The ongoing anti-Israel demonstrations at elite U.S. colleges and universities are exactly what happened in Germany in the 1920s, just years before Nazis took over the country, according to the head of the Holocaust museum.

Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, wrote a letter to Columbia University President Minouche Shafik on Friday, April 26, to warn her about potential consequences should the anti-Israeli sentiment continue to foster and grow.

“Heidelberg University in Germany was not less prestigious than Columbia,” Dayan wrote. “In the 1920s it was a center of liberal thinking. A decade later a mob of Heidelberg students burned Jewish and other ‘corrupt’ books in Universitätsplatz (‘University Square’). Its faculty developed pseudo-academic fields like race theory, eugenics and forced euthanasia. Heidelberg did have administrators. Unfortunately, it lacked moral leadership.”

He added: “The Jewish People was dispersed for two millennia, subject to persecutions, forced conversions, discrimination, pogroms and finally the extermination of six million Jews in the Holocaust. We returned to our ancestral homeland. Pursuing the destruction and erasure of the Jewish State is not less abominable than racial laws. Will Columbia be remembered as Heidelberg? To a very large extent, it is up to you, Madam.”


Dani Dayan

Dani Dayan, Chairman of Yad Vashem, wrote a letter to Columbia University President Minouche Shafik on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“A great moral conflict was delivered to your doorsteps. Rise to the occasion. Lead with moral principles, not only with administrative regulations. Speak up,” he added in the letter.

The chairman’s warning comes as thousands of students at schools like Columbia University, the University of Southern California, MIT, UT-Austin and others are protesting against Israel and its war with Hamas in Gaza. Hundreds of students at these schools have been arrested.

“I write to you in several capacities: as Chairman of Yad Vashem, the flagship institution of Holocaust remembrance; as a former Consul General of Israel to New York (a position in which I collaborated frequently with your predecessor); and last but not least as the proud father of a Columbia alum (GS ’21 and SIPA ’22),” Dayan’s letter started.

A sign that reads 'Never Again'

Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan warned Columbia University about potential consequences should anti-Israeli sentiment continue to foster and grow. (Dominika Zarzycka/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Madam President, the Presidency of Columbia University is one of the most important leadership positions in the academic world. The President of Columbia is not – as sometimes erroneously referred – an administrator. He or she is chosen to be a Leader,” it continued.


“All the decisions you recently made were administrative in nature: to call the NYPD to evacuate the illegal encampment, to allow its re-establishment, to activate or deactivate credentials, to move to online teaching. Even your decision to negotiate is administrative in nature.

“Madam, the time requires leadership decisions. Your illustrious career brought you to the Presidency of Columbia not to be a CEO or a Crisis Manager but to lead. To lead academically and even more important, to lead morally,” it read.

Anti-Israel agitators construct an encampment on Columbia University’s campus

The passenger that accosted Adams accused him of leaving the state while anti-Israel agitators were being arrested by police at Columbia University in recent days.  (Peter Gerber)

Dayan then urged President Shafik to “take a stand” as “thousands of Columbia faculty, staff and students call for the elimination of the State of Israel and the abolition of Zionism.”

“Not a political stand. A moral stand. When it becomes crystal clear that abolishing the existence of the Jewish State is a prevalent ideology in Columbia — the President of the institution cannot remain silent,” he added.

A pro-Palestine encampment is constructed on Columbia University’s campus in New York City

Anti-Israel agitators construct an encampment on Columbia University’s campus in New York City on Monday, April 22, 2024. The university announced that all classes would be held virtually today in response to the ongoing demonstrations on campus. (Peter Gerber)

Dayan then cited the Talmud, or Jewish religious law, and said it teaches: “Silence is admission.”


“Silence inevitably will be interpreted as tolerance or, even worst, consent,” he reiterated.

Dayan in a Holocaust center

Dayan then citied the Talmud, or Jewish religious law, and said it teaches: “Silence is admission.” (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Adding: “Your decision to deal only with the behavior – or the manners – of the demonstrators is not sustainable. A polite KKK member is as despicable – and probably more dangerous – than a thuggish one. A moral leader will fight both with the same determination.”

He then called the Columbia University president to act.

“Madam President, time has come for you to take a stand: can the promotion of the elimination of Israel – with or without genocide of its Jewish population – be a legitimate cause, advanced in academic syllabi, lectures, events, demonstrations and encampments in Columbia University or – like apartheid, misogyny, homophobia, white supremacism – is so despicable that will not be tolerated. Each day, each hour you evade making a public decision of this nature and acting accordingly – you actually decide affirmatively.”


The Yad Vashem chairman concluded his letter with a quote from Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate who defined indifference as “the most insidious danger of all.”

He also referenced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he quoted as saying that “the hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

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