Will The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Cost This Columbia B-School Prof His Career?

Columbia University’s campus has been rocked by boisterous protests in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Columbia Business School management professor Shai Davidai has spoken out against violent anti-Israel rhetoric — and that may have spurred an investigation that he calls “retaliation” by the university.

An assistant professor at Columbia Business School says Columbia University is investigating him following his outspoken and public criticism of the university’s handling of campus anti-Israel protests in the wake of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks. Even though he will likely not get tenure and has received no support from his colleagues in the CBS faculty, he maintains he will continue to speak out.

Shai Davidai, assistant professor in management at CBS since 2019, tells Poets&Quants that he was notified in February that he was being investigated by the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which typically investigates cases of harassment based on race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected classes. Davidai believes the investigation is retaliatory.

“So I was very shocked. I’ve never done anything like this, anything even close to that,” says Davidai, who is Jewish, and who was born and raised in Israel and served in the Israeli Navy. “I realized that they are weaponizing this investigation to silence me.”

In a statement to other news outlets, Columbia University says it does not comment on personnel issues. It did not respond to P&Q’s written request for comment.


Davidai, who last year was selected as a Poets&Quants Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professor, has been a frequent vocal critic of Columbia University since Hamas launched the attack, killing more than 1,300 people including 600 Israeli civilians and 36 children. Hamas also took about 250 hostages, including 30 children. The response by the Israel Defense Force, including large-scale bombing and invasion of Gaza, has led to a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food, water, medicine, and other supplies.

Columbia Business School professor Shai Davidai: “Columbia has done nothing to stop pro-terror organizations that justify, excuse, and celebrate the massacre of my people, and chant for the eradication ‘by any means necessary’ – as if violence against my four-year-old Israeli niece and my 93-year-old Israeli grandmother would be justified”

Davidai has written numerous posts on his X (formerly Twitter) account about pro-Palestinian protests and events organized on Columbia’s campus that he says contain violent rhetoric. He’s also given several media interviews.

He has publicly criticized Columbia University President Minouche Shafik for her failure to publicly condemn Hamas.

“Today is day 167 since October 7 and the president of the university has not even used the word Hamas in any official communication,” Davidai told P&Q last week. “It’s almost as if she thinks Hamas has nothing to do with it. There’s no other explanation.”

He also criticizes the university for failing to enforce its own suspensions of two pro-Palestinian student organizations, allowing them to continue to organize campus protests that Davidai describes as “blatantly pro-Hamas organizations, blatantly antisemitic.” He says the protests have included “violent chants, including chants for basically genocide of the Jews in Israel.”

In November, Columbia University suspended Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace after a large protest included what the university called “threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The suspension bans the groups from hosting on-campus protests and events and from getting school funding. (The New York Civil Liberties Union is now suing Columbia over the suspension.)


On February 13, the Columbia Spectator reported that an anonymous group of social psychology graduate students called upon the Society of Personality and Social Psychology to sanction Davidai, who earned a Ph.D. in social psychology from Cornell University.

The letter accuses Davidai of intentionally targeting “vulnerable students from multiple marginalized racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds” in his X posts and elsewhere. It also accuses him of misrepresenting peaceful pro-Palestinian student protests as calls for violence, alleges that he doxxed a Muslim student, and calls on the SPSP Executive Committee to open a formal investigation.

Davidai maintains that he has never doxxed any individual student or called anyone out by name.

It is unclear whether the current investigation from Columbia’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action is related to this particular complaint, and Davidai says he cannot get into the specifics. But he has obtained a lawyer and says that Columbia has hired an external law firm to investigate. It is expected to take about 120 days, which would mean it would wrap up sometime around the end of May.

In response to the formal investigation, Davidai wrote a letter that pulls no punches. He describes a culture at Columbia where Jewish students are locking themselves in their dorm rooms, and have been spat on, attacked, bullied, and vilified. (Read the full statement in the X post above.)

On March 22, the Academic Freedom Alliance called on Columbia University to end the investigation.

“Columbia has done nothing to stop pro-terror organizations that justify, excuse, and celebrate the massacre of my people, and chant for the eradication ‘by any means necessary’ – as if violence against my four-year-old Israeli niece and my 93-year-old Israeli grandmother would be justified,” Davidai writes.

“As if Hamas terrorists raped my Israeli wife, it would be an act of resistance. As if Hamas terrorists shot my two-year-old daughter or my eight-year-old son in the head on our upcoming visit to Israel, it would be an excusable act by ‘freedom fighters’ – an act worthy of celebration.”

While the university did not respond to P&Q’s questions, it did offer a short statement to the Jewish Journal which reported on the investigation: “We do not comment on personnel matters. As a general matter, if the University receives a formal complaint, it will review and consider the complaint under established processes.”


Tensions at Columbia University are hardly unique. Gallons of ink have already been spilled on the clashes between school leadership and the students, alumni, and faculty from either side of the issue. Many more gallons are sure to come.

Two prominent university presidents already lost their jobs after a disastrous December 5 congressional hearing on alleged antisemitism on college campuses. Claudine Gay, former president of Harvard University and Harvard’s first black president, quit six months into her first term. Her ouster was helped in no small part by HBS alum and billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman who led a social media campaign demanding the names of students who signed on to a letter blaming Israel for Hamas’ attack.

Liz Magill resigned as president of the University of Pennsylvania days after the hearing. She was already facing pressure from a prominent Wharton School alum, Apollo Management CEO Marc Rowan, who took university leadership to task for not speaking up in support of Israel. Rowan and his wife previously donated $50 million to Wharton in 2018. Other large Wharton donors expressed their displeasure as well.

Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia University

For the December hearing, Gay and Magill were among four university presidents invited to testify before the United States House Committee on Education & the Workforce. Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Sally Kornbluth also testified, but Columbia president Shafik declined the invitation citing a scheduling conflict.

Shafik will testify before the house committee on April 17.


The backlash to the hearing largely comes from the presidents’ answers to a question about whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” was against university policy. That question, in turn, stems from conflicting interpretations of the word “Intifada,” widely chanted by pro-Palestinian groups in protests on campuses and other public spaces.

Intifada is an Arabic term loosely translated as a rebellion or uprising. But it has become a rallying cry for Palestinians concerning Israel. Two periods of intensified violence between Palestinians and Israelis have been named intifadas: The First Intifada from 1987 to 1993 and the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005. Palestinians often describe intifada as a call to resistance. Israelis often describe it as a call for violence or genocide.

At the hearing, New York Representative Elise Stefanik referenced the chants of “intifada” and asked – yes or no – whether calling for genocide violates university policy against harassment? Gay and Magill, in careful and lawyerly responses, both answered that it depended on context. Kornbluth, who is Jewish, was a bit more forceful saying it would be investigated as harassment “if pervasive and severe.” She remains president of MIT.
Davidai tells P&Q that he lived through both the First and Second Intifadas in Israel and, to him, chants for intifada are calls for violence.

“I’m not the kind of person who will wait for the rhetoric to turn into mass violence. I refuse to call them peaceful protests because they are not peaceful,” he tells P&Q. “I remember what it’s like seeing exploded busses after suicide bombings. That’s the intifada. That’s the kind of things we’re hearing.”


Response to the Hamas attacks has been far more direct from prominent business schools than their home institutions.

“When Claudine Gay refused to do anything, the dean of Harvard Business School released a statement. The dean of Kellogg released a statement condemning Hamas when the president of Northwestern refused. The dean of London Business School released a very strong statement condemning Hamas,” Davidai says.

HBS dean Srikant Datar referred to “Hamas’s violent attack on Israel and its devastating consequences,” in a October 10 statement, a follow-up to Gay’s three-paragraph statement issued earlier that day. “Terrorist actions against civilians are not only unconscionable, they are inconsistent with our most fundamental values; as humans, we must condemn them. They are especially troubling coming at a time of rising antisemitism globally,” he wrote.

LBS dean Francois Ortalo-Magne was even more pointed: “I am shocked and appalled by this atrocity. I condemn this attack. I condemn the inhumanity that has inflicted such suffering on victims. Each day brings more information about the barbarity of the terrorists’ actions,” he wrote in an email message to the LBS community.

However, when INSEAD Dean Francisco Veloso penned his first response against the attacks, one of the most strongly worded messages from a business school dean, alumni and students complained that it failed to note the Palestinians killed in Israel’s bombings in Gaza. He issued a follow-up statement days later.

“I have continued to speak with the wider INSEAD community, and it has become clear that my deep compassion for the loss of lives and the humanitarian situation of all civilians affected was not fully conveyed in my previous message,” Veloso wrote.

In a similar example, but with completely opposite facts, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business acting dean Jennifer Chatman had to release a second statement after she was called out for not condemning Hamas in her first.

Both examples illustrate the often damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t dilemma about if, when, and how school leadership should respond to social and geopolitical events. Some schools believe that taking a position can chill free expression and academic freedom. Yet, students, alumni, and faculty often demand them to take a stance.

The dean of Columbia Business School, Costis Maglaras, issued his own response to the attacks on October 10 and he signed a statement from all 17 of Columbia University’s school deans issued on December 20, months after the initial attack.


Davidai says he became Columbia University’s most vocal critic reluctantly and at great cost. In his investigation response letter, he says he has advocated for a Palestinian state and a two-state solution in op-eds, blog posts and media interviews. He differentiates between support for Palestine from support from Hamas.

He also writes that his criticism has “ruined his life.” He says he has received death threats, been targeted on social media by both Columbia students and faculty, and is now under formal investigation by his university. In our interview, he tells P&Q that since he started speaking out, almost none of Columbia Business School colleagues will speak to him.

And what about tenure?

“It will definitely affect my getting tenure,” Davidai tells P&Q. “There’s a widely known secret in academia that the whole tenure process is subjective. It’s basically: Do people like you or not?”

When up for tenure at Columbia Business School, professors need 20 external letters from people in their field. “When my own university is investigating me, when there are so many lies about what I have and haven’t done, I don’t know,” he says.

He has raised his concerns to his department chair, and he says he received the “boilerplate response” that the tenure process is all about professional achievement.

“And I hope that they are right,” he says.

“A bigger issue that I hope will become a bigger conversation in our field is that business schools all around the country teach about leadership, they teach about ethical leadership. How many business professors have you seen stepping up and leading the fight?

“I can count them on one hand, and one finger, and that one finger is me.”


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