HOW Executive Director Responds to Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic Activity

In response to the reprehensible carvings of multiple swaztikas in a dormitory at SUNY Purchase College, and the subsequent vandalism depicting nooses in three additional dormitories, Hillels of Westchester denounces any such hateful activity.  Whether the perpetrator or perpetrators understand the horrific connotation contained in the symbols, the fact remains that there are students whose sense of security is shaken.  HOW is committed to proactively strengthening the entire campus community because no student should ever feel scared, threatened, or intimidated while pursuing higher education.  The university police and administration are commended for their immediate and diligent response to the crimes.

Preceding the recent events at Purchase College, two other HOW campuses faced disturbing anti-Israel activity.  Every week, campuses throughout the country deliver more evidence about how dangerously close the line is becoming between anti-Israel-ism and anti-Semitism.  Since March 2, 2015, a student at Sarah Lawrence College has faced an onslaught of offensive Facebook comments, emails, inquiries, and intense reaction to her invitation to a former Lone Soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Lone Soldiers are volunteers who join the IDF although neither of their parents live in Israel, and they are not otherwise required to serve.  This soldier is a resident of Rockland County who was invited to share his Jewish journey to Israel and back.  His duty during the second Lebanon War was classified as “horrendous” and “offensive” by opposing students.  Student Senate and college administration were petitioned by opposition students to deny permission for the veteran to speak on campus.  Further, the student who invited him to speak has been called a “Zionist cultural appropriator” and worse, from the anonymous security afforded by Facebook and YikYak (an anonymous online posting site).  Supportive peers have reached out to her, but are fearful to do so publically due to concerns that they will face discrimination on campus.  Event protests have been planned.  Despite all of this, one student has shown incredible bravery and the event will go on as scheduled on April 2, 2015.

At Pace University in Pleasantville, three days of anti-Israel programs were held.  Presenting as a pro-peace, pro-Palestinian organization, students showed a film about Israeli occupation, then constructed a mock wall laden with anti-Israel misinformation.  Passers-by were told “Israel is racist,” and “IDF soldiers gas bomb children at the Dome of the Rock (Muslim holy site in Jerusalem).”  In spite of this, Pace – Pleasantville Hillel students rallied and are planning a series of events to demonstrate their solidarity with Israel, and their pride in Judaism.

HOW is grateful to the Student Senate, administration and President Karen Lawrence for preserving this student’s, and every students’, right to expression.  The college astutely recognized that, although an event may be emotionally charged, they have an obligation to allow different narratives to be heard on campus.  We are additionally pleased with the response from President Thomas Schwarz at SUNY Purchase College.  His immediate condemnation of the offensive acts on campus, and subsequent convening of open forums for students to learn about responses by the Westchester District Attorney and the university opened dialogue on campus.  Students aired grievances at forums, which Provost Barry Pearson, campus police and residence life staff agreed to address.  Most importantly, the university is acting on its commitment to continue dialogue.  Hillel staff will participate in administrative-level tackling of the current issues, and students will be convened in “safe space” meetings to work together to amend current tensions on campus.

HOW has, and will continue to, be an advocate for Jewish students, and for any students needing a voice to achieve justice and comfort on campus.  We are responding to this disconcertingly negative shift in campus climate by co-sponsoring a series of discussions with affected groups at Purchase College.  We will engage the community with speakers on topics ranging from eco-farming in Israel to LGBTQ art, and highlight the extraordinary social, medical, academic, technological, cultural, and entrepreneurial achievements that Israel has made.  We will continue the proud, positive Jewish programming we bring to campus.  We will work with university administration and employ all available resources to heal existing wounds and build a stronger community. 

Hillel's mission is to enrich the lives of college students by fostering a lifelong commitments to Judaism and Israel.  Hillel is also the natural first-responder to students' concerns when anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity occur on campus.  This unfortunate reality of modern life on college campuses breeds discomfort and discrimination, and as recent events in Westchester show, no campus is immune to such activity.  As the center for Jewish life on campus for SUNY Purchase College, Manhattanville College, Sarah Lawrence College and Pace University in Pleasantville, Hillels of Westchester (HOW) proudly provides positive and thoughtful programming through Shabbat and holiday celebrations, learning opportunities, travel, socialization, and community building. 


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