Silenced Voices: The Struggle Against Antisemitism on Ohio State’s Campus

Ohio State Students Rally for Israel in front of Thompson Library

On March 6th, 2024, I, one of two Jewish senators serving on the Ohio State University Undergraduate Student Government (USG) General Assembly, was ordered to leave the chambers for “speaking out of turn” in a discussion about antisemitism. 

Like many other campuses, the OSU student body was facing a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) referendum asking students to target companies and cultural organizations that do business with Israel. BDS is inherently antisemitic and discriminatory, it promotes disinformation and misappropriates and denies Jewish history to advance its agenda. Omar Barghouti, the movement’s co-founder, has openly stated that the true aim of BDS is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. This would strip Jews of a right enshrined in international law for all peoples – self-determination. Further, BDS supported Hamas’s October 7th attacks, in which the terrorist organization infiltrated Israel and tortured, murdered, raped, and massacred over 1,200 people. To date, they are still holding 133+ hostages, including an infant named Kfir, only 9 months old when he was taken hostage. According to the NYTimes, the BDS National Committee (BNC), which leads the movement globally, includes Hamas and other terrorist organizations as members. Despite these facts, BDS is gaining momentum across the United States. 

Initially, the USG Judiciary removed the referendum from the ballot due to procedural errors in the petition process. The night before the vote was scheduled to start, they reversed their decision and added it back on the ballot. When students appealed that decision, it was removed again 12 hours into voting, pending a Judicial hearing. Both the pro- and anti-BDS students attended the USG General Assembly Open Forum to voice their opinions on the matter.

The Forum quickly dissolved into a platform to demonize Jewish and Zionist students, who were labeled “white supremacists” because they believe Jews have the right to live in our ancestral homeland. Outside the Senate Chambers, Jewish students were taunted, filmed, and yelled at by other students, some of whom sought to delegitimize and minimize the pain experienced by the Jewish community on October 7.

Three hours into the Forum, a non-Jewish student attempted to teach Jewish students what is and is not antisemitism. I couldn’t believe it. Why would a non-Jewish student, speaking in favor of a movement that is largely considered antisemitic, use her time to lecture victims of antisemitism? During these Forums, senators are permitted to respond to speakers with questions. I asked the student what made her qualified to define antisemitism, noting that I would never define for another minority community the bigotry or oppression they experience. Rather than answering the question, she simply said there is a global definition of antisemitism that anyone can Google. 

Importantly, she’s right that there is a global definition. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA) is widely considered to be the consensus definition among the global Jewish population. It has been adopted by hundreds of countries, levels of government, institutions, Jewish community organizations, and numerous other bodies, including the US Department of Education. When it was my turn to ask a question, I read the IHRA definition, explaining its widespread acceptance within the Jewish community, in part for its ability to best reflect our diverse lived experiences, and stated that OSU uses it in our non-discrimination policies. I then repeated my question. How is she qualified to define antisemitism? She couldn’t answer, staggering on her words until she inappropriately yielded to another student (no other student is qualified to answer a question about her qualifications). Her friend’s response was that she had a Jewish friend who did not accept IHRA. When I went to respond, I was told to leave.

The Forum was chaotic, with many students warned that they would be asked to leave if they continued to ignore the rules. Students continued to ignore the rules, and no one was asked to leave – until I spoke again. Students yelled at the speaker until she caved. And so I, a Jewish senator, was kicked out of a meeting while speaking about anti-Jewish bigotry 

I was given fewer warnings than any students who spoke that night, and no one who yelled at the speaker was made to leave. I realized the evening’s events were indicative of a larger issue: Jews being targeted on our campus. Our pain is not important to those outside of our community; they may say it is, but their actions do not match their words.

Since Hamas’s October 7th massacre, OSU’s Jewish community faces weekly antisemitic incidents: protests with thinly veiled calls for Jewish genocide, physical assaults on Jewish students, destruction of hostage posters, and verbal harassment. Across the country, Hillel centers have been subjected to vandalism, protests, attempted bans from campus, and acts of hostility. Even our Hillel has become a target. The situation is unacceptable.

First, local students stormed in, caused chaos, and yelled at the staff who confronted them. Then, a few months later, before an information session for the “Fact Finders” trip—an opportunity for students to explore Israel and the West Bank and form their own perspectives—three Ohio State students brazenly stood outside Hillel with a sign proclaiming, “Ohio State Hillel invites you to visit: a genocidal state.” Apart from the sign’s blatant inaccuracies, it signaled that Hillel was fair game for targeting, inviting further acts of aggression. How can we find safety in a place meant for prayer, learning, and celebrating our Jewish identity when it is repeatedly attacked? The situation is unacceptable.

In response to this rising tide of bigotry, several Jewish groups organized a tabling event called “Spread Cream Cheese not Hate™,” to raise awareness about the alarming rise in antisemitic incidents on our campus. We shared our personal experiences, and asked our peers to sign a pledge against antisemitism and all forms of hatred. During the event, Jewish students were laughed at and mocked until a man approached the table, asked what we were doing, and then responded of his desire to “kill Jews.” Thankfully, security intervened. Despite this, we are told antisemitism either is not real or is not a big deal. Once again, our experiences are minimized and delegitimized. The response from campus administrators has been dishearteningly inadequate. While some express sympathy, little is offered in terms of tangible solutions to foster a more tolerant environment. Heightened security measures are offered, however, security alone is not sufficient. True change requires a shift in attitudes and perceptions.

The administration’s public inaction is a reflection of sentiments expressed in private meetings with students. This became apparent during an interaction with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), which is responsible for addressing bias incidents and fostering an inclusive campus climate. When Jewish students met with OIE administrators to discuss the pervasive hostility we face, our concerns were met with skepticism. OIE administrators disputed the existence of a hostile environment and shifted the burden of ensuring our reports were being properly addressed to us. Their response confirmed what we have felt for many months now: we are not students anymore. We are just reporters for the OIE, and our voices are not even taken seriously. 

In an interview, OSU President Carter, when asked about the Title VI case stated that “if someone was that upset or felt that unsafe about being on this campus, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t stay here”. This begs the question: how many of us leaving would make it sufficient enough to enact change? 

Although every day the lives of administrators are made harder by bad actors ensuring Jewish students are unsafe on campus, their behavior is silently tolerated by the university. By not enforcing their own rules, the OSU administration is contributing to a hostile environment. The Jewish community is suffering from the administration’s dereliction of duty.

I have one month left on this campus, and I am concerned because there remains so much work to be done. I worry for the wellbeing of my fellow Jewish classmates. What will next year bring? How much worse can it get? What will it take for our administration to listen to us and take action? 

While I am anxious for the future of Jewish students at OSU, I have hope. My hope resides within the students who will return to campus next year. They show up, they speak up, and they take action. At the General Assembly meeting, they spoke about their experiences with antisemitism on campus and stood together. Our community is strong. We will continue to stand up for ourselves, speak up in the face of hate, and fight for the return of our hostages and the end of this war. We hope that moving forward we can do this with the OSU community, rather than in spite of it.

About the Author
Samantha is a graduating senior at Ohio State University where she studied accounting and public policy, after graduation she will be working as an International Tax Consultant in Chicago. Samantha is from East Brunswick, New Jersey. Samantha is a passionate Israel and Jewish advocate. After spending lots of time in Israel and learning from a variety of people and organizations, she has taken that knowledge to her campus to educate her peers and speak up for the Jewish community in Israel and around the world.
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