Courtesy of Rabbi Ari Weiss

Students gathered on Ho Plaza on Thursday evening for an antisemitism rally.

September 20, 2022

University and Cornell Jewish Community Respond to Antisemitic Actions, Jewish Cornellians Rally on Ho Plaza

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After sightings of the Star of David drawn alongside a swastika on the ground next to Beebe Lake and a banner reading “Burn prisons, free them all, Attica to Palestine” on the side of the Cornell Law School building facing the Cornell Hillel offices, the campus Jewish community responded with a Thursday evening rally on Ho Plaza.

The rally garnered around 50 participants. After holding a prayer in the beginning, there were an array of speakers including Cornell Hillel leaders and the co-president of the Center for Jewish Living Gidon Amsellem ’23. 

At the rally, students write why they are proud to be Jewish and how they stand up to antisemitism. (Courtesy of Rabbi Ari Weiss)

Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of Cornell Hillel, said that while it is saddening that the Jewish community has to hold rallies standing against antisemitism on campus, it was a powerful display of unity.

“One thing I’m saddened by is the fact that every couple of years, we have to put together this type of vigil — it’s something that happened in 2017, 2018 and probably will continue to happen,” Rabbi Weiss said. “But it’s important for us as a Jewish community to stand up to say: We belong at Cornell [and] if there are hateful symbols, we will fight them, we will stand together, [and] we will invite our allies to stand with us, as we will stand with others.” 

Rabbi Weiss is referring to two incidents of antisemitism on campus. In Oct. 2017, anti-semitic posters with swastikas appeared on several buildings and the Ezra Cornell statue. A year later, when three swastika signs were found on North Campus in Nov. 2018.

The University released a statement on Thursday afternoon, before the rally, addressing the recent sightings.

In the statement from President Martha Pollack to the Ithaca campus community, Pollack focused on the University’s core value of creating a community of belonging, denouncing the actions.

“As I have said before, and will repeat as often as necessary: Cornell denounces in the strongest possible terms all forms of hatred and bigotry,” Pollack wrote in her statement. “We cannot allow acts of hatred, and the attention they bring, to keep us from striving to be a community of belonging.”

Pollack also mentioned how incidents involving racial targeting and antisemitism have occurred over the course of the last few months. She said that the University will continue to investigate the “wrong and detestable” actions.

Rabbi Weiss said he appreciated that President Pollack and the University released a statement on the matter, as it was a step to counteract the hateful messages. Some students shared his sentiment, but felt more should have been done.

“I was impressed with how quickly the university released a statement. I was glad to see President Pollack did include antisemitism,” said Sarah Austin ’23, president of Cornell Hillel.  “However, I do wish there was more emphasis put on what actually happened.” 

Amsellem, co-president of CJL, said he would have wished that the statement was more specific, so that people knew exactly what was going on. 

“We’re not going to change anything if people are uneducated, to the reality of the situation,” Amsellem said. “Additionally, while I believe that racism is a very important topic to address, I would argue that putting racist examples of things that would happen and bunching it into the same emails, antisemitism actually detracts attention from both.”

Rabbi Weiss spoke to how there has been a resurgence of antisemitism over the last few years not only across the country but internationally. He added that antisemitism is seen on college campuses across the United States, and said that sometimes that is seen in the form of swastikas.

“This swastika, in general, is something that’s this deeply, deeply upsetting,” said Rabbi Weiss. “It’s a hateful symbol, to show up just like that on campus. [The] same thing happened when it showed up on campus buildings, in the snow and in dorms a few years ago.”

With the seventh largest Jewish population among private universities, Cornell has a vibrant Jewish community of over 3,000 students. On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the student organization Cornellians for Israel called on the University to condemn the incident.

On Thursday morning, Cornell Hillel also issued a statement saying they were saddened, angered and dismayed to learn of the actions.

“Antisemitism has no place on campus and goes against Cornell University’s core values of creating a culture of belonging,” Cornell Hillel wrote in their statement.

In both statements, the organizations also mentioned the placement of an anti-Israel banner on the side of Myron Taylor Hall facing the Cornell Hillel offices, the campus center for Jewish student life.

“Antisemitism has no place at Cornell or in our society,” the Cornellians for Israel statement read. “We call on the University and the Student Assembly to swiftly condemn this incident.”

The University statement came the next morning, and at the Student Assembly on Thursday evening the assembly passed a resolution titled “Resolution Five: Condemning Antisemitism.”

“Academic institutions have always served as storied grounds of learning and living through challenges, and have shown the need for respecting each other’s differences and celebrating them as a community,” wrote assembly members Duncan Cady ’23, Benjamin Luckow ’24 and Isaac Chasen ’23.

Chasen, who is also a columnist for The Sun, said that the assembly decided to create the resolution after hearing the statements from campus organizations.

“We felt, in light of these recent events, that it was important to reiterate that we stand against antisemitism in all its forms, and reaffirm that every student is welcome here, regardless of religion, race, or nationality,” Chasen said. “Hate, regardless of the time or place, is not welcome here, and antisemitism goes against Cornell’s core values of equality and respect for all students.”

Rory Confino-Pinzon ’24 contributed reporting.