A Rising Democrat Leans Into the Campus Fight Over Antisemitism

A few hours after Columbia University canceled its main commencement ceremony following weeks of pro-Palestinian student protests, Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania was in his office in Harrisburg, taking stock of the ways he sees universities letting students down.

“Our colleges, in many cases, are failing young people,” he said in an interview this week. “Failing to teach information that is necessary to form thoughtful perspectives. They are willing to let certain forms of hate pass by and condemn others more strongly.”

Mr. Shapiro — the leader of a pre-eminent battleground state, a rising Democrat and a proudly observant Jew — has also emerged as one of his party’s most visible figures denouncing the rise in documented antisemitism after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

And at a moment of growing Democratic anger and unease over how Israel is conducting its devastating military response, Mr. Shapiro, 50 — who has no obligation to talk about foreign policy — has not shied away from expressing support for the country while criticizing its right-wing government.

Plunging into a subject that has inflamed and divided many Americans carries risk for an ambitious Democrat from a politically important state. The politics around both the Gaza war and the protest movement are exceptionally fraught within the Democratic Party, and many of its voters and elected officials have become increasingly critical of Israel.

But Mr. Shapiro has been direct.

Asked if he considered himself a Zionist, he said that he did. When Iran attacked Israel last month, he wrote on social media that Pennsylvania “stands with Israel.”

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