Clinton’s campus qualms

Hillary Clinton, now a Columbia professor, decries campus antisemitism in Munich address

Clinton said her students are ‘woefully uninformed’ about antisemitism, the Holocaust and the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton moderates the night cap session "Rebels With a Cause: Voices of Civil Resistance" at the 2024 Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2024 in Munich, Germany.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried antisemitism on U.S. college campuses on Saturday, telling an audience at the Munich Security Conference that young people in America are  “woefully uninformed” about antisemitism and the Holocaust. 

Clinton, now a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, described an atmosphere in which students who are highly engaged on global issues only regularly protest Israel, despite a lack of knowledge about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A series of recent events on campus exemplify the issue, Clinton said.

“Last week we had three panels about Ukraine, and they were superb. They went off without a hitch. We learned a lot and were challenged,” said Clinton. Two days later, the school hosted several panels about conflict-related sexual violence, with a focus on Ukraine, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Israel. The conversation focused on Israel was protested.

“You just have to ask yourself how you could have an event focused on using rape as a tactic of war against women and girls, which is [used] in conflict across the world, and you include the most recent horrendous example out of Israel, and that brings out the protesters,” Clinton said. “There is an invidious strain of antisemitism that has never gone away, but we had hopes it had been, certainly, submerged, that has been poking its head up for quite some time now.”

Speaking alongside Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, Clinton offered a brief history of efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that her students at Columbia have minimal knowledge of the history. 

“What is so frustrating is that people have very little to no information about all of the efforts that were made, literally starting in 1948, but certainly moving most dramatically to the year 2000, to actually create a state for the Palestinian people,” said Clinton. 

“I say that,” she continued, “because even when I’m teaching, with very smart students, and the students are from all over the world at the School of International and Public Affairs, they have no idea about any of this.”

Clinton laid out a list of events that she considered crucial context for understanding Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war — many of which she witnessed firsthand.  

“They have no idea about the collapse of the peace process, the rise of an intifada. They have no idea about then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a man noted for his military experience, withdrawing from Gaza. They have no idea of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza. They have no idea that another Israeli prime minister back when I was secretary of state, namely [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, was willing at least to keep talking about some kind of two-state solution process,” Clinton said.  

It is the responsibility of educators, policymakers and the current generation of leaders to teach young people more about history, and in particular about the Holocaust, said Clinton, pointing to data that show young people know very little about the Holocaust.

“That’s our fault,” said Clinton. “The information they get, more often than not, is off of social media, where they are picking up not only misinformation but deliberate disinformation, that they are absorbing and acting on and not knowing even what they’re saying. So this is a problem that was really exposed on October 7, but we have to recognize it is a bigger problem even than that.”

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