‘It Feels Hopeless’: Jewish Students at Columbia Say Disparaging Texts Reflect Administration’s Indifference Toward Anti-Semitism

'It's no wonder these students feel entitled to go take over a lawn or take over a building'

(Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
June 15, 2024

One month after Columbia University's scaled-down graduation ceremonies, most students are away from the school's Manhattan campus. Still, news of the disparaging text messages a group of Columbia administrators exchanged amid a panel on campus anti-Semitism spread quickly among Jewish students.

For five Jewish students at Columbia, the texts were both astonishing, given their vitriol, and unsurprising, given the administration's track record in the wake of Oct. 7. The texts, those students say, reflect an administrative indifference toward anti-Semitism that has fostered a hostile campus climate for Jewish students.

"They're all cut from the same cloth," said Alon Levin, a third-year Ph.D. student. "They have a fake sweetness, like, 'Yeah, we're listening to you and you're so brave for coming to us, but we're not going to do anything.'"

Levin and four other Jewish students at Columbia—as well as one recent graduate—spoke with the Washington Free Beacon and shared their reaction to the messages, in which senior Columbia administrators sneered at the panelists and, in one case, used vomit emojis to describe a campus rabbi’s op-ed on anti-Semitism. Some of the students asked to be referred to by their initials to speak candidly.

Dennis Goldenberg, a masters student in actuarial science, said the texts provide "more and more evidence" that Columbia administrators are hostile to Jewish students. In one of the messages, Columbia vice dean Susan Chang-Kim told the dean of Columbia College, Josef Sorett, she was "trying to keep an open mind to learn about this point of view," but the panel was "difficult to listen to." Sorett responded, "Yup."

"Instead of doing their job, which is protecting students on campus, they seem to be giving more and more evidence that they care about certain narratives," Goldenberg said. 

He pointed to one of the messages revealed in the exchanges in which Columbia’s dean of student and family life Matthew Patashnick accused a panelist of taking "full advantage of this moment" for its "huge fundraising potential." That text, Goldenberg said, "roll[ed] up maybe two or three Jewish stereotypes in one sentence."

Eden Yadegar, a rising senior and president of Columbia Students Supporting Israel, and B.W., a recent Columbia grad, also homed in on Patashnick. 

Yadegar said she was "not surprised to see Columbia administrators perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes," citing Patashnick’s message. 

B.W., meanwhile, said Patashnick's badmouthing of the panelists shows why anti-Israel protesters on campus feel emboldened. "It's no wonder these students feel entitled to go take over a lawn or take over a building when you have actual leaders—people who hold a meaningful title—sending puke emojis as somebody's speaking." 

He continued, "They are insinuating that [the Jewish panelists] are just lining their pockets with money."

The text messages were captured in photographs during a May 31 panel held on Columbia’s campus during alumni reunion weekend. Sorett, Chang-Kim, Patashnick, and the dean of undergraduate student life, Cristen Kromm, mocked the panelists with dismissive remarks.

The panel featured David Schizer, the former dean of Columbia Law School who co-chaired the university's anti-Semitism task force; Brian Cohen, the executive director of Columbia's Kraft Center for Jewish Life; Ian Rosenberg, the school's dean of religious life; and Rebecca Massel, a rising junior who covered anti-Israel campus protests for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Sorett issued a private apology for the text messages on Friday, writing in an email that the remarks do not "indicate the views of any individual or the team." Sorett apologized for the "harm" the exchange caused but did not mention he participated in it.

One current student, A.G., was more forgiving of administrators in the past. She has defended Columbia's leaders from the criticisms of family and friends, telling them she "assumed they had good intentions and were powerless to take a strong stance." 

But the text messages, she said, show otherwise: "The compassion they preach over mass emails is certainly not what they practice," she said. 

As the panel on Jewish life at the school unfolded, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine members prepared to erect a new encampment on campus roughly one month after their group helped storm and occupy a university building. They launched the reestablished encampment on the evening of May 31, greeting alumni who returned to campus with a sign that read, "We're back, bitches."

While the student protesters left the encampment at the end of the alumni weekend, they went on to issue a statement pledging a "summer of disruption."

"Use this time to agitate, educate, and escalate," the statement said. "Until victory and with more installations to come, revolt for Rafah—long live the student intifada."

The threat of additional demonstrations, paired with the hostility shown in the administrators' texts, left Jewish students pessimistic about Columbia's campus climate going forward. 

"Every time you think they've gone the farthest, it just gets worse," one Jewish student at Columbia said of the university's leaders. "It feels hopeless."

A Columbia spokeswoman pointed to a statement shared with the Free Beacon on Wednesday, which says the school is "committed to combatting antisemitism and taking sustained, concrete action to ensure Columbia is a campus where Jewish students and everyone in our community feels safe, valued, and able to thrive."