GW UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON, D.C—On the morning of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, posters appeared plastered around George Washington University’s campus, just blocks away from the White House: “Zionists f**k off.” “F**k off Settlers.” “Save Sheik Jarra, free Palestine.”
A week later, yet again on Sukkot, the Jewish holiday celebrating the fall harvest, an aggressive student protest erupted outside of GW Hillel, an important Jewish organization on campus. Along with a high-waving Palestinian flag, protesters held virulent anti-Israel banners that read, “GW Hillel, you have blood on your hands!” and “War criminals, GTFO!” Among other inflammatory slurs aimed at Jewish students entering the building, they shouted, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution!”
“Multiple students were called Kikes who were leaving Hillel,” one student said, “They also shouted at students who were not at the GW For Israel event, telling them to kill themselves and that they had blood on their hands.”
Concurrent with Sukkot celebrations on the night of the protest, Hillel hosted “A Conversation with Doron Tenne.” Tenne, a former IDF intelligence official, had been invited to share his experiences with the GW For Israel student club. Tenne’s lecture, an Israeli perspective on its society, government, and present-day challenges, had been publicized a week prior and was to be held within Hillel’s facility. This presented the Students for Justice in Palestine group with a unique opportunity to stage a hate-filled assembly with the intent to harass and intimidate Jewish students.
For many Jewish students, the holidays are sacrosanct, involving a time to bond over religious practice, shared culture, and long-held traditions. “It’s highly insensitive for them to do this, especially on a Jewish holiday,” said Sawyer Reed, a Jewish sophomore at GW. Reed had no qualms with SJP’s right to express its grievances concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—no matter how flawed or distorted. After all, our Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the freedom of assembly, petition, expression—and the free exercise of religion. What Reed objected to was the protesters’ conduct concerning their choice of time and place. Implicit in his remarks was SJP’s interference with the Jewish students’ right to the unhindered practice of their faith. Moreover, anti-Semitic hate speech aimed at a captive Jewish audience under the guise of an issue of public concern is under no circumstance considered law-protected speech. It follows that SJP’s assembly was likely illegal on these grounds alone.
The night after GW For Israel and GW Hillel posted statements condemning SJP’s behavior, GW’s president, Mark Wrighton, issued a school-wide email in support of GW’s Jewish community and restated the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion: “The expectation is that all community members will show respect for one another even when they disagree.”
The university’s bylaws go even further. Their plain language is unambiguous as it concerns prohibited and inflammatory speech: “Prohibited Discrimination is the adverse treatment of an individual or group(s) based on a protected characteristic […] Discriminatory Harassment is any unwelcome conduct…where such conduct creates a hostile environment…[that] may occur in any other context or setting connected to the university or related activities. Discriminatory Harrasment [m]ay be blatant and intentional and involve an overt action, a threat, or reprisal, or may be subtle and indirect, with a coercive aspect that is unstated.”
Regardless, Wrighton’s message of a “shared community” was met with yet another inflammatory response by the SJP. The group’s subsequent statement doubled down on its rhetoric with echoes of their posters and protest, showing utter indifference to the emotional distress inflicted upon the Jewish students.
“We proudly stand by our direct action on October 11 and every word that was said during it. To GW For Israel, Mishelanu GW, GW Hillel, and Doron Tenne: we say with all power and meaning, SHAME ON YOU…you have blood on your hands,” the statement read.
The statement went on to say that “support of Intifada denotes….the full and total liberation of our homeland….in the words of Malcom X, ‘by any means necessary.’” “Intifada” refers to the Palestinian term for “uprising” involving the murder of thousands of innocent Israeli civilians through suicide bombings in cafes, restaurants, buses and public venues—this being the stated “means necessary.” Other pro-Palestinian campaigns commonly accompany such statement with the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” with the implication of a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—territory that includes the State of Israel—thus denying its existence, inferring its destruction and that of its people.
The protesters chanting, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” rings a deafening alarm in Jewish ears. And SJP’s choice of the words “one solution” is no accident. It intentionally aims at evoking eerie reminders of the infamous Final Solution to the Jewish Problem, the Nazis’ macabre plan to systematically eradicate European Jewry.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders are quick to distort or outright deny the Holocaust. Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmood Abbas, in his 1984 book based on his earlier doctoral dissertation, The Other Side: The Secret Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement, rendered the Holocaust a “Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six millions Jews were killed.” The statement was eventually retracted. But then again, during an official visit to Berlin this past summer, Abbas made some outrageous remarks trivializing the Holocaust, same which he later retracted. Abbas has also alleged that Israel’s policies and defensive actions are comparable to the attrocities committed by the Nazis, thus conjuring up some perverse plan by Israel to systematically exterminate the Palestinian population.
All the while, this past July, Human Rights Watch reports in a memorandum submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture that the Palestinian Authority and Hamas continue to systematically abuse and torture their citizenry. HRW’s report “draws on years of research…focused on human rights issues” and finds that “the habitual, deliberate, widely known use of torture by Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza…make these practices systematic. They also indicate that these practices amount to government policy and may amount to a crime against humanity.” The general public is mostly unaware of these issues because Palestinians go to great lengths to vilify Israel through its propaganda.
What we’re witnessing at GW is hardly an isolated incident. Anti-Semitism on American college campuses is a rapidly growing epidemic. In more recent years, a new and powerful brand of anti-Semitism has taken root under the pretense of anti-Zionism. According to the American Jewish Committee’s Campus Affairs department, the claim “that the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Israel is invalid—is inherently bigoted. When Jews are…harassed or Jewish institutions…are vandalized in response to actions of the State of Israel, it is antisemitism.”
Anti-Zionism is the opposition to the Jewish nation-state, calling for the destruction or dissolution of the State of Israel. Artful Palestinian campaigning and their dissemination of misinformation are used to entirely misconstrue facts and wepaonize lies to incite hatred. Clubs like the SJP equate Jews to “kid killers,” “war criminals,” and, oddly enough, to Nazis: At Cornell University, “someone compared a Jewish star and a swastika, saying that they were the same, by drawing it into the gravel near a lake on campus.” In October of 2019, at a speaking engagement at Benedictine University, an SJP member demanded from a Holocaust survivor to “condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state” and contemptuously walked out upon his refusal to do so. The list of similar incidents continues to grow.
A recent survey by the Brandeis Center shows that about 60 percent of Jews have voiced feeling “unsafe” on campus as a result of such anti-Semitic acts. About 50 percent have felt the need to hide their Jewish identity, concealing the Star of David worn around their necks and refraining from expressing their love for Israel. Jewish students feel terrorized and harrassed, eliciting shadows of a darker history whereby ‘never again,’ the phrase associated with the Holocaust, appears to be growing empty.
“Today, anti-Semitism is just so convenient,” said Noa Taussky, a Jewish sophomore, “It’s become so easy for people to hide their anti-Semitism behind their anti-Zionism.” Noa described her middle-school experience having discovered Nazi insignia and hate-filled imagery pasted in her locker. “It’s really bad here [at GW],” she lamented.
Chabad GW’s Rabbi, Levi Shemtov, has said that “The best way to fight anti-Semitism is with a robust, informed, and energetic Semitism.” Jewish students must build coalitions with other Jewish and non-Jewish groups on campus. We must work with campus authorities and student government bodies to enforce bylaws and agressively pursue accountability for anti-Semitic acts. We must educate ourselves to be able to debunk myths and hateful propaganda aimed at Israel, Zionism, and Judaism. We must create public platforms that educate others with facts, promote religious tolerance, and mutual understanding. It is ultimately up to Jewish students to show strong Semitism and transform advocacy into activism.
We must speak out and confront anti-Semitism head on when we witness it.
“The next time SJP does anything like that, I’m just going to go sit in front of them and hold up signs,” one Jewish student told me. “I’m not gonna go down to their level, but I’m just going to sit there, with my signs, peacefully.” The message is loud and clear: Semites are here to stay.