Columbia Prof Shai Davidai Says University Has Launched Retaliatory Investigation Against Him

Jewish Israeli prof claims he has been singled out because he is the “most vocal faculty member speaking out for our Jewish students.”
March 11, 2024
Columbia photo: peterspiro/Getty Images

Columbia University Business School Assistant Professor Shai Davidai announced on Friday that the university has launched an investigation against him and claimed the investigation is retaliation for his criticisms of the university’s handling of antisemitism on campus.

Davidai, a Jewish Israeli professor, told the Journal in a phone interview that he first received notice of the investigation a few weeks ago but waited until Friday to release a statement on the matter to ensure his statement didn’t “interfere with the investigation.” While he couldn’t delve into the specifics of the investigation, he said that the investigation was launched by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) which “typically looks at harassment based on protected class, so race, gender, nationality.”

“Not only have I not ever gone after any specific student, I’ve only focused on organizations that support terror and not based on any other thing,” Davidai told the Journal. “I have actually explicitly — multiple times — talked about my abhorrence to Islamophobia, my opposition to anti-Arab prejudice, my support for the Palestinian people. So clearly it’s an attempt to silence me because all of my activity has been targeting the university.”

In a statement posted to X, Davidai described the campus climate as being “intolerable” for Jewish and Israeli students. “Over the past months, Jewish students at Columbia have been locking themselves in their dorm rooms to avoid being assaulted,” Davidai wrote in the statement. “They have been spat on, attacked, bullied, and vilified. Columbia has done nothing to stop the pro-terror organizations that justify, excuse, and celebrate the massacre of my people, and chant for their eradication ‘by any means necessary’ — as if violence against my four-year-old Israeli niece and 93-year-old Israeli grandmother would be justified. As if Hamas terrorists raped my Israeli wife, it would be an act of resistance. As if Hamas terrorists shot my two-year old daughter or my eight-year-old son in the head on our upcoming visit to Israel, it would be an act by ‘freedom fighters’ — an act worthy of celebration.

Davidai’s statement continued, “This is not an exaggeration. This is the reality of what it’s like being Jewish and Israeli at Columbia University since Oct. 7.”

In response to the climate, Davidai “reluctantly” became “the most vocal faculty member speaking out for our Jewish students. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that this university, which I love, would have become a place that is unsafe for so many of us.”

He denied targeting “any individual Columbia student” in a discriminatory manner, claiming that “doing so would be morally wrong and is contrary to everything I stand for.” “I have made clear in and outside of my classroom that I do not — and will never — tolerate any form of bigotry,” wrote Davidai. “I have focused––and will always focus––on student organizations that have turned this campus into a hostile environment by openly celebrating terrorism and promoting violence against Israel and Jews.”

“I have made clear in and outside of my classroom that I do not — and will never — tolerate any form of bigotry. I have focused––and will always focus––on student organizations that have turned this campus into a hostile environment by openly celebrating terrorism and promoting violence against Israel and Jews.” -Shai Davidai

Not only are they arguing this, he told the Journal, to deflect from the actual criticism, but “they are actually making up these accusations.  I have never targeted any specific student, I have never doxed any student, as I make in the clear statement … I don’t know who they are. Even if I wanted to — and I would never want to — I could never single out a specific student.”

He further claimed in his statement that the university has “refused to enforce” the suspension of certain pro-Palestinian groups on campus and alleged “that the administration has explicitly stated that these groups’ rhetoric violate Columbia’s codes of conduct but refuses to enforce its own policies … What matters to me is that Columbia has created an unlawful and discriminatory two-tier system, where Jews and Israelis do not merit the same protections and considerations as everyone else on campus.”

The Columbia professor proceeded to state that “speaking up has ruined my life … I receive death threats on a daily basis. I have been targeted on social media, including by Columbia students and faculty. To the best of my ability I avoid spending time on campus out of fear of being verbally or physically assaulted. And now I am being persecuted by Columbia, which is retaliating against me based on groundless complaints.”

He told the Journal the university is “not an impartial judge here. The university has a vested interest in me being silenced or me going away. I am the most vocal critic of the university’s refusal to act on this antisemitic wave and this support for terrorism …  not only have they not stood by my side, they’ve actually done everything possible — and now this investigation — to actually try make things worse for me.”

In his statement, Davidai called the investigation absurd, pointing out that in interviews, op-eds and blog posts he has advocated for a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution, differentiated between support for Palestine as and support of Hamas, and has denounced all forms of hate, including anti-Arab prejudice and Islamophobia. “All of these examples are public, and I find it hard to believe the administration is not aware of my statements,” he said.

A defiant Davidai emphasized, in bold letters: “I view this investigation as a clear attempt to silence me. I will not stop demanding that the university enforce its own rules and policies. I will not stop fighting Columbia’s attempts to sideline me, fire me, or make my life even more unbearable.”

The Columbia professor said in his statement that while he would cooperate with the investigation in “good faith,” and he “will pursue every legal remedy available in order to hold Columbia and its administrators accountable for this unlawful silencing campaign.”

“I don’t want to sue the university,” Davidai told the Journal. “It’s not something I’m looking forward to. But I do want the university to know that if this retaliation will continue, these attempts to silence me for practicing my freedom of speech, then I will not be silenced. I will not allow this to happen.”

Davidai contended to the Journal that the university’s use of the EOAA against him basically sends the message that “supporting for terrorism is a protected class.” “The EOAA office is concerned with protecting classes, and if that’s the argument they are willing to make, then good luck to them,” said Davidai, “and if not, then they basically will be admitting that they are allowing any baseless accusations to turn into investigations to turn into investigations… so now anyone can just use to the EOAA to try and silence anyone.”

Further, Davidai believes that “what’s at stake is more than just my job, my livelihood.” “What’s at stake here is basically the dozens or hundreds of Jewish Israeli professors all around the country who are probably speaking up and getting these investigations and just because they’re less highly profiled, people don’t know about this,” he told the Journal. “And then the thousands or tens of thousands of professors who would want to say something but now see the universities are going after individuals who are speaking up… to me that’s the fight… to make sure that everyone will be able to speak up.”

A university spokesperson said in a statement to the Journal, “We do not comment on personnel matters. As a general matter, if the University receives a formal complaint, it will review and consider the complaint under established processes.”

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