Fact Check: Picture Shared Amid 2024 Protests Shows Swastikas Spray-Painted in Columbia University Office. Here's the Missing Context

Rya Inman/Columbia Daily Spectator
Rya Inman/Columbia Daily Spectator


A photograph shows a Jewish professor's office at Columbia University spray-painted with swastikas amid the May 2024 pro-Palestine college demonstrations.


Rating: Miscaptioned
Rating: Miscaptioned


The photograph in question shows a Jewish professor's office vandalized with swastikas in 2018. There is no evidence connecting the 2018 incident with the 2024 pro-Palestine demonstration movement.


In May 2024, a number of social media posts shared a photograph purportedly showing a Columbia University office vandalized with spray-painted swastikas.

For instance, @MOSSADil, an X account with pro-Israel content, shared the image on May 4 with the caption "Columbia University." EllaTravelsWorld — a self-described "content creator from Israel" — shared the same image on Instagram with the caption, "Columbia University. It was never about Palestine." A meme of the photograph also spread on Instagram with the caption, "This is not Nazi, Germany. This is Columbia University, USA" alongside Hebrew text.

(X user @MOSSADil)

(Instagram user @haimetgar1)

None of the above posts specified exactly when the vandalism occurred, though they were posted in the aftermath of pro-Palestine demonstrations on Columbia's campus. Just before the photographs went up, the university had already called on the New York Police Department, who swept through protest encampments and cleared out a campus building occupied by students, arresting more than 100 protesters.

The timing of these social media posts implies they were highlighting purported antisemitism on campus during the 2024 protests. The swastikas were indeed spray-painted onto the walls of a Jewish professor's office at Columbia, but the incident occurred in 2018. As such, the above posts are misleading because they fail to include the context of when the vandalism occurred. We thus rate this claim as "Miscaptioned."

The photograph in question showed vandalism in the office of professor Elizabeth Midlarsky, who researched the Holocaust at the Columbia Teachers College. In November 2018, Midlarsky entered her office to find spray-painted swastikas and antisemitic slurs on the wall.

Midlarsky —who died in 2023 — told The Washington Post in 2018, "I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. I'm usually not a fearful person, but they got me. I'm afraid."

The NYPD and campus security investigated the incident. Midlarskly said she had "no idea" who was behind it.

Around a month before the vandalism occurred, a man wielding an assault rifle and shouting antisemitic slurs killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. The incidents showed a rise in antisemitic hate crimes at that time. Midlarsky attributed the 2018 vandalism incident to a broader increase in antisemitic crimes and a changing culture, according to the student-run newspaper, Columbia Spectator.

This was not the first time Midlarsky had been targeted. In 2007, someone spray-painted a swastika on her office door, according to the Columbia Spectator. She told The New York Times she had received offensive materials in her mailbox at least three times. In 2009, according to a CNN report, Midlarsky received an image of a swastika in her mail. The culprits behind those incidents remain unknown.

There is no available evidence connecting the 2018 vandalism to the 2024 protests, nor do we know the identities of the vandals behind the antisemitic graffiti from the past incidents. There is no known evidence that the vandals were tied to pro-Palestine activism. As such, posts implying a connection between two separate incidents from different years on Columbia University's campus are misleading.


"Columbia Professors Get Images of Swastikas, Noose in Mail." CNN, April 3, 2009. https://edition.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/04/03/columbia.university.hate.mail/index.html. Accessed 9 May 2024.

"Columbia University Community 'shattered' after Police Raid." BBC News, May 1, 2024. www.bbc.co.uk, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-68940438. Accessed 9 May 2024.

Ibrahim, Nur. "Columbia University Web Page Commemorated '68 Student Protesters?" Snopes, May 3, 2024, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/columbia-university-1968-vietnam-protest/. Accessed 9 May 2024.

Robertson, Campbell, et al. "11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts." The New York Times, Oct. 27, 2018. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html. Accessed 9 May 2024.

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