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The mess at Barnard and Columbia

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Andrew Gelman points to what ought to be a disturbing development at Barnard (the all-women’s college that is part of Columbia University).

Briefly, the college has prohibited students from putting any kind of sign, semiotically speaking, on the exterior of their dorm room doors.

The putative reason, per the administration, is that “while many decorations and fixtures on doors serve as a means of helpful communication amongst peers, we are also aware that some may have the unintended effect of isolating those who have different views and beliefs.”

What’s really going on here is that, under the leadership of new president Laura Rosenbury, Barnard is cracking down on student protests aimed at the Israeli government, and the new dorm door signage policy is obviously part of that. (You may remember Rosenbury from such posts as “How To Synergistically Leverage the Law School Dean Space Into a Budget-Busting Springboard to an Ivy League College Presidency.”)

Specifically, the College has brought disciplinary proceedings against students who held a non-violent protest against Israel’s war on Gaza, although some of the students being sanctioned apparently weren’t even part of the protest, but were merely walking by at the time, and made the mistake of stopping for a minute or two to listen to the speakers.

And how were the protestors identified?

Maryam Iqbal, BC ’27, met Rosenbury and Grinage in October at a dinner to which she and other Arab and Muslim students were invited following student outcry over the administrative response to the Israel-Hamas war. At the dinner, Iqbal mentioned to Grinage and Rosenbury that she was a member of SJP. [Students for Justice in Palestine].

“[That] was my first mistake,” Iqbal said. “Because now admin latches on to whoever they can get and makes an example out of them.”

Nice!

The inquiry meeting email sent out to students says that they “may have coordinated or participated” in the Dec. 11 unauthorized protest, but does not clarify which action each student is accused of.

An incident report obtained by Spectator states that “the student(s) of concern were positively identified either by onsite administrative personnel or via social media images.”

Big Sister is watching, kids.

The policy the students are accused of violating is one that was put in place in November, requiring protestors to get authorization 28 days [!] in advance for public protests, which, speaking of Orwell, are now categorized by Barnard as “Events With Resources.”

All this is related to the broader issue of what’s happening at Columbia in regard to the Israel-Palestine issue, which is that the right wing scream machine has decided that any too-vigorous opposition to what the Israeli government is doing in Gaza is anti-Semitism. That’s pretty much the basis of this new lawsuit against the university:

“Columbia’s antisemitism manifests itself in a double standard invidious to Jews and Israelis,” the lawsuit reads. “Columbia selectively enforces its policies to avoid protecting Jewish and Israeli students from harassment, hires professors who support anti-Jewish violence and spread antisemitic propaganda, and ignores Jewish and Israeli students’ pleas for protection.”

I know the work of one of the professors the suit names, Katherine Franke, who teaches at Columbia’s law school, and the claims against her are false. Franke had tried to contextualize the October 7 Hamas attack within the larger ongoing conflict, which of course in the world of right wing propaganda is exactly the same thing as advocating the beheading of Jewish babies.

Back in 2018, Franke was detained by the Israeli government when she tried to enter Israel on a scholarly visit, and then deported back to the United States 14 hours later. Franke was barred entry because of her views on the Israel/Palestine conflict. This incident led to an open letter, signed by 62 prominent Jewish law professors, protesting the Israeli government’s actions.

I sympathize with centrist, liberal, and leftist Jewish Americans who don’t want criticism of the war crimes and apparent ethnic cleansing being committed in Gaza by the IDF to get confused with support for Hamas, which to be clear is a right wing theocratic anti-Semitic terror group. But there’s another right wing theocratic anti-Semitic movement much closer at hand at the moment, which is the propaganda machine that is attacking people like Katherine Franke, while trying to get the head of an authoritarian theocratic ethno-nationalist movement elected president of the United States eight months from now.

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