The first screening here of a controversial documentary depicting alleged anti-Israeli bias among Columbia University faculty members has sparked debate among alumni about how best to respond to the charges.
After watching Columbia Unbecoming, Lilian Siskin, who graduated from sister school Barnard College in 1943, said she "would never give another cent to the university" because of the way the administration was handling the alleged cries of academic intimidation.
"I would never even consider sending a child or grandchild of mine to either Barnard or Columbia," Siskin said.
Dozens of people were turned away as a standing-room only crowd at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center Saturday night attended the screening and a panel discussion with Columbia and Barnard students who appeared in the film.
The event, which was sponsored by Yavneh Olami, an international religious Zionist student organization, in conjunction with the Barnard Club in Israel, also featured opening remarks from Natan Sharansky, minister-without-portfolio responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.
Referring to college campuses in the US as "islands of anti-Semitism," Sharansky said he was concerned "that the future leaders of American Jewry are becoming Jews of silence" as a result of the growing sense of intimidation in college classrooms.
"The moment students are ready to step up, to be counted, to argue and debate... that is when we will win," Sharansky said. "And the first example of this process begins tonight, with these students."
Columbia University has been engulfed in controversy over the past few months as a result of the 35-minute documentary, which alleges anti-Israel bias in the school's Middle East Studies department and constant harassment of students by its faculty members. The film, which chronicles the personal stories of 14 students who experienced incidents of academic abuse, was produced by the David Project, a Boston-based organization dedicated to fighting anti-Israel sentiment on college campuses.
"Sure, this documentary was about Columbia, but it could've been about a handful of other universities in America," Noah Liben, a recent graduate of Columbia, told the crowd.
Asked whether the David Project would consider releasing the video to the public, Liben said the organization "has made a number of contacts across the country... and can perhaps show it to other campuses."
Elana Jaffe, a junior at Barnard and former president of LionPAC, the pro-Israel group on campus, advised the students in the crowd "not to remain silent and uneducated" and asked the alumni, all of whom were viewing the film for the first time, "to find a way to add your voice to this process."
Jaffe said Barnard and Columbia's reputations should not be tarnished because of a few anti-Israel professors.
"The anti-Israel sentiment of a couple of professors shouldn't deter you from going, but should rather challenge you to learn more," Jaffe said. "Learning from the other side will only strengthen your arguments."
Marcia Gelpe, a graduate of Barnard's class of '65 and a current professor at Netanya Academic College, said that although she was not surprised by the alleged anti-Israel sentiment, she was impressed with the students' response.
"The students on the panel and in the movie are amazing," she said. "For students to maintain their sense of self in a hostile environment is hard, but I give them a lot of credit."
Dyonna Ginsburg, the international director of Yavneh Olami and a graduate of Columbia University, said that previously, people could only read about the abuses in the media.
"No one had the chance to see the movie until now," Ginsburg said. "I think people feel empowered and, at the very least, a little bit more educated on the matter."