Is 'Globalize the Intifada' an Incitement to Violence? Columbia's Anti-Semitism Task Force Won't Say

'Some feel strongly that these are calls to genocide, while others feel strongly that they are not,' task force writes in first report

Anti-Israel rally at Columbia (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
March 8, 2024

In a new report on Columbia University's protest policies, the Ivy League school's Task Force on Antisemitism declined to say whether calls for "intifada" violate school rules, saying that while some students "feel strongly" that the chant invokes genocide, others feel strongly that it does not.

The report, released Monday, is the task force's first attempt to provide recommendations to Columbia's leaders regarding their response to rising campus anti-Semitism. Student protesters at Columbia have advocated for terror against Israelis. During a pair of January rallies, students cheered on the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists and chanted, "From New York to Gaza, globalize the intifada," and "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be Arab."

The term "intifada" references violent Palestinian uprisings in Israel that featured terror attacks on civilians, including suicide bombings at bus stations and night clubs. Columbia's rules bar students from inciting violence "against members of our community." Still, Columbia's Task Force on Antisemitism said it would not provide guidance on whether phrases such as "Globalize the Intifada" violate those rules, instead encouraging the university's "legal team" to provide "more guidance on this issue."

"Many have heard chants at protests like 'Globalize the Intifada' and 'Death to the Zionist State' as calls for violence against them and their families," the task force wrote in its report. "The University also has said that calls for genocide, like other incitement to violence, violate the rules."

"While we agree with this principle, the application of it should be clarified," the task force continued. "Many of the chants at recent Columbia protests are viewed differently by different members of the Columbia community: some feel strongly that these are calls to genocide, while others feel strongly that they are not. … Since this ultimately is a matter of legal compliance, we do not offer a detailed analysis here."

The report comes months after debate around campus calls for "intifada" rocked the Ivy League.

During a December congressional hearing, the leaders of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania offered testimony about their responses to campus anti-Semitism. Then-Harvard president Claudine Gay, along with then-Penn president Liz Magill, repeatedly argued that calls for "intifada" may not violate school rules.

"It can be, depending on the context," Gay said when asked if "calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Harvard's rules of bullying and harassment."

The answer contributed to Gay's resignation in early January. Just weeks later, Harvard launched an anti-Semitism task force of its own, which the school said would explore "current manifestations of bias." Similar task forces exist at Penn and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Columbia's task force, though, is the first to provide its school's leaders with formal recommendations. Some pro-Israel leaders on campus criticized the task force for declining to offer guidance on calls for "intifada," arguing that its first report should have gone further.

Columbia junior and Students Supporting Israel president Eden Yadegar, for example, told the Washington Free Beacon that while she is grateful for the task force's work, the first report should have weighed in on which chants violate school rules.

"No other marginalized group would be expected to cede agency over their own identity, and that includes defining forms of racism and prejudice against them," she said, adding that she hopes the task force "will take on the necessary role of condemning speech that incites violence against Jews for what it is: antisemitism."

Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai echoed Yadegar's rhetoric, telling the Times of Israel that while the task force "put a lot of work" into its first report, its recommendations fall flat.

"I'm so frustrated, and it depresses me," he said. "How am I supposed to face the Jewish students who, on a weekly basis, contact me with issues and problems and things that are happening, and tell them that this task force is working so hard on policies about protests?"

Neither Columbia nor its Task Force on Antisemitism responded to a request for comment.

While the task force did not weigh in on calls for "intifada," it did provide recommendations related to the location of campus protests. The task force's report expresses support for a "'speaker's corner' approach" that would allow protests in designated areas away from academic buildings.

The suggestion is a likely response to anti-Israel protests held in academic buildings at Columbia, which have disrupted classes. In November, student demonstrators took over the Columbia Law School lobby for hours, using a megaphone to broadcast demands that included the establishment of a "Center for Palestinian Legal Studies."

But that protest was unauthorized, and Columbia administrators stood by as it unfolded. The ordeal likely explains the task force's criticism of Columbia's "enforcement during demonstrations," which the report says has "fallen short."

"While we generally agree with the language of the University's rules, we have serious concerns about their enforcement," the report says. "First, the University has regularly failed to stop violations of rules as they occur. Second, there also have been challenges in imposing discipline after the fact."

The task force is led by political science professor Ester Fuchs, Columbia Journalism School dean emeritus Nicholas Lemann, and Columbia Law School dean emeritus David Schizer.