Four Jewish students spoke out against rising antisemitism on their respective college campuses at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and New York University (NYU) in a Tuesday press conference with House Republicans.
The first student to speak was Talia Khan, a graduate student at MIT. She described the atmosphere on campus as “extremely toxic,” contending that 70% of MIT’s Jewish students were polled as saying they “hide their identities and perspectives” due to the extreme nature of pro-Palestinian groups on campus. She alleged that an Israeli student has stayed in his dorm room for “weeks” due to death threats and that the student’s identity was “sold online for a bounty.” Khan herself left her study group for her doctoral exams “because my group members told me that the people at the Nova music festival deserved to die because they were partying on stolen land.”
Additionally, a post-doctoral fellow claimed that “Jewish-Israelis want to enslave the world in a global apartheid system” and “falsely claimed that Israel harvests Palestinian organs and implied that the ‘average Israeli’ is a Nazi.” “The DEI officer of his department replied by telling us that nothing he said was hate speech, and that the organ harvesting conspiracy theory was confirmed,” Khan said.
Other examples of antisemitism on campus included “the interfaith chaplain intimidating Jewish students, DEI staff publicly declaring that Israel has no right to exist, faculty dismissing student concerns for their safety by telling them that if they are scared, they should just go back to Israel,” Khan claimed. Pro-Palestinian protesters have also blocked the hallways and stormed the offices of the Israel internship offices, she further alleged.
“This is the same climate of antisemitism that has led to massacres of Jews throughout the centuries,” Khan said. “This is not just harassment: This our lives on the line. The MIT administration has punted disciplinary processes to a faculty committee on discipline which has thus far not received a single one of our complaints.”
She concluded by imploring MIT President Dr. Sally Kornbluth to “do your job” and protect Jewish students; otherwise, “I am asking Congress to do it for you.”
Bella Ingber, a junior at NYU, explained that on campus, posters of Israeli hostages have been “torn down” and defaced with the words “occupier” and “murderer” scrawled over them and that pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt those studying at the school library with calls for a “globalized intifada.”
“Being a Jew at NYU has meant being physically assaulted in NYU’s library by a fellow student while I was wearing an American-Israeli flag, and having my attacker still roam freely throughout the campus,” Ingber said. “Being a Jew at NYU is experiencing how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is not a value that NYU extends to its Jewish students.”
She described the current climate on campus post-Oct. 7 as analogous to the stories she heard from her Holocaust survivor grandparents about the climate in Poland and Germany when the Nazis came into power. “Today in 2023 at NYU, I hear calls to gas the Jews and I am told that Hitler is right,” Ingber said. “To the NYU administration: You are not free to selectively enforce your own rules. You are not free to refuse your Jewish students the same protections that you extend to others.”
Eyal Yakoby, a senior at UPenn, recalled that in 36 hours, pro-Palestinian protesters “called for the genocide of Jews while igniting smoke bombs and defacing university property.” And while the neighboring university denounced in the incident, UPenn has remained silent, Yakoby said.
“‘The glorious October 7th’ and ‘you’re a dirty little Jew, you deserve to die’ are words said not by Hamas, but by my classmates and professors,” Yakoby said. “Despite all of this, I am adamant and hopeful that we will not accept, least of all embrace, this horrific new normal on college campuses today.”
Yakoby claimed that pro-Palestinian protesters have posted signs with “Hamas propaganda” and “have been sleeping” at Houston Hall for the past three weeks despite being asked to leave by university staffers. “Countless Jewish students have been harassed,” he contended.
Additionally, Yakoby listed other antisemitic incidents on campus, including “a bomb threat against Hillel, a swastikaspray-painted, the Hillel and Chabad houses vandalized, a professor posting armed wing of Hamas’s logo on Facebook, a Jewish student accosted and ‘Jews are Nazis’ etched adjacent to Penn’s Jewish fraternity house. Why doesn’t the university hold the perpetrators of such acts accountable?” He accused the university of being ambivalent in response to such incidents.
“If they fail Jewish students today, tomorrow they will fail the rest of us,” Yakoby said. He later declared: “I do not feel safe.”
The final student to speak at the press conference was Harvard Law School student Jonathan Frieden. He recalled walking by “mobs of people chanting, ‘from the river to the sea’” as well as chants of “we have you outnumbered” and “globalize the intifada.” Frieden also recounted that, while he was in a study room, “a mob of 200 people” entered a building in the law school chanting such phrases while marching down the hallways. “Jews took off their kippot, and I watched someone hide under a desk,” he said. “Many of my friends ran up to the Dean of Students and DEI offices, but they had locked their doors for their own safety.”
Frieden further claimed that when he and other Jewish students have made the university aware of antisemitic incidents on campus and the specific policies that were violated, the university’s response has been “empty and meaningless” with vague statements of being “aware of the situation.” “This is not how the university would treat other groups,” Frieden said. “We are happy that Harvard has created an antisemitism advisory board, but there is no transparency about what they do.” He claimed that the board is “not accessible to students” and “no one knows what happens when you send them an incident report.”
“We are not asking to limit free speech,” Frieden continued. “We are asking the university to enforce their policies, to ensure safety and a climate conducive to education.”