Columbia AEPi Stands Strong

(Editor’s Note: The situation at Columbia University has been well-publicized recently. Scores of pro-Hamas demonstrators have taken over the campus, chanting anti-Israel and antisemitic comments throughout the day and night in a clear attempt to intimidate Jewish students. AEPi members and other Jewish students are coping as best as possible but watching their fellow students and, in many cases, their professors, say so many uninformed and vitriolic things, has been difficult. AEPi’s Iota chapter at Columbia continues to represent our values, even in the midst of these intimidating and increasingly violent times on campus.)

Brother Tomer Witelson (Columbia, 2025) is the Iota chapter of AEPi’s president, and he is concerned about the future of his university. “As of now, I intend to finish my degree here, but it is quite a shame to call this my alma mater. Different Brothers are taking this differently. Some of us are pretty scared and concerned when we walk through campus, and we hear calls for intifada and to burn Tel Aviv. Jewish students are being harassed and verbally assaulted … even told to go kill themselves. Other Brothers have decided they don’t want to be around campus and have gone home. They’ve said that they will come back once the University does something.”

With finals starting in earnest next week, this is the busiest time of the semester but many AEPi Brothers are struggling to focus on academic concerns. “A large part of the problem is the faculty. There are antisemitic professors who have used their position as teachers to spread falsehoods to their students. Obviously, this has been a problem for a long time. The president established an ‘Antisemitism Taskforce’ but it has no investigative or administrative authority. It’s a toothless organization.”

“Our chapter’s executive board has made sure that it is known to all of our members that we are here as a community. It’s still the tight-knit community we had before. This – AEPi – is always going to be a place where people can come to feel safe.”

“We’re encouraging our Brothers to safely attend the counter demonstrations. We want to show the pro-Hamas demonstrators that we will always be here.”

Last week, the chapter issued a statement on its Instagram page relating to the situation on campus. The statement sparked an unusual conversation – in that it was respectful and civil – Between Brother Witelson and an anti-Israel protester. “They understood why we took a stand against antisemitism but disagreed with our statement about supporting Israel. We had a respectful dialog about Israel. We didn’t convince each other but we parted with a mutual understanding of each other’s positions.”

Unfortunately, such interactions have been few and far between. “We’ve had a couple of Brothers who have had things thrown at them. Saturday night, a group of students were followed by some pro-Hamas students as they left JTS (Jewish Theological Seminary). The demonstators were saying things like, ‘Go Back to Poland’ and ‘October 7 should happen every day.’ Other Bothers have had stuff thrown at them or been assaulted.”

“But, the majority of our Brothers are confident in their positions. We have our values and we’re sticking to them. We’re going to show our pride as Jews and show our pride in supporting Israel. That’s not going to go away…not in our fraternity and not in the other Jewish organizations on campus.”