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Colleges Plagued By Antisemitism As Israel-Hamas War Rages On

The Israeli-Hamas Conflict Continues To Cause Serious Divisions Among Races and Religious Groups In The U.S. 

NEW YORK — The war between Israel and Hamas may be taking place 5,600 miles away from the United States, but the streets of some of America’s largest cities — and on college campuses in particular — have been highlighted over the past month by incidents of antisemitism.

In many cases, students and professors who are pro-Palestine have made threats, both during protests and on the internet, against Jews.

These tensions hit a crescendo last weekend following a series of online threats at Cornell University, the latest in a long list of incidents that have taken place since Oct, 7 when Hamas terrorists attacked and killed some 1,400 Israeli civilians.

In response, Israel has launched an aerial and ground war in the Gaza Strip, an action that has prompted many of the pro-Palestine protests on college campuses and in many cities across the United States and the world.

Online Threats At Cornell

Cornell University, a private institution, is located in Ithaca, about a four-hour drive north of New York City. The school has 3,500 graduate and undergraduate students, where 22% of the total student body is Jewish.

Harvard university students, faculty as well as community members rally behind the Palestine on Oct. 25. The ongoing conflict in Gaza Strip has caused serious rifts among various religious groups in the U.S. Colleges plagued by antisemitism as Israel-Hamas war continues. JOHN TLUMACKI/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES.

Patrick Dai, a junior, was arrested by federal authorities on Tuesday for allegedly making online threats that called for killing Jewish students and bragged about wanting to “bring an assault rifle to campus.”

Those threats prompted school officials to send police to guard a Jewish center and kosher dining hall on campus as a safety precaution.

“You cannot ignore these threats and hope they go away,” said New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Talking about them, talking about prosecuting, talking about trying to foster some understanding. There should be a greater sense of empathy for [Jewish] students,” she added.

Days before the incident at Cornell, a series of anti-Jewish messages had been spray-painted on campus grounds. At the same time, Russel Rickford, a history professor at the school, drew attention for describing the Hamas attacks as “exhilarating.” The school later condemned his remarks and Rickford was placed on leave.

As a result, Cornell announced the cancellation of all classes on Friday, citing the “extraordinary stress” students had experienced since the war between Israel and Hamas began.

“No classes will be held, and faculty and staff will be excused from work, except for employees who provide essential services,” said university officials in an email to students. “We hope that everyone will use this restorative time to take care of yourselves and reflect on how we can nurture the kind of caring, mutually supportive community that we all value,” they continued.

In New York City — a place with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel — the number of anti-Semitic cases have piled up over the past few weeks.

There have been a few cases at Columbia University, where someone drew a swastika in a bathroom and a Jewish student was assaulted after confronting a woman who was taking down posters with the names and photos of Israelis that Hamas had taken hostage.

“Other students have been spat on for speaking Hebrew,” said Noah Fay, a senior at Columbia. “We’ve seen swastikas drawn on school property,” he added.

At Cooper Union, another private college in New York City, a group of Jewish students felt unsafe and forced to barricade themselves inside the school’s library when a group of anti-Israel protesters started banging on the glass doors.

Federal Officials Respond

These anti-Semitic incidents have not limited to New York. In fact, there have been several high-profile cases at a number of elite institutions of higher education across the country, including Harvard and Tulane, that forced the Biden administration to address the issue earlier this week.

“There’s no place for hate in America and we condemn any anti-Semitic threat or incident in the strongest terms,” said White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre at a briefing with reporters.

In a bid to counter these increased cases of antisemitism, the Department of Justice and Homeland Security are working with state and local authorities. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is housed under DHS, has called upon its 125 protective security advisers and 100 cybersecurity personnel to proactively work with schools to address security concerns.

On a state level, several governors have also addressed safety concerns. “Increase information exchange and resource coordination on potential anti-Semitic acts through a specialized situation room and expedite grants to organizations facing religious or ethnicity-based persecution,” said Virginia’s Gov. Glenn Youngkin while issuing an executive order that calls on law enforcement.

“Hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism have no place in Virginia,” said Youngkin. “As governor, the safety and security of all Virginians is my paramount concern. Virginia is the birthplace of the freedom of religion in America, and protecting the community centers and houses of worship of the Jewish people is paramount. But this commitment extends to all religions, including those of the Muslim faith, who are increasingly concerned about backlash,” he asserted.

But these measures have given pause to Jewish students who are currently applying to colleges.

“As absurd as that may sound, I can assure you that college counselors will be helping Jewish applicants curate their list of schools differently this year. Besides safety schools, applicants will be advised to add schools to their list that so far, anyway, seem hospitable to Jews. And if that list is hard to assemble by January, when the last of the applications are usually due, then perhaps, these families will have to consider sending their children to Israel for college,” noted writer Alison Leigh Cowan in an essay for Commentary magazine this week, a former New York Times reporter and editor who serves on the board of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C.

A group founded in 2018 called Stop Anti-Semitism, which highlights cases of bigotry against Jewish people, said it typically received a few reports of incidents prior to the Hamas attack. Since Oct, 7, they are getting some 500 reports each day.

“It’s very frightening to be a Jewish college student right now,” said Liora Rez, the group’s founder and executive director. “We think the floodgates have opened up. … It’s a nightmare,” she added.

Harvard university students, faculty as well as community members rally behind the Palestine on Oct. 25. The ongoing conflict in Gaza Strip has caused serious rifts among various religious groups in the U.S. Colleges plagued by antisemitism as Israel-Hamas war continues. JOHN TLUMACKI/THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA GETTY IMAGES.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group that also keeps tabs on hate crimes, said there’s been a “significant spike in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” since the attack on Israel.

“Preliminary data from ADL Center on Extremism indicates that reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault increased by 388 percent over the same period last year,” said the group on its website in an Oct. 25 post. “ADL recorded a total of 312 anti-Semitic incidents between Oct. 7-23, 2023, 190 of which were directly linked to the war in Israel and Gaza. By comparison, during the same period in 2022, ADL received preliminary reports of 64 incidents, including four that were Israel-related,” read the report in part.

Additionally, the ADL said it also “tracked anti-Israel rallies since Oct. 7, at least 109 of which ADL found explicit or strong implicit support for Hamas and/or violence against Jews in Israel. These 109 are included in ADL’s tally of anti-Semitic incidents.”

“When conflict erupts in Israel, anti-Semitic incidents soon follow in the U.S. and globally,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “From white supremacists in California displaying anti-Semitic banners on highway overpasses to radical anti-Zionists harassing Jewish people because of their real or perceived support for the Jewish state, we are witnessing a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic activity here while the war rages overseas,” he continued.

Edited by Othieno B and Newsdesk Manager

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