Vassar should work to support Jewish community

[TW: This article discusses an anti-Semitic bias incident and mentions sexual assault.]

During the weekend of Oct. 7, neo-Nazis associated with the Daily Stormer, an infamous alt-right website founded in 2013 by white supremacist Andrew Anglin, put up posters around Vassar College, UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Marist College (JTA, “Fliers on 4 college campuses blame Jews for Kavanaugh assault allegations,” 10.09.2018).

The posters featured pictures of various people who tried to stop Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court with a Star of David over their face and a picture of the now–Supreme Court Justice himself at the center. The text caption read, “Every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it.” In short, the posters asserted that Jews were behind the sexual assault allegations against Justice Kavanaugh and the efforts to prevent his confirmation (Jewish Journal, “Flyers Blaming Jews for Kavanaugh Allegations Found on UC Davis,” 10.08.2018).

As a Jew, I found this event deeply disturbing. The posters provoked feelings of anger, resentment and fear in myself and in the college community at large. For many Vassar students who have come to accept our environment as progressive and tolerant, this was a tremendous shock. While Vassar Security confirmed on Oct. 9 that no Vassar student was directly involved in the incident, the discovery of these posters reflects poorly on the College.

This unfortunate and upsetting action, however, is neither as surprising nor as unique as I wish it was. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose by 60 percent in 2017, the largest one-year increase in the history of the ADL (Time, “Anti-semitic attacks rose faster last year than any time in nearly 40 years, ADL says,” 02.27.2018). In the United States, anti-Jewish bias accounts for approximately 54 percent of religion-based hate crimes (Jewish Virtual Library, “Anti-Semitism in the United States: Statistics on Religious Hate Crimes”).

The situation for Jews is not much better outside of the United States. Anti-semitic assaults rose by 34 percent in the United Kingdom in 2017 (The Guardian, “Antisemitic incidents in UK at all-time high,” 10.31.2018). There was a 28 percent increase in France (The JC, “Anti Semitic attacks surge in France,” 02.09.2018), a 2.5 percent increase in Germany (Reuters, “Anti-Semitic crime, mostly with far-right motive, edges up in Germany,” 05.08.2018) and 24 percent in Canada, the most concerning being a 41 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes in Ontario (B’nai Brith Canada, “Rise in Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes Confirmed by Statistics Canada,” 11.28.2017).

As shocking as this particular incident at Vassar has been, it is only one in a long line of examples of how the world has become an increasingly unfriendly place for the Jewish people. It is important, if we are to combat this trend, to take every threat, every anti-Semitic incident and every attack seriously. The anti-Semitic posters are not only an worrisome development for Jewish students and survivors of sexual violence but also a direct attack on our school’s values.

Here is how we combat this threat: First, the administration needs to keep the campus more informed about what exactly is going on. There is safety in vigilance. The more we know about what the threat is and how it manifests itself, the more equipped we are to combat it. I commend President Elizabeth Bradley for condemning the posters and alerting everyone to the incident, but I also believe the administration needs to make an effort to convey as much information as possible to the student body, so that we can look out for those who may be at risk.

Second, we as a student body then need to use that information to look out for each other. This is not just important for anti-Semitic incidents. It is up to all of us to preserve the integrity of our home and our values—this means sticking up for any person who belongs to a marginalized group when their identity is attacked. If you’re reading this, and if you haven’t already, reach out to someone you know who may have been affected by these posters and check to see if they’re okay. Make sure that they know that the student body stands behind them.

To my fellow Jewish students, to survivors of sexual violence and to anyone else who has been targeted by this or any past or future bias incident at Vassar College or elsewhere, we stand with you. Vassar does not, and will not, tolerate bigotry in any form, and I will do everything in my power to support you. And to the cowards from the Daily Stormer, the insufferable children who trespassed on our grounds and threatened our students, your days are numbered. We will replace you.

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