on the anti-discrimination policies in place at Columbia, Shafik stated that new anti-discrimination training will explicitly include anti-semitism and the role Israel plays in Judaism. Shafik is committed to “viewpoint diversity” and ensuring faculty are not crossing the line of discrimination.

Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) brought up a pamphlet handed out by students at the School of Social Work that involved words such as “Ashkenormativity.” Shafik could not provide a definition but assured Banks that this is not a product of faculty and administration and will ensure that it is “not a part of the orientation progress.”

Shipman stressed that she is committed to “speech that is not laced with hate.” On using rhetoric such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free,” Shafik considers those statements antisemitic. She claimed the article that claimed Columbia’s Antisemitism Task Force “refused to settle on what [the] definition of antisemitism is” written by New York Times Reporter Otterman was inaccurate. Schizer offered his definition of antisemitism stating it is “Bias against Jewish people which can manifest as ethnic slurs, stereotyping, Holocaust denial, double standards as applies to Israel, and antisemitic tropes.”

Regarding the hate speech on social media (including statements on the anonymous forum Sidechat, Schizer brought up the “horrible, horrible” things posted on the platform and indicated that he is trying to “stop that.” Shafik stated that she is “particularly uncomfortable” with Sidechat.

Regarding Student Safety on Campus

Representative Mark Takano (D-CA) opened his line of questioning by stating a variety of statistics on Jewish students and Muslim students and their reactions to a variety of statements on campus. Schizer followed his statement by stating that “it is unacceptable for any students to feel fear” and that “we need consistency for what we do for Jewish and Muslim students.” Takano clarified his question on whether all students should be safe, including Muslims and Palestinians. Schizer responded that “specific mandates are applicable to everyone.

Regarding the safety of Jewish Americans on campus, Adams (D-NC) stated that only ⅓ of Jewish students have felt safe and wondered how the task force that Schizer heads is recognizing its unique challenges. Schizer responded that this is a “critical responsibility” of the task force and that there are policies and movements for more policies to be put in place regarding student groups. 

“When people feel fear and intimidation, they can’t learn. If we can’t provide fundamental safety for our students..we’re not allowing them to learn,” Shipman added.

When asked specifically about Islamophobia at Columbia by Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Shipman stated that “all hate should not be welcome at Columbia. We have to listen and we have to allow for political debate. That’s a bedrock of our democracy.”

Regarding Chemical Attack and Doxxing

Bowman asked Shafik to make a public response to the chemical attack on campus, Shafik stated that “it appears to have been an odorous substance” sprayed on protesters and that the “individuals involved have been suspended from Columbia.” Further speaking on the chemical attack, Omar questioned the lack of support the students affected received. Shafik said that the “University reached out to students who were affected and the students didn’t want support.” Omar said it took the University 4 days to respond to the students, which Shafik disagreed with.

Regarding the doxxing incidents on campus, Shafik stated there is a doxxing resource group which has helped 90 students reach out for technical support, legal support, and privacy scrubbing.

Regarding Curriculum on Campus

Representative Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR) also questioned the curriculum on campus, stating that Columbia has been “one of the worst offenders” in antisemitism. DeRemer states that “It’s no wonder students think this is okay. They’re learning, in class, how to target Jews.” Representative Burgess Owens (R-UT) questioned Shafik more specifically on the diversity, equity, and inclusion taught in the Core Curriculum, claiming it to be “antisemitic” and “anti-black.” Shafik responded that she is leading by presence and is distressed by the views of students. 

DeRemer continued by noting that there is a “low number of undergraduate courses about Jewish History” with there being 3 courses that teach the history of Israel, one of them taught by Massad. Shafik countered that the Institute for Israeli and Jewish studies offers 21 courses, and that there’s a collaboration with Jewish Theological Seminary. 

Concluding the Hearing

Before the hearing concluded, Foxx (R-NC) stated that parts of the testimony had been misleading, including the 15 suspensions cited. She said that “only three students were given interim suspensions for antisemitic conduct” – all of which were lifted or dropped for probation, including a student who allegedly said “F the Jews.” The five students who were suspended for the Resistance 101 event had their suspensions lifted after administration discovered that they were not involved. Further, two Jewish students who sprayed chemical substances on pro-Palestine demonstrators were suspended. Additionally, Foxx referred to certain documents that reportedly indicate that the spray was allegedly a “non-toxic gag spray,” which Columbia has ‘failed to record’.This statement is in direct opposition to student claims regarding the spray. 

Foxx ended the hearing stating that “radical antisemitic faculty” are still present among Columbia schools.

The hearing concluded shortly before 2 pm. This is a developing story.

Update on Professor Joseph Massad’s chairmanship status by Bwog Staff as of April 17 at 9:55 pm:

In response to US Representative Tim Walberg’s (R-MI) allegations about the contents of an article he wrote after the October 7 attacks, Professor Joseph Massad released a full media statement published on the site The Electronica Intifada.

Professor Massad confirms that his chairmanship of the Academic Review Committee is a year-long position, indicating that he was not removed from the role and would have stepped down from the position at the end of the academic year by default. He also denied calling the October 7 attacks “awesome, astonishing, astounding, and incredible,” as alleged by Walberg.

Secondly, Massad refuted President Shafik’s claim that he is “under investigation” by University administrating, stating, “This is news to me, as I have not been informed or contacted by anyone from the university to inform me of this alleged investigation.”

Thirdly, he responded to President Shafik’s claim that he was reproached by an administrative faculty member by suggesting that his Chair, Professor Gil Hochberg, who is Jewish and Israeli, did not reproach him. Professor Massad wrote that Hochberg told the Executive Vice President of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Amy Hergford that the article she “had read my article and found it descriptive and did not contain praise for the 7 October attack.”

Professor Massad’s comments from his statement were also published by the New York Times. Bwog has contacted Columbia for comment.

Professor Massad’s statement can be found in its entirety below.

Professor Massad’s statement in full published by The Electronic Intifada:

I have not watched the TV coverage nor seen a full transcript of the ongoing congressional interrogation of Columbia University officials, but I have received video clips of some of the testimony that related to me personally. Based on what I have seen, I can say the following:

The members of Congress who interrogated President Shafik deliberately misrepresented my article published on 8 October 2024, when Representative Walberg claimed that I “prais[ed] ‘the innovative Palestinian resistance,’ for attacking Israel and glorifying Hamas’s slaughter of nearly 1200 Jews as, and I quote again, ‘awesome, astonishing, astounding and incredible.’” I certainly said nothing of the sort.

  1. My article explicitly states: “the stunning victory of the Palestinian resistance over the Israeli military on the first day of fighting is a historic event both for Israel, as Netanyahu admitted, and for the Palestinians.”
  2. The article explicitly states that “The sight of the Palestinian resistance fighters storming Israeli checkpoints separating Gaza from Israel was astounding, not only to the Israelis but especially to the Palestinian and Arab peoples.
  3. That “The resistance’s remarkable takeover of Israeli military bases and checkpoints … has both shaken Israeli society and struck Palestinians and Arabs as incredible.” “Incredible,” incidentally, means “hard to believe.”
  4. And that “No less astonishing was the Palestinian resistance’s takeover of several Israeli settler-colonies near the Gaza boundary and even as far away as 22 kms, as in the case of Ofakim.”
  5. I described the use of motorized hang gliders as “innovative”: “What can motorized paragliders do in the face of one of the most formidable militaries in the world? Apparently, much in the hands of an innovative Palestinian resistance.” I also spoke in the article of the “horrifying human toll on all sides.”

It is unfortunate that President Shafik and the two members of the Columbia University Board of Trustees, including Ms. Claire Shipman and Mr. David Greenwald, would condemn fabricated statements that I never made when all three of them should have corrected the record to show that I never said or wrote such reprehensible statements. Also, the false and defamatory allegations which Representative Tim Walberg made against me alleging that I gave “support of terrorism” and engaged in “harassing Jewish students” should also have immediately been responded to by President Shafik and the trustees as false, as I have never harassed any of my students and never supported terrorism.

Moreover, President Shafik indicated that I am currently “under investigation” for making discriminatory comments. This is news to me, as I have not been informed or contacted by anyone from the university to inform me of this alleged investigation. In fact, I had a meeting last week with the Columbia University Provost, Angela Olinto, about being subjected to harassment and racism by another university professor. Provost Olinto conveyed to me her support and that she was sorry that I had been subjected to such harassment. The offending professor is the one currently being investigated.

I remain the chair of the Academic Review Committee, a one-year position, for the next few weeks, which is the normal end of my chairmanship. Indeed, I just had a meeting with the committee staff yesterday [16 April] and informed them that I will miss the next and final meeting on 8 May, due to my travel schedule. No one has contacted me at all from the university with regards to my current chairmanship. I will also remain a member of the Academic Review Committee next year, which is a three-year appointment.

President Shafik misconstrued what happened when she stated that I was “spoken to,” by my chair and my dean, implying that I was reprimanded. In fact, my chair, Professor Gil Hochberg, who incidentally is Jewish and Israeli, informed me that in light of the pro-Israel campaign targeting me and distorting my article, she had told the executive vice president of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Amy Hungerford, that she had read my article and found it descriptive and did not contain praise for the 7 October attack. She even added that her 14-year-old son had read it and deemed it merely descriptive to illustrate the point that if her young son was a careful reader, adults too should not read carelessly.

I did meet with Executive Vice President Amy Hungerford on 2 November 2023, with whom I took a walk. She asked to meet with me because of her concern about my safety and well-being, as I was the target of much hate mail and many death threats that I received by email, in letter form slipped under my Columbia University office door by (what Columbia University Security believes was) a non-Columbia affiliate, and on my home phone.

Neither the executive vice president nor my chair reprimanded me about my article nor accused me of praising the attack. However, during our walk, Hungerford asked me if I had expected the response that the article received, and I told her that I had not.

This article has been edited to reflect updates on information reported in an earlier version.

Campus via Bwog Archives