First-hand report of antisemitism at The New School

by Brian on January 27, 2024

in In the News,Living Through Terror,Politics,War in Gaza

Jonathan Telsin (from his WhatsApp)

Israeli music student, Jonathan Telsin, a 21-year-old trumpet player from Tel Aviv, has been living in New York City since the fall where he’s studying jazz at The New School in a joint program with the Tel-Aviv-based Israel Conservatory of Music. 

Jonathan was looking forward to an amazing opportunity: Getting to learn from top teachers and students; performing at world-renowned jazz clubs and sitting in at jam sessions around town; the excitement of being at the epicenter of the jazz world.

Then October 7 happened, and nothing has been the same.

Following the devastating attack on Israel by Hamas on that “Black Sabbath,” other New York City universities – Columbia, NYU and Cooper Union in particular – have been in the spotlight for antisemitic and anti-Israel activism. Reports of threats, intimidation and physical and verbal violence against Jewish students have been logged on campuses across the country, culminating in the Congressional farce where the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn could not state clearly that calling for the genocide of a minority group violated their schools’ codes of conduct.

But things have been just as horrific for Israeli and Zionist students at The New School. 

Jonathan has been compiling images and videos of what’s been happening on campus since October 7. Among the clips – which Jonathan explains is just a small sample:

— Posters plastered around campus including those screaming, “Zionists f-off.”

— Several videos of masked pro-Hamas protesters inside The New School’s front gates – on private property, not on the street where it could be argued they’re within their right to free speech – holding signs accusing Israel of “genocide” and “Intifada until victory.” 

— At the same rally, protesters chanted, “Is it right to rebel? Israel, go to hell.” To paraphrase a skit from Eretz Nehederet (the Israeli equivalent to Saturday Night Live)“If it rhymes, it must be true.”

— The New School’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards published a letter saying that blocking school entrances was against The New School’s policies. Antisemites annotated that letter to read, “F- all the Zionists that go to this school [and who are] taking pics of us. Sincerely, go to hell.” Well, at least they were sincere.

— More F-bombs: A video of a man outside The New School with a megaphone shouting “F-you Israel” and “F-you bitch.”

— In the ninth-floor girls’ bathroom: “Abolish the settler state.” In a boy’s bathroom: “Zionism is terrorism.”

— A group dubbed “the socialist revolution” makes clear the anti-Western bias of many of the protesters as they promote an event that “will cut across the imperialist lies and provide the communistic perspective for Palestinian liberation.” 

— Perhaps most egregiously for Jonathan, protesters barred the entrances to three separate New School buildings with large Palestinian flags. In one video, a woman pleads off camera, “Let me in, I have class.” A protester flashes a sign at her that reads, “Support decolonization.” Or else what, you can’t study? 

Amin Husain at The New School

Inside the walls of the campus buildings, things were not much better as Jonathan shared a video of Amin Husain, a professor at NYU who has built a reputation for spreading hate speech in his lectures. In the video, Husain was invited into a New School classroom where he claimed that all the atrocities Hamas meticulously documented – the murders, rapes, mutilations, and beheadings – were all “fake news” and “Zionist propaganda.” 

Jonathan pointed out that Husain was once a member of the Palestinian group Fatah (the PLO) who proudly proclaimed his participation in “resistance” activities during the first Intifada in Israel including throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. 

The irony of the antisemitic activity happening at The New School is that the institution was originally founded in 1919 by progressive educators who were frustrated by quotas that kept Jews and other minorities out of elite universities. In 1917, for example, Columbia imposed a “loyalty oath” related to World War I upon the entire faculty and student body. Professors Charles A Beard and James Harvey Robinson subsequently resigned from Columbia to join the faculty of The New School, which had adopted a deliberate color- and race-blind admission policy. 

Jonathan saved some of his most strident vitriol for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) which he says is not some innocent home-grown pro-Palestinian group. He pointed to a 2020 study by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy that revealed “a direct correlation between donations to universities by the country of Qatar and other Gulf States and the presence of SJP groups on campus.” 

According to a report by Gabriel Diamond, a political science major at Yale, in The Hill, following the 9/11 terror attacks, Qatar began pumping money – some $4.7 billion over two decades – into American universities.  “It naturally follows that university administrations sitting on cash piles from Qatar would take a hands-off approach to SJP,” Diamond writes.

Note, too, that Hatem Bazian, a co- founder of SJP and now a lecturer in the department of ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, also founded American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which is linked with the shuttered Holy Land Foundation which sent millions of dollars directly to Hamas before it was declared a terrorist organization by the U.S. in 2008. 

While the Holy Land Foundation no longer operates, AMP is still going strong and shares “a striking resemblance to the Hamas charities that were dismantled here more than a decade ago,” according to Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The New School administration attempted at one point to bring in a mediator for the Israeli students – an American rabbinical student, Louisa Solomon. While she seemed supportive during the meeting, Jonathan reported, he later saw her at a rally to denounce Israel.

Solomon also boasted on her Instagram page about being “proud to be arrested [in October 2023] demanding a ceasefire to prevent genocide in Gaza.” In separate social media posts, she described herself as “an anti-Zionist future rabbi” and claimed that stating that most Jews might feel similarly on a topic – for example, support of Israel following the most horrific massacre since the Holocaust – is in itself an “expression of antisemitism.” 

Louisa Solomon on social media

Was this really the best representative The New School could come up with?

Has Jonathan felt personally threatened? While he hasn’t physically been punched or hit, one protester thrust a megaphone up to his ear and began yelling. “I tried to move but he just went to the other side.” 

The climate of hate against Jews and Israelis at The New School is so pervasive, he relates, that one Israeli student said she didn’t feel safe coming to campus for weeks after the antisemitic protests started. “She was afraid for her life.”

Another Israeli student in the drama department at The New School was “canceled” from a play she was supposed to star in after she confronted a pro-Hamas student tearing down posters of kidnapped babies. 

“You’re no longer welcome due to your political views,” she was told just days before her final performance – one which she needed to pass the course.

Political commentator and editor Andrew Sullivan lays the blame on the West’s obsession with seeing the world in binary terms.

“If a member of an oppressor class says something edgy, it is a form of violence. If a member of an oppressed class commits actual violence, it’s speech,” says Sullivan on his SubstackThe Dishcast. “That’s why many Harvard students instantly supported a fundamentalist terror cult that killed, tortured, systematically raped and kidnapped Jews just for being Jews in their own country. Because they have been taught it’s the only moral position to take.”

Back at The New School, Students for Justice in Palestine published a list of “demands” of the university including ending the partnership between The New School and the Conservatory of Music in Israel, along with a “public acknowledgment” that Israel is a “settler colony” that must be denounced “for apartheid in Palestine and genocide in Gaza.” 

SJP ends its letter with the threat that, if the group doesn’t receive a response by its so-called “deadline,” we will “assume that this university is willingly invested in the genocide of the Palestinian people, and we will respond accordingly and by any means necessary.” (Emphasis is the writer’s.)

Of all the twisted language and epithets that have arisen after October 7, “to find yourself accused of genocide after undergoing a kind of mini-genocidal experience is so profoundly disorienting that I don’t know what world I’m living in anymore,” notes Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi on the Shalom Hartman Institute podcast For Heaven’s Sake.

Evoking genocide is the ultimate dehumanization, he said, even before South Africa began making those claims at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It’s the reason why people are tearing down posters of kidnapped Israelis, Klein Halevi explains. “The notion that Israel has any humanity opens up the possibility that maybe we have a case. And so, to see pictures of kidnapped babies is a threat to a worldview in which there can be no space for Israel’s legitimacy.” 

What does Jonathan want from The New School? 

“We want to be protected. We ask the school to take measures against students who violate their code of conduct, to not give an opportunity for students in an academic institution to call for the elimination of an entire population or community.”

Jonathan said he’s been attending “up to three meetings a day” with The New School administration – to no avail. “They crossed the line long ago. When a student says to another student, ‘I wish you had been in Israel on October 7 so you would have been raped, too,’ or ‘I hope you get stabbed on the street,’ the meaning does not rely on understanding the ‘context.’ Someone has to stop that student and let him know there will be consequences.”

Instead, a New School administrator told Jonathan to “get out of here, leave the building, it’s too dangerous for you now.’ I said, ‘if you think it’s dangerous for me, why don’t you do anything?’ He just gave me a blank look.”

That jives with what Shai Davidai, an Israeli professor at Columbia, has been saying in videos and articles that have gone viral since October 7. “Jewish students are encouraged to stay in hiding while those who celebrate Hamas are allowed to hold their events,” he notes.

Does Jonathan regret choosing to come to The New School? No, he says. “I came here to study music. It was a legitimate choice. But now I’m spending all this time in meetings. Tomorrow, I have an exam. I have so many papers to write and projects to do. But it’s our obligation to fight, for ourselves and for other students – and not just the Israeli and Jewish students – because they will be next.”

I first wrote about antisemitism at The New School for The Jerusalem Post.

All images were provided by Jonathan Telsin, including links to Louisa Solomon’s Instagram posts.

Update: Since I wrote this article, Amin Husain has been suspended by NYU for denying the October 7 atrocities.

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