Earlier this month, Brooklyn College (BC) President Karen Gould emailed a statement to the BC community in response to frightening anti-Semitic graffiti that was scrawled on a men’s restroom wall in the Library, and on the third floor of Ingersol Hall. President Gould’s swift condemnation of these events demonstrated her commitment to an open and inclusive campus as would befit an institution of higher learning.
Yet an undercurrent of animosity could be felt among some Brooklyn College students regarding President Gould’s comments. “Every piece of offensive bathroom graffiti needs to be publicized? I see.” wrote one sarcastic commenter on the Facebook group Brooklyn College: In The Know. Another student with a comparable tone of cynicism wrote, “Wait, someone wrote something offensive on a bathroom wall, and the president emails the entire community about it?”
As a Jewish student who is aware of the rising demonstrations of anti-Semitism that are occurring on college campuses across the United States, I am concerned by the naiveté demonstrated by some within our community regarding the severity and scope of this problem. In other words, President Gould’s email was not merely a response to two isolated acts of random graffiti. Rather, her comments were made in full knowledge of the surge of Jew hatred and anti-Semitism that is being seen today at universities across the United States.
A cursory survey of anti-Semitic activity on US campuses this year alone shows that at least 10 independent incidents of swastikas being drawn on campuses occurred at 10 different major universities including Yale, Emory, Northwestern, Northeastern, UC Davis and UC Berkeley, and even at CUNY member John Jay College. Just last month, administrators at George Washington University’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity expelled a student who vandalized the Jewish fraternity house, AEPi, with swastikas.
One of the most recent incidents of campus anti-Semitism that made headlines befell Rachel Beyda, a Jewish student at UCLA. In her bid to serve on the Judicial Board of UCLA, Beyda’s ability to be an unbiased member of the board was challenged because of her Jewish faith. Fabienne Roth, a member of the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council can be seen in a recording asking Ms. Beyda, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”
The New York Times reported on this incident writing, “The session [at UCLA]… has served to spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiment directed against Jews at many campuses in the country, often [as] a byproduct of animosity towards the policies of Israel.”
Indeed, it is often the case that anti-Semitism follows anti-Israelism, as was demonstrated by the surge in anti-Semitism that European Jews experienced following last year’s war in Gaza. Notably, the incident involving Ms. Beyda occurred only days after a divisive Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction bill passed at UCLA’s sister school, UC Davis. The passing of the BDS bill at UC Davis also prompted vandals to spray paint swastikas on the walls of the AEPi Jewish fraternity house.
Many other instances of anti-Semitism on college campuses can be mentioned, and all of them contribute to the climate of hatred that President Gould responded to in her comments about the vandalism at Brooklyn College. Perhaps President Gould’s comments may have been better received by those students who criticized them had she mentioned the broader context of growing anti-Semitism on campuses.
Certainly, we must see these events as a reminder that we must all seek to be informed about injustices occurring around us, and that we must be willing to defend the ideals of mutual respect and inclusion, as President Gould did.