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December 12, 2018 3:52 pm

NYU Jewish Student Center Temporarily Closes After BDS Supporter Shares ‘Antisemitic, Potentially Threatening’ Posts

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The New York University campus. Photo: Cincin12 via Wikimedia Commons.

A Jewish student center at New York University was temporarily closed on Wednesday after an anti-Zionist student issued threatening messages, before reopening during the afternoon.

The head of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU said in an email sent to community members on Tuesday evening that his team had recently become aware “of several public online postings by an NYU student which were antisemitic in nature and potentially threatening.”

Due to “heightened tensions at NYU” — where a resolution supporting the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel passed last week — “we are taking all threats seriously and have notified NYU Public Safety and NYPD,” Rabbi Yehuda Sarna wrote. “While we do not believe that there is a credible threat, we are taking every necessary precaution.”

The center resumed normal operations on Wednesday afternoon after consultations with city and campus police, as well as “other security experts in the Jewish community,” Sarna said in a statement.

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He added that the center would further enhance its security protocol, which was already tightened after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre in October, including by making “modifications to our building and [pursuing] active shooter trainings.”

NYU administration told The Algemeiner in a statement on Wednesday evening that it “is actively reviewing the matter.”

“Although we cannot discuss specifics, the University will take appropriate steps in accord with our procedures with respect to those involved,” NYU Spokesman John Beckman said.

While the individual behind the postings was not identified by Sarna or NYU administration, the campus groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) pointed to Alejandro Villa Vásquez, an NYU student who wrote on Twitter on December 3rd that his account was suspended because “i expressed my desire for zionists to die.”

A screenshot of his tweet was circulated online by the anti-BDS group SJP Uncovered, along with an image of an older tweet from 2014 that referred to Adolf Hitler positively, and one from October that read, “remember to spit on zionists, it’s proper etiquette.”

Vásquez separately applauded the passage of the BDS resolution by the NYU Student Government Assembly on Thursday, writing on social media, “i hope every zionist kkkunt @ nyu is crying right now.” The measure — backed by 35 faculty members and more than 60 student clubs — was strongly condemned by Zionist campus groups and multiple Jewish student leaders, and quickly rejected by NYU’s administration.

He claimed to have been apprehended by the NYU Department of Public Safety over his postings on Tuesday evening, tweeting, “whoever didn’t have the balls to approach me themselves because i make them ‘feel threatened’ but had no trouble whining on the phone about my tweets, come on over sometime, i’d love to talk.”

After inquiries by The Algemeiner, Vásquez said in a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday that he “expressed extremely aggressive views” against Zionists — people who support the Jewish nation’s right to self-determination — “because they believe in the genocide of ethnic and religious minorities.”

“My views on Zionism do not reflect my views on Judaism,” he said. “My views reflect the racist and Islamophobic principles intrinsic in Zionism.”

While rejecting claims of antisemitism, he also expressed “regret” over the situation, saying it’s been explained to him “why people are taking my anti-Zionist views the way they are.”

“To anyone that genuinely feel scared, I’m sorry — I would have done things differently had I known it would actually instill fear in innocent people,” he continued.

Vásquez said he spoke to the NYU Wellness Center, Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and Public Safety. “They all know that there is no threat of danger,” he indicated.

Vásquez was listed as a deputy managing editor at NYU’s student-run Washington Square News earlier this year, while his LinkedIn profile identified him as an office aide at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. He denied being currently affiliated with Washington Square, and said he had not worked at the Silver School in months.

The Silver School confirmed on Tuesday that Vásquez was no longer an employee, adding that “the language in his post is antithetical to social work.”

SJP and JVP also disavowed Vásquez, saying that he was not a member and that his remarks “are not only anti-Semitic, but outright normalize violence directed at the Jewish community at NYU and at large.”

“Because of threats against the Jewish community, the Bronfman Center has temporarily closed in fear of an attack upon the Jewish population at NYU,” they wrote. “We stand in solidarity with our fellow Jewish NYU students and faculty and want to make it explicit that we do not align ourselves with anti-Semites or anti-Semitism.”

The recent tensions at NYU come on the heels of an extended BDS campaign spearheaded by SJP and JVP, which featured a boycott pledge in April that specifically targeted Zionist student clubs on campus, and a similar declaration in October that denounced NYU’s study abroad program in Tel Aviv. Last year, JVP censured the Bronfman Center for its efforts to bring students to Israel, and launched a boycott of the center’s trips that was signed by more than 20 student groups, including NYU College Democrats.

TorchPAC and Realize Israel, the two clubs blacklisted by the April pledge, warned in a petition before the BDS resolution was endorsed last week that the campaign was “fostering an intolerable climate on campus for Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

Realize Israel also released a video earlier this month featuring testimonies from several Jewish and Zionist students, one of whom warned that his community was “being targeted and physically attacked.” He pointed to an incident at a Realize Israel event earlier this year, when an anti-Zionist student burned an Israeli flag, while one male student was filmed grabbing the arm of a female peer and forcibly taking her microphone before shouting, “Free Palestine, end the occupation.”

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