“Would people treat me differently if they knew I am Israeli?”

How can I, as well as my Jewish and non-Jewish peers, continue to call Columbia home when it fosters such violence?

This essay is part of Hey Alma’s series on what it’s like to be a Jewish college student in response to October 7, the 2024 Israel-Hamas war and campus protests. Click here to read the full range of voices.

Growing up in a close-knit Jewish community in Dallas, Texas, my Jewish-Israeli identity was often one of the very first things I brought up when introducing myself to new people. I expected to extend the same introduction, “Hi, my name is Yasmine and I’m from Dallas but my parents are from Costa Rica and Israel,” when I began my first year at Columbia University. But my script changed after October 7.

The first protest on campus was the most jarring to me. Just days after 1200 Israelis were killed and 243 hostageswere taken from Israel, the chant “From the River to the Sea” echoed throughout campus, iterating that hundreds of students on my campus believed that Hamas’ attack on Israel was justified. As a new Israeli student who had just marked her seventh week on campus, I was anxious about revealing my identity to my peers. Would people treat me differently if they knew I am Israeli?

So I went silent. But I didn’t want to be. Why should I hide my pain and hurt in front of others when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impacts me so deeply? Now that campus protests have intensified, I can no longer remain silent.

As a first-year student who lives next to the lawns where the encampment was set, I have witnessed a troubling shift in campus sentiment. Initially, extremist rhetoric was incited by protestors outside of campus gates, with individuals claiming “We are Hamas.”

But when President Shafik brought the NYPD to campus and arrested 100 students, the rhetoric within the student encampments grew more hostile. My peers have openly called to “Kill all Zionists” and have stood before Jewish students with a sign declaring, “You are Al-Qasam’s next targets.” Just next to my dormitory, protestors vandalized Hamilton Hall, an academic building at Columbia, and hung a banner calling for “Intifada.” Calling for an “Intifada Revolution” is a direct call for the removal of Jews on Columbia’s campus. These protests can no longer be called anti-Israel — they are blatantly anti-Jewish.

While Columbia has since come out to say that they condemn antisemitism, the fact that the University permits such rhetoric to exist on campus signals their profound indifference to hate. Merely speaking against antisemitism does not repair campus trust as terrorizing language, repeated by dozens of students, ensues. How can I, as well as my Jewish and non-Jewish peers, continue to call Columbia home when it fosters such violence? Though Columbia’s undergraduate student body is 22.5% Jewish, the tense campus atmosphere serves as a reminder that Jews are always vulnerable in the places we call home.

Though Columbia as an institution has denounced antisemitism, the root of the problem lies within the student body. If students cannot cultivate a sense of mutual respect and ensure safety, then how can we expect to live and learn together?

Despite concerns from my community in Dallas about my continuing at Columbia, I choose to stay. My presence, and that of all Jewish students in higher education, is crucial to ensuring that our voices and perspectives continue to enrich and inform academic communities. Silence, I have learned, is not the path to positive change.

— Yasmine Abouzaglo from Dallas, TX; Columbia University, Class of 2027


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