Behind the Ivy Intifada

“We can clearly recognize elite institutions’ deep commitment to sterile forms of activism.”

Musa al-Gharbi in Compact Magazine: To understand broad trends, it can often be helpful to dig into a particular case. With respect to the tumult over the encampments protesting the US-backed Israeli offensive in Gaza, it would be hard to find a more illuminating example than Columbia University. Here, we may observe students’ sincere concern for the least among us, on one hand, and their ambitious social climbing, on the other. Here, we can clearly recognize elite institutions’ deep commitment to sterile forms of activism—and we can readily see how identitarian and safetyist approaches to “social justice” are weaponized in the service of the status quo. At Columbia, we can most readily perceive the jarring dissonance between the spectacle of unrest over Gaza and the realities of the conflict that has been overshadowed by the spectacle.

But let’s start with some basic facts.

On April 17, Columbia’s president, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, appeared before the US House of Representatives to testify about the prevalence and nature of anti-Semitism on campus. Eager to avoid the fate of her peers at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, Shafik kept her head down and assented to assertions that Columbia, and universities writ large, are awash in Jew-hatred, and that Columbia wasn’t doing enough to fight it. Over the course of the three-hour hearing, she paid comparatively little attention to pro-Palestine students who have faced assaultsdoxxing, and alleged harassment—including by professors—under her watch. She also didn’t voice any objection when the term “intifada” was equated with hate speech, despite knowing well—as a native Arabic speaker born in Egypt—that the term is used broadly for mass uprisings in many contexts; it’s how the Warsaw Uprising is described in Arabic.

Unlike her peers at MIT, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania, Shafik offered few appeals to academic freedom and made little mention of the role of universities as places where people must confront difficult ideas and disagreeable views. Instead, she proudly touted her suspension of Jewish Voice for Peace and other campus groups and her wider crackdown against unsanctioned speech. At one point in the hearing, she even vowed to remove Joseph Massad, a tenured professor who had made controversial statements, from a leadership post, without regard for due process.

More here.

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