A Passover Call to Action for College and University Presidents



April 22, 2024

Over the past 72 hours, the campuses of Columbia University, Barnard College, and Yale University have become increasingly hostile and unsafe spaces for Jewish students and staff, as threatening and unlawful antisemitic, anti-Israel protests have been allowed to rage unchecked. 

At these schools, Jewish and Israeli students, faculty, and speakers have been repeatedly verbally harassed, subjected to death threats, warned that the atrocities of October 7 will be inflicted on them 10,000 times over, barred from entering central areas of their campuses, and in the worst cases, physically assaulted and sent to the hospital. The situation at Columbia has deteriorated to the point that the school’s president announced at 1 a.m. today that all in-person instruction would be canceled and moved online. 

The extreme tactics of those creating these encampments and related protests are unacceptable at every level: They are denying students access to safe learning opportunities and campus life. They are flagrantly violating clear campus policies and rules with impunity. They are fostering hate and discrimination, often targeted specifically at Jewish and Israeli students who are part of their campus communities. And while we fully support robust dialogue, debate and other expressions of free speech, these abuses are not even remotely within the bounds of free speech principles. 

Responsible expressions of free speech allow for and depend on time, place and manner restrictions that the encampments and associated protests are brazenly defying. Instead, these impermissible tactics are creating precisely the type of hostile and discriminatory learning environment prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and they cannot and must not be allowed to persist. 

Today, as millions of Jews around the world, including hundreds of thousands of Jewish college students, celebrate the first night of Passover — the holiday that commemorates the Jewish people’s escape from persecution in Egypt en route to the Promised Land of Israel — we call on and insist that all college and university presidents and administrators take more aggressive action to re-take control of their campuses and ensure the safety of their Jewish students and other students being subjected to the threats, risks, and abuses posed by these growing encampments:

  1. Aggressively enforce your institution’s existing rules, regulations, and codes of conduct. These rules exist for the safety and well-being of all students. A failure to enforce them simply leads to further license for students and outside actors to assert their control over your campus (see below). 
  1. Restrict outside agitators from accessing your campus and fomenting violence and discrimination. It’s clear that many of the participants in unlawful protest activities are agitators from outside groups. You have every right to prevent them from co-opting your campuses for their political ends, and must implement the aggressive security measures necessary to restrict their access to your private campus spaces. 
  1. Anticipate and plan for a variety of scenarios involving potential protests and disruptions, and establish a clear delegation of responsibility for student affairs, law enforcement, and related university functions to respond to each scenario. Given the clear objective of groups like SJP to replicate unlawful encampments at other campuses, take the initiative to prepare for and prevent these abuses. In addition to your own campus security, you can also draw on the resources and expertise of the Secure Community Network (U.S.) and the Community Security Initiative (NY).
  1. Prevent protests from targeting known Jewish locations, student groups, and individuals. Take all necessary steps to protect Jewish facilities such as Hillel and Chabad centers, Jewish Greek life buildings, and other locations where Jews congregate together as a community. Here too, don’t wait for outside agitators and student protest organizations to target these locations, as so many already have — be proactive in getting ahead of these risks. 

These aggressive protests, featuring pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, and frequently anti-American rhetoric, are not random, and they are not spontaneous. They are part of a highly coordinated, planned and communicated campaign by SJP and related groups to further demonize and ultimately eliminate the nation of Israel, the world’s lone Jewish state (regardless of what actions Israel does or doesn’t take); and to harass, silence, and threaten Jewish and Israeli students and staff who dare to express their Jewish identities in a way that recognizes the significant role of Israel within Jewish history, faith, practice, and community.

As we prepare to host tens of thousands of Jewish students at Hillels tonight for the first Seder, and continue to think of and pray for the 129 hostages still held in Gaza, now is the time for moral clarity and decisive action. We call on all colleges, universities, and campus officials to do their part to ensure the safety of their Jewish students, and all students.