Claim: Minouche Shafik gave a Nazi salute during a US congressional hearing.

Fact: Shafik did not make any such gesture. A photo showing the same has been altered and was initially published in a satirical article.

On 18 April 2024, Facebook user ‘Harry K Watkins’ shared (archive) a picture of Columbia University President Nemat Shafik, commonly known as Minouche Shafik, allegedly making a controversial gesture in a public setting. It was captioned as follows:


“Oops: Columbia University President Accidentally Gives Nazi Salute When Being Sworn In For Congressional Testimony!”

Columbia University in hot waters

Minouche Shafik — alongside Columbia University Law Professor David Schizer, and the co-chairs of its Board of Trustees, Claire Shipman and David Greenwald — testified (archive) before the US Committee on Education and the Workforce on 17 April 2024 over the institute’s “response to antisemitism” (archive).

Columbia University is the fourth (archive) major educational institute to be scrutinised over the issue of campus anti-semitism following Israel’s ongoing war (archive) in Palestine that was sparked by a Hamas attack (archive) at a border area of the Middle Eastern country on 7 October 2023.

Over 34,900 Palestinians have been killed and more than 78,500 injured, as per an 10 May 2024 update (archive) by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At least 1,200 Israelis have been killed and upwards of 5,400 injured, while 132 Israeli hostages remain in captivity.

A few months ago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania came under fire for their testimony at a congressional hearing looking into anti-semitism on campuses, according to CNN (archive). Shortly after the hearings that took place then, the heads of two of the varsities — Claudine Gay and Elizabeth Magill — stepped down from their posts.

Antisemitism, hatred against Muslims

Reuters wrote (archive) on 16 April 2024 that according to a report (archive) by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish advocacy group, more than 5,200 incidents of antisemitism were reported after Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israel. Of these, 732 were based on university and college campuses, the publication added.

“There were 1,987 incidents targeting Jewish institutions such as synagogues, Jewish community centers and Jewish schools,” the group said; however, these include incidents prior to the Hamas attack.

The Reuters report also mentioned that according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), “discrimination and attacks against Muslims and Palestinians also reached a record high in the US in 2023”, with 3,600 incidents recorded between October to December 2023.

On the other hand, Canary Mission — a website that, according to its X (formerly Twitter) bio, “exposes hatred and antisemitism on college campuses and beyond” — “has accused over 250 US students and academics of supporting terrorism or spreading antisemitism and hatred of Israel” since 7 October 2023, Reuters said in another report (archive).

According to Democracy Now! (archive), the secretive website maintains a blacklist of sorts for pro-Palestinian students and academics whom it exposes, alongside their “photos and personal details”, as well as social media presence, “often damaging their career prospects”. Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has allegedly referenced Canary Mission while questioning pro-Palestine students, as per a June 2018 report (archive) by The Intercept.

The ADL also claims (archive) that there were over 900 incidents of antisemitism across US campuses.

Meanwhile, Columbia University’s anthropology professor and co-director of the Center for Palestine Studies, Nadia Abu El-Haj, has said (archive) that while she does not doubt “instances of antisemitism” on campus, “in reality, we have no idea how widespread antisemitism is on campus, since no one has actually tried to parse the incidents that students, based on how they feel, have labelled antisemitic” and that the institute’s Task Force on Antisemitism “has been operating without a definition of the word itself”.

After US President Joe Biden warned against a “ferocious surge of antisemitism” in the country, “a group of more than 750 Jewish students from 140 campuses issued a joint letter on Tuesday calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and rejecting Biden’s equation of the protests with antisemitism,” The Guardian reported (archive) on 7 May.

Interestingly, before Shafik testified in the US Congress, the Jewish faculty of Columbia University wrote (archive) to her, saying they “reject[ed] the weaponization of antisemitism”. They further warned, “To argue that taking a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza is antisemitic is to pervert the meaning of the term.”

On 1 May 2024, the US House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which mandates the Department of Education to employ a “controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in enforcing anti-discrimination laws” and which critics say (archive) “threatens to chill free speech”.

Protests at universities across the world

On 17 April, the same day as Shafik’s hearing, students of the Columbia University encamped at their Manhattan campus to protest against Israel’s war in Palestine, demanding that the institute divest from companies with ties to the Middle Eastern country.

Soon after, Columbia University called in the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which “arrested 108 students who were in the encampments”, according to a report (archive) by The Guardian. The publication quoted an email from Shafik, in which she said the security personnel were invited to clear the protest site as it “severely disrupts campus life, and creates a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students”.

The Columbia University protests inspired multiple other demonstrations across the US — as of 25 April, “60 schools [were] reporting on-campus protests”, USA Today wrote (archive) — and around the world, spilling over to campuses in the UK, France, Italy, and Australia, among other countries.

By 2 May, the total number of arrests across the US had risen to 2,200 after at least 200 protesters were detained at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), The Associated Press (AP) reported (archive). Police used “riot gear, tactical vehicles and flash-bang devices to clear tent encampments and occupied buildings”, the publication added. Arrests were made “on more than 30 campuses across at least 23 states”, with other schools facing similar protests but without any arrests, CNN said (archive).

Police made “more than 100 arrests” (archive) in a late-night raid on 1 May on Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall, which the protesting students took over and renamed (archive) “Hind’s Hall” to honour the six-year-old Palestinian girl, Hind Rajab, “killed by Israeli military in Gaza on 29 January”, according to The Columbia Daily Spectator (archive).

The university has also started to suspend students “to ensure safety on our campus”, AFP quoted (archive) its vice president of communications, Ben Chang, as saying.

On 26 April, the Columbia University’s Senate approved (archive) a resolution demanding an investigation into the institute’s leadership and accusing it of “violating established protocols, undermining academic freedom, jeopardising free inquiry and breaching the due process rights of both students and professors”. It also called (archive) for a task force to be established to probe “university decision-making in future”.

Later, the same body passed (archive) another resolution on 9 May, “calling for a halt on ongoing disciplinary proceedings related to protest activity until the Office of the General Counsel provides information on the Center for Student Success and Intervention’s jurisdiction to adjudicate and the rules and procedures employed”.

On 11 May, Columbia University Faculty of Arts and Sciences commenced (archive) a vote of no confidence in Shafik on behalf of the American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) Columbia chapter.

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check used reverse-image search tools to find the original picture and found a 17 April article on Daily Mail’s website, MailOnline, titled “Columbia University president is accused of running one of the worst ‘hotbeds of anti-Semitism and hate’ as she defends ‘peaceful’ Hamas protesters”. It contains visuals of Shafik wearing the same clothes and sitting in a similar position as in the viral photo.

Using Google Lens, we found the viral image posted on X by The Babylon Bee, which describes itself as “the world’s best satire site, totally inerrant in all its truth claims. We write satire about Christian stuff, political stuff, and everyday life”. Its bio on X states, “Fake news you can trust.”

It appears that the viral image of Shafik allegedly giving a Nazi salute was first published (archive) on The Babylon Bee’s website; however, this article is not clearly labelled as satire.

Soch Fact Check also searched for official details, as well as a livestream, of the congressional hearing of Shafik and other Columbia University leaders.

While the Committee’s schedule on the US Congress website does have an event called “Columbia in Crisis: Columbia University’s Response to Antisemitism”, it does not have a video of the same. However, when we reviewed the website of the US House Committee on Education & the Workforce, we found a link to watch the full hearing on its YouTube channel.

The image in question is likely a morphed screenshot taken at the 35:15 mark of the YouTube livestream mentioned above. A comparison visual can be seen below:

The comparison visual above shows that the left hand of Shafik, the mic, and the documents in front of her are in the same position. The attire of the people sitting behind her can also be matched.

The comparison also indicates that while the people behind her retain their positions, their facial features have been altered in the viral image, except in one case: the individual first from the left side of the frame is in different clothes altogether.

Interestingly, since the morphed image shows Shafik’s right hand lifted up, the remaining background appears to have been covered up in a botched manner.

The Columbia University president’s right hand has been altered in the image to make it appear as if she’s giving the Nazi salute.

Soch Fact Check, therefore, concludes that the viral picture has been doctored. Minouche Shafik did not make such a gesture.


Soch Fact Check found the doctored image here, here, here, here, and here on Facebook. It also appeared here, here, and here on X.

The photo was also posted on Bluesky and a Substack blog, as well as two websites here and here.

The Babylon Bee posted the visual on its social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Truth Social, without clearly labelling it as satire.

Conclusion: Minouche Shafik did not give a Nazi salute during a US congressional hearing. A photo showing the same has been altered and was initially published in a satirical article.

Background image in cover photo: Chenyu Guan

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