This past weekend, Jewish students at Cornell were faced with yet another threat to their ability to participate in campus life – and exist. An online message poster threatened they were “gonna shoot up” the Jewish Living Center on campus. Other users — with handles “jew evil,” “jews need death,” and “kill jews” — piled on. The posts then went viral.
The furor reached a point where, yesterday, Cornell canceled classes due to “extraordinary stress” from the events.
Of note, law enforcement responded almost immediately, and the Cornell administration did too, in no small part thanks to the efforts of the local Hillel and national Hillel International leadership — with whom our team at the Secure Community Network, where I am the national director and CEO, is honored to partner with.
Still, where is the larger outcry? Why is it acceptable that Jewish students must be locked into rooms on college campuses for their own safety as pro-Hamas demonstrators scream “Free Palestine” and bang on the doors or make death threats?
In the wake of the recent Hamas attacks on Israel, an alarming wave of antisemitic incidents has surged across the country, with college campuses emerging as flashpoints. While these incidents may seem like outliers to some and invisible to others, for Jewish students across the nation, the threat is real, palpable and immediate. If something isn’t done, those flashpoints will turn into fires and the result will be injured kids.
Universities are supposed to be havens of knowledge, understanding and growth, where students of all backgrounds can learn, debate, thrive and exist without fear, violence, intimidation or wondering whether they belong. But the escalation in threats and violence towards Jewish students in the weeks since the Hamas attacks challenge the very fabric of our academic institutions.
Jewish students are afraid. They are experiencing intimidation. They are victims of violence.
Since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks, the Secure Community Network (SCN) has tracked 240 events (protests, demonstrations, vigils, and more) on campuses across the country, and logged a startling 77 incident reports for antisemitic events on those campuses. To put this into national perspective, SCN is on track to record an unprecedented 730 incidents in October 2023.
Among incidents on campus since Oct. 7, we have seen an assault on a Jewish student walking past a Students for Justice in Palestine rally on a campus in California. We saw a user in New Jersey on the college social media site Yik Yak threaten the life of a Jewish fraternity member, saying “Palestinian protesters there is an Israeli at [Alpha Epsilon Pi] go kill him.” In Georgia, we saw another assault of a Jewish fraternity member, with the perpetrator stating “you Israeli, I am going to murder you and all your family.” These are just some of the examples.
It is no wonder Jewish students feel increasingly fearful, not just for their ability to speak freely, but to walk around campus safely. When such extensive hate is allowed to exist on college campuses, we as a Jewish community are forced to ask what is wrong with our colleges, their leadership and the faculty, today. Why are we not seeing colleges do more to crack down on the hate, intimidation and violence that is forcing Jewish students to question their very safety?
The cutting of ties by major donors with prestigious institutions like Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in reaction to the institutions’ responses to the Hamas attacks — or lack thereof — underscores a larger sentiment: The academic community’s response to antisemitism on its own campuses has been not merely inadequate, it has come at the cost of the safety and security of Jewish students. We have seen the impact on Jewish students and Jewish life, from vandalization to assault. Would this be tolerated against any other group?
How much harm to identity and physical safety needs to occur before the academic community says “enough?”
Just like the 1930s in Europe, this is a time for choices in America.
While universities may not step up to protect their students, Jewish organizations can. We have an obligation to step up support for Jewish students wherever they are, and there is no organization better positioned to fill that important gap than Hillel International. From fundamental safety and security guidance and protocols to training sessions on situational awareness and countering active threats, Hillel in partnership with Secure Community Network is doing the work of ensuring students feel safe by empowering them with training. We also are monitoring and turning over to law enforcement the names of those we identify as most likely to move beyond speech and into violence.
But more needs to be done:
- We appreciate that law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security have stepped up outreach and engagement to institutions on our college campuses. We encourage them to keep this up, and we urge for them to have more funding to do this, including increased police protection for Jewish students.
- The Department of Education needs to clearly state that schools and academic institutions that do not protect Jewish students will face consequences
- We encourage the Biden administration to convene a meeting with campus administrators, law enforcement and key stakeholders to have a real discussion on these issues, and how to address them.
To Jewish students navigating this current environment, we urge you to prioritize your safety. Steer clear from counter-protests or volatile situations. Stay informed and stay vigilant. If you see an antisemitic incident, send it to Report Campus Hate — a collaborative effort between Hillel the Anti-Defamation League and Secure Community Network — and know that organizations like all of ours are here to support you.
To college institutions across the country and the world: Now is the time to step up and stop the dangerous creep of antisemitism and the hate, violence, vitriol and terror that invariably follows, which we are seeing. There is no waiting for the worst to happen. Antisemitic incidents are on the rise across college campuses and the time to ensure the safety and security of Jewish students — of students of all faiths — is now.
Michael Masters serves as the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network (SCN), the official safety and security organization for the Jewish community in North America, and currently serves as an appointee of the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council and Faith-Based Security Advisory Council.
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This story originally Appeared on The Hill