Wife of Obama Press Sec Shocked by Proliferation of Anti-Semitism on Campus of Obama's Alma Mater

Former president's longtime friend, Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, warned Israel supporters would 'infest' the Trump admin

April 17, 2024

The co-chair of Columbia University’s Board of Trustees, Claire Shipman, told a congressional panel on Wednesday that the proliferation of anti-Semitism on the school’s Manhattan campus is "shocking."

Shipman’s husband, Jay Carney, served as press secretary under former president Barack Obama, a Columbia alumnus whose longtime friendship with one of the school’s notorious anti-Semitic professors became a central issue in his 2008 campaign.

During Wednesday's House Education Committee hearing featuring testimony from Columbia president Minouche Shafik and other school leaders, Shipman was asked to respond to what one lawmaker described as "pro-terrorist expressions on campus on a significant scale."

"I think it says we have a lot of work to do. It's shocking," Shipman said. "I think it says that we have lost our way in terms of what we expect from each other in a learning community and in our society. I think we have to … commit to speech that isn't laced with hate and isn't just meant to provoke."

Carney is probably more familiar with the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric that has percolated for decades on the Columbia campus, having accepted a job in the Obama administration in 2008, when Obama’s friendship with one of Columbia’s most prominent anti-Semitic professors was a recurring theme.

Though Obama professed support for Israel, the Los Angeles Times reported in the spring of 2008 that, in fact, Obama was a "friend and frequent dinner companion" of Rashid Khalidi, an anti-Israel scholar who has taught in Columbia's history department since 2003. Obama lauded Khalidi at a going away party before the professor joined Columbia, saying Khalidi gave "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."

In the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, Khalidi argued the attack required "context," telling Democracy Now! that Israel's "settler colonialism" and "apartheid" regime was to blame.

"This has to be put within the context. And the context is not just occupation," he said. "The context is settler colonialism and apartheid."

"You cannot commit daily violence against Palestinians—one Palestinian has died every day this year, in fact, slightly more—in the occupied West Bank. You cannot expect that not to lead to a reaction. The reaction will be violent."

In the 1970s, Khalidi routinely spoke to reporters on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a U.S.-designated terror group. As a Columbia professor, he has faced criticism over anti-Semitic statements.

In 2017, for example, Khalidi said supporters of the Jewish state would "infest" the Trump administration, invoking anti-Semitic propaganda that referred to Jews as "vermin."

"There are a group of people, a lot of them in Israel and some of them in the United States, who live in a world of their own," he said during an interview with a Chicago-based radio show. "That is to say, they think that whatever they want, and whatever cockamamie schemes they can cook up, can be substituted for reality."

"Unfortunately, these people infest the Trump transition team," he continued. "These people infest—are going to infest our government, as of January 20. And they are hand-in-glove with a similar group of people in the Israeli government and in Israeli political life, who think that whatever they think can be imposed on reality."

In addition to his longtime friendship with Khalidi, Obama in 1998 attended a speech by the late Columbia professor Edward Said, according to the Times. Said called for a campaign "against Israeli apartheid."

Two years later, Said was photographed throwing a stone in the direction of Israel Defense Force soldiers positioned outside of a guardhouse. Columbia responded by issuing a letter defending the professor.