No to antisemitism at Columbia! No to Dr. Mahathir Mohamad!

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On September 25th, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia,  is expected to address Columbia’s World Leadership Forum. Mohamad has a long history of explicitly expressing his distasteful antisemitic views in public. His antisemitic statements range from bigoted ones as: “The Jews are not merely hook-nosed, but understand money instinctively” to ones of sheer Holocaust denial such as: “You cannot even mention that in the Holocaust it was not six million [Jews who died].”

Mohamad has a right to his opinions and to express them, no matter how repugnant they are. He is within his rights to hold views of an international Jewish conspiracy, and to voice them, as he did in 2003 in an OIC conference, that “the Jews rule this world by proxy and get others to fight and die for them.” However, by allowing him to give an address on campus, Columbia is not protecting Mohamad’s right to free speech. Rather, it is granting the credibility of one of America’s most prestigious universities to a vile antisemite and shakes even further the already fragile sense of safety and belonging of Columbia’s Jewish students. 

Universities should present divergent and radical opinions, but they are not environments in which absolutely anything goes. A language that encourages racism, bigotry and hate speech has no place in academic discourse.

Free speech is an important fundamental right to any individual living in a free society. Mohamad can say anything he wants, of course—that is free speech. But being able to speak at Columbia University—or at any university, for that matter—is a privilege, not a right.

This is not a matter of free speech, or of scholarly freedom. It is a matter of basic academic decency.

We call on the President of Columbia University, Dr. Lee Bollinger, to undertake immediate measures to ensure the safety and well being of Columbia’s Jewish students. Such measures should be canceling Prime Ministers Mohamad’s expected speech at Columbia, or at the very least, denouncing, on stage, the Prime Minister’s vile and antisemitic remarks.