Recently, there has been an apparent uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes and incidents nationwide that has not gone unnoticed. Over the last two months, 140 bomb threats have been called into Jewish Community Centers and schools, and three Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and defiled. These attacks are clear scare tactics used to target the Jewish community. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the country’s oldest civil rights organization, asked the president to take action instead of ignoring our fight for safety. “There is ample basis for the rising concern,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “Often the vulnerable hear at a frequency that most do not discern. History tells us to heed their call.”
As the head of community engagement for Texas Hillel, the center for Jewish life on campus, it is my job to introduce Jewish students to Hillel. I aim to enrich their Jewish identities through Hillel’s activities, programs and affiliated organizations.
In recent weeks, Jewish students have been in contact with the Dean of Students regarding complaints about blatant anti-Semitic attacks by students and University faculty, several of which are described below. According to the complaints, these attacks have taken place because of their identity regardless of their involvement within the Jewish community.
While walking up the West Mall, a student wearing a T-shirt identifying a Jewish fraternity was called a “baby-killing Jew” by a student tabling. Another student at the table admonished his colleague — not for engaging in a hateful verbal attack but because he should “not say those things in public”.
In another reported act of targeted intimidation, Jewish students were harassed while tabling for an organization called Save A Child’s Heart. This Israeli non-profit organization takes medical professionals to developing countries and performs life-saving surgeries, at no cost, for at-risk children from more than 50 countries around the world, the majority of whom are Palestinian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Moroccan. The Jewish students were attempting to raise funds for the organization, when two other student groups moved their tables to flank them. They began to yell, chant and wave a flag over their heads, drowning out their calls for donations. The Jewish students relocated to another part of West Mall, but their pursuers followed them and continued to prevent them from tabling. This pursuit continued for a period of two days.
Last week, a complaint was filed with university administrators over a situation in which a professor on campus paused during his delivery of a calculus lecture to share “his favorite way they murdered Jews (during the Holocaust.)” Other students in the class later attempted to justify his atrocious behavior by claiming that similar comments are made on “South Park” without scrutiny. This kind of detestable rhetoric is exactly what Texas Hillel’s own organization, White Rose Society, is dedicated to eradicating. Each year, with help from the University Catholic Center, White Rose Society hands out 10,000 white roses to represent the enormity of Jews and others who were murdered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Anti-Semitism is not new to college campuses. The ADL reports that incidents like these and acts of violence against Jews at colleges and universities have almost doubled between 2015 and 2016. Fortunately, our university administration has been responsive to local reported incidents, as President Fenves affirmed in his statement about vandalism at Texas Hillel.
But we will not allow the vile hatred of our small minority to destroy the positive climate we have so carefully created on our campus. Our community believes in civility, respect, and understanding. I participated in an ADL pilot program here at UT to dispel the historic and harmful tropes of anti-Semitism whenever they arise while also educating young people about how hate can escalate. Hillel is also a member of the University Interfaith Council where we work alongside other faith communities on campus to ensure that our university remains a mutually-supportive place for all students to learn and thrive.
We stand in solidarity with other minority groups on campus. Muslim, Black, LatinX and other students so often confront racism and discrimination. Despite attempts to frighten us into silence, I encourage all Jewish students to wear our identities boldly and proudly, as our fellow minorities do every day. Let us not shrink to those who seek to intimidate us. Hillel and all Jews on campus will continue to stand strong in the face of these intolerable incidents and I urge all students to stand together with us to say that hatred and intimidation are not welcome on our campus.
Sasiene is a history junior from Clearlake and community outreach director for Texas Hillel.