Taking On Anti-Semitism At Columbia
By Rabbi JOSEPH TELUSHKIN
Special To The Jewish Week
The Columbia Spectator publishes a column calling Jews "devils" and comparing them to "leeches sucking the blood from the black community," and the university administration says there is nothing it can do; the Spectator, after all, is an independent newspaper, and fully protected by First Amendment rights.
Precisely how stupid does the Columbia University administration believe Jews to be? There is something very fundamental the president of Columbia University can do -- an act that would in no way jeopardize the newspaper's First Amendment rights -- that would show the school's administration to be truly upset at having its school newspaper publish the worst sort of racist lies.
Columbia's president can simply note how sorry he is -- even though there is nothing he can do about it -- that Sharod Baker, president of the school's Black Students Organization and author of the article, could have spent four years at Columbia and come out believing such foolish and vile falsehoods.
Indeed, I cannot understand why the president, George Rupp, does not make such a statement; he, after all, also has First Amendment rights.
Is it not embarrassing to him that a student could attend the school the school he heads, take many different courses and espouse such evil ideas?
Would not the true president of a medical college be embarrassed if one of his or her senior students wrote an article expressing the belief that spreading garlic on one's chest could cure lung cancer?
Yet such an article would be as close to the truth as the views expressed by Sharod Baker.
But the president of Columbia says nothing, and a year from now Sharod Baker will express such opinions with the added cache of possessing a B.A. from Columbia University.
Doesn't that make the Columbia president, and other members of the school administration, ashamed?
And if it does, shouldn't they express that shame in public?
And if having a student like Sharod Baker on campus does not make them ashamed, then shouldn't Jewish donors who give large sums of money to Columbia think twice about such gifts? Why pour precious assets into institutions whose officials lack the courage or will to denounce people who wish to stir up hatred against the Jews?
I read this article to several friends, one of whom responded that asking Jews to reconsider giving money to Columbia because of one article in a new spaper seems rather excessive. But the reason I am asking Jews to reconsider such donations is not because of this one article. It is because of the lack of a response to this article by President Rupp.
He might well respond to this challenge by arguing that he bears no responsibility for words published in the Columbia Spectator. Legally, of course, that is true. In the same way that I would not be responsible if I invited an African American to my house, and while there another guest spoke of African Americans as "devils" and compared them to "leeches sucking blood from the Jewish community."
However, is it conceivable that I would not apologize to my black guest for the offensive, evil words spoken by his attacker? And if I did not apologize but simply remained silent about the whole episode, would I have the right to be upset if my black guest felt that I, not just his attacker, must be his enemy?
Of course, I could respond to such a charge by asserting that I am not legally responsible for the evil words spoken by people in my house. But I am not talking about legal responsibility, I am not talking about legal responsibility. When a student on whose education Columbia
University has already spent tens of thousands of dollars (much of it likely raised through donations) can come out believing that Jews are "devils," it would be appropriate for the university's president to express some condemnation.
Doesn't Rupp own it to Columbia's Jewish students -- who are, not to be overly symbolic -- guests in his "house," to make it clear how unhappy he is about the presence of this other guest, the one who chooses to label them "devils."
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the author most recently of "Jewish Wisdom" and "Jewish Literacy," and the soon-to-be-published "Words that Hurt, Words that Heal," is an alumnus of Columbia University.
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