Former Soros Foundation Official Accused of Indoctrinating Columbia Students To Hate Israel

Ivy League school promoted Kayum Ahmed after he called Jews oppressors

A. Kayum Ahmed (
March 11, 2024

A former director at George Soros's Open Society Foundations is now a tenure-track public health professor at Columbia University, where a video recording of his lecture obtained by the Wall Street Journal shows him demanding that students participate in a call-and-response exercise.

"What do we want?" the professor, Kayum Ahmed, yelled. "Justice!" the students responded. "If we don't get it?" he asked. "Shut it down!" the students were instructed to respond.

Ahmed, who teaches a public health course that is mandatory for hundreds of Columbia graduate students, is accused of indoctrinating his students to hate Israel through lectures that label the country a "colonial settler state" that has "oppressed indigenous populations" and "displaced" Palestinians, leading to "health consequences," according to the Journal.

"He puts the idea into everyone's head that the Jews stole the land and it should belong to the indigenous people," a graduate student who took the class told the Journal. That rhetoric, some students and faculty members say, shows Ahmed is "abandoning context, advocating a pro-Palestinian bias, spreading disinformation and expecting an adherence to anti-Zionism," the Journal reported.

The ordeal reflects the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic beliefs advanced by prominent Ivy League faculty in the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on Israel—to which Jewish students are subjected, often involuntarily.

In a 2021 article, for example, Ahmed argued that the COVID-19 pandemic could create "a dystopian society of the 'unvaccinated'—a class of people denied affordable and equitable access to effective COVID-19 vaccines." That "class," Ahmed said, "includes prisoners, Palestinians, and those affected by armed conflict."

"Israel, for instance, demonstrated its capacity to weaponize the vaccine by denying vaccinations to Palestinians," Ahmed wrote in February 2021. Months later, Israel reached a vaccine exchange agreement with the Palestinian Authority, which went on to cancel the deal.

Ahmed has a long history of espousing such beliefs, including during his time as head of Open Society Foundations' public health portfolio. While serving as a division director at the foundation, Ahmed sparked outrage during a 2019 address at an elite New York City private school. In the address, he invoked the Holocaust to argue that Jews have fallen into a historical cycle in which they went from oppressed to oppressors.

"Xenophobic attacks are a shameful part of South African history, but in some ways it reflects the fluidity between those who are victims becoming perpetrators," he said. "I use the same example in talking about the Holocaust. The Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today perpetuate violences against Palestinians that are unthinkable."

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called those remarks "outrageous." The remarks did not, however, derail Ahmed's academic career. Roughly two years after the address, Columbia promoted Ahmed from a law school lecturer to an assistant professor in public health, a move that puts him on track for tenure.

Ahmed did not respond to a request for comment. In a statement sent to the Journal, the professor dismissed his critics as "a handful of privileged, white students, who have probably never been confronted by a framework that challenges them to think critically about the benefits they derived from the system of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism." Fifty-eight percent of graduate students at Columbia's public health school are minorities, according to a November 2022 headcount.

A spokesman for Columbia's public health school did not answer questions on Ahmed, instead referring generally to the school's commitment to a "balanced perspective."

"We are currently working with our educational committee and faculty to reiterate and reinforce our educational principles and requirements across our School," the spokesman said. "We take all concerns about class content seriously and we regularly examine coursework to ensure it is aligned with our educational principles and values."

Ahmed joined Columbia as a "lecturer in law" in 2017. He began a stint at Open Society Foundations a year later, leading the Soros nonprofit's "global portfolio on access to medicines and innovation at the Public Health Program based in New York." The Soros foundation's public health program brochure touts its work "promoting health policies based on social inclusion."

Ahmed became an assistant public health professor in 2021 and left Open Society Foundations a year later.

In addition to his 2019 address, Ahmed is the author of A is for Amandla! The ABC Guide for Young Revolutionaries [and their parents]. The book features slogans such as "free Palestine," "no justice no peace," and "decolonize this place" on its cover and encourages children to support "gender justice," the "climate movement," and "queerness."

"'A is for Amandla' introduces young readers to an unapologetically radical and complex vocabulary that is rarely captured in children's literature," Ahmed writes in the book's introduction. "Hearing adult readers say words like 'decolonize' and 'revolution' will introduce children to an evolving lexicon of resistance."