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Yad Vashem Chairman Demands Columbia University President to Show Moral Leadership Amid Calls to Eliminate Israel

26 April 2024

In a letter Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan urges Columbia University President  Minouche Shafik to show moral leadership in the face of rising calls for the elimination of Israel and the abolition of Zionism within the university. Dayan emphasizes that the presidency of Columbia is a position of leadership, not just administration, and calls on President Shafik to take a stand against such ideologies. He argues that silence on the matter may be interpreted as consent or tolerance, and compares the situation to historical instances of academic complicity with bigotry. Dayan urges President Shafik to act decisively and morally, warning that failure to do so could lead to Columbia being remembered in a negative light. He quotes Nobel Laurette Prof. Elie Wiesel and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to underscore the importance of moral leadership in times of great conflict.

Dayan's complete letter:

Madam President, the Presidency of Columbia University is one of the most important leadership positions in the academic world. The President of Columbia is not – as sometimes erroneously referred – an administrator. He or she is chosen to be a Leader.

All the decision you recently made were administrative in nature: to call the NYPD to evacuate the illegal encampment, to allow its re-establishment, to activate or deactivate credentials, to move to online teaching. Even your decision to negotiate is administrative in nature.

Madam, the time requires leadership decisions. Your illustrious career brought you to the Presidency of Columbia not to be a CEO or a Crisis Manager but to lead. To lead academically and even more important, to lead morally.

President Shafik, when thousands of Columbia faculty, staff and students call for the elimination of the State of Israel and the abolition of Zionism, you must take a stand. Not a political stand. A moral stand. When it becomes crystal clear that abolishing the existence of the Jewish State is a prevalent ideology in Columbia – the President of the institution cannot remain silent. The Talmud teaches us: “Silence is admission”. Silence inevitably will be interpreted as tolerance or, even worst, consent.

Your decision to deal only with the behavior – or the manners – of the demonstrators is not sustainable. A polite KKK member is as despicable – and probably more dangerous – than a thuggish one. A moral leader will fight both with the same determination.

Madam President, time has come for you to take a stand: can the promotion of the elimination of Israel – with or without genocide of its Jewish population - be a legitimate cause, advanced in academic syllabi, lectures, events, demonstrations and encampments in Columbia University or – like apartheid, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacism – is so despicable that will not be tolerated.  Each day, each hour you evade making a public decision of this nature and acting accordingly – you actually decide affirmatively.

There is a naïve belief that academy is immune to bigotry and the causes that students and professors lead are inherently “good causes”, even if sometimes ahead of their time. Nothing is further from the truth. Heidelberg University in Germany was not less prestigious than Columbia. In the 1920s it was a center of liberal thinking. A decade later a mob of Heidelberg students burned Jewish and other “corrupt” books in Universitätsplatz ("University Square"). Its faculty developed pseudo-academic fields like race theory, eugenics and forced euthanasia. Heidelberg did have administrators. Unfortunately, it lacked moral leadership.

The Jewish People was dispersed for two millennia, subject to persecutions, forced conversions, discrimination, pogroms and finally the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust. We returned to our ancestral homeland. Pursuing the destruction and erasure of the Jewish State is not less abominable than racial laws. Will Columbia be remembered as Heidelberg? To a very large extent, it is up to you, Madam.

Madam President, Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate defined indifference as “the most insidious danger of all”. And the great civil right leader and fellow Nobelist Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. added that “the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”  A great moral conflict was delivered to your doorsteps. Raise to the occasion. Lead with moral principles, not only with administrative regulations. Speak up.