September 19, 2022

GUEST ROOM | Missed Moment for Antisemitism Education

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On Sept. 14, Jews across campus were shocked and horrified to hear about two separate hate crimes that had surfaced on campus. That morning, someone hung a banner that read “Burn Prisons. Free Them All. Attica to Palestine” from a law school window which faced Cornell’s Hillel offices. Even more upsetting was the discovery near Beebe Lake of a Star of David etched into the ground lying next to the word “is,” followed by a swastika. The equation of a Star of David, a symbol of the Jewish faith and peoplehood, with a swastika, the Nazi emblem, is flagrantly antisemitic. 

Many Jewish students on campus have relatives who perished at the hands of the exact people to whom they were being compared. This drawing belittles the unfathomable experiences of those who witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust. This rhetoric should not be welcome in any public space, particularly on a campus that is founded on the ideology of “any person, any study.” Disturbingly, we learned that this depiction was supposedly present on campus for two weeks before anyone bothered to report it. This lack of urgency to call out hate and stand up for those victimized is unacceptable and deeply distressing.

For Jewish students, this reality is not surprising, as it only highlights what many of us believe is a double standard between discrimination taking the form of antisemitism versus racism, homophobia or any targeting of other minority groups. Antisemitism largely goes unnoticed on college campuses despite its prevalence, and as a result, Jewish students are disincentivized from taking action.

As the details of these events spread through the Jewish community, many students expressed feelings of fear and nausea knowing that members of the Cornell community view us with such hate and disgust. Acts like these are cowardly and impede students’ ability to engage in conversations about such important and sensitive topics, as they completely delegitimize entire people’s and perspectives, rather than engaging with them and seeking to learn and understand more. 

We thank President Pollack for swiftly condemning the antisemitic and racist actions in a statement on Sept. 15, and most importantly, acknowledging the attack’s antithetical nature toward University values such as striving “to be a welcoming, caring and equitable community where students, faculty and staff with different backgrounds, abilities and experiences can learn, innovate and work in an environment of respect.” 

However, expressing that these incidents were only a “small handful” that “involve antisemitism” is vague, diminishes the gravity of the situation and misses the opportunity of an important teaching moment for the campus community at large. How can students be expected to learn from these incidents and use them as moments of education and growth if no detailed information about the incident is provided along with an explanation of its harm?

Cornell must be a home for all students; no individual should fear expressing their identity. As a community, we must be proactive about highlighting acts of bigotry when they occur, and it is imperative to prioritize education about antisemitism, just as we stress education and activism about other forms of bigotry. The only solution is to come together as a community and use this negative situation as a teachable moment.

Zoe Bernstein is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. Molly Goldstein is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.