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April 25, 2019 11:53 am

Experiencing Antisemitism at Cornell

avatar by Josh Eibelman


The clock tower at Cornell University. Photo: Clarice Oliveira.

As an American Jew, antisemitism has loomed large in my life. At home, my parents and grandparents have told me about the antisemitism they faced in the Soviet Union. In tenth grade, I was called “filthy rat” on The Daily Stormer — a Neo-Nazi website that has a page devoted to the “Jewish problem.” And during my senior year of high school, I learned with horror that a schoolmate — Ezra Schwartz — was murdered in a terrorist attack while in Israel only because he was Jewish.

Still, when I accepted my offer of admission to Cornell University, I was not aware that I would face antisemitism on my Ivy League campus, where the official mantra is “any person, any study.”

During the Fall of my sophomore year, antisemitic posters appeared around Cornell, featuring swastikas and emblazoned with the slogan: “Just say no to Jewish lies!” Though President Martha Pollack made a statement condemning the antisemitic incident, to my knowledge no one was held accountable for this hateful act.

Close to the end of that year, I learned from a friend that my dormitory neighbor had told his roommate (who was not Jewish) earlier in the semester that he believed Hitler should have finished killing the Jews. The comment led the roommate to find a different living arrangement.

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While the residence hall director knew that I was Jewish, he never warned me that an antisemitic incident had happened next door to me. Nor was there any public condemnation or a dormitory-wide meeting to discuss the event.

It got worse last Fall, in my junior year. Starting on November 10, a mere two weeks after 11 Jews were gunned down at the Tree of Life Synagogue, three swastikas appeared around the Cornell campus in the span of 10 days.

Shockingly, the Cornell administration did not initially comment on the hate crimes. It took a comprehensive report in The Cornell Daily Sun to elicit a statement from the administration condemning the swastikas, and signaling support for the Cornell Jewish community. This led the Daily Sun editorial board to scathingly criticize the administration.

As a student at one of the top academic institutions in the world, I felt unsafe. I decided to cope with these feelings by publishing an op-ed in the Daily Sun, calling on all Cornellians to combat antisemitism from both the left and the right.

I wrote that by saying, “Make Israel Palestine Again,” Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was feeding into the antisemitic idea that the Jewish people have no right to self-determination.

An SJP member responded, writing about my op-ed: “in frantically pointing out instances of ‘anti-Semitism’ which are actually just figments of his own imagination, Eibelman helps nobody but neo-Nazis and their ilk.” Having been a target of neo-Nazi antisemitism, I felt attacked all over again.

Later that semester, a Cornell student living in my sophomore-year dormitory called me “Jewish scum” in an online interaction. I reported the incident to the residence hall director, but again, no public action was taken. It took months for the director to even publicly acknowledge the antisemitic incident.

A few months ago, Cornell’s SJP chapter announced a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Their campaign was filled with antisemitic rhetoric, which included falsely accusing Chabad — an apolitical Jewish organization on campus — of “shady politics.”

After SJP’s BDS campaign failed in the Cornell Student Assembly, various Cornell students who had played active roles in the campaign made antisemitic posts on social media. On Facebook, one student referred to those opposed to BDS as “Zios,” an antisemitic term used by the KKK.

A few days after BDS failed, a Jewish student found yet another swastika on campus. But what should have been a shock to the system felt like an ordinary day at Cornell.

Antisemitism at Cornell has been normalized. But I refuse to let the status quo stand. Cornell has an antisemitism problem, and now is the time to fix it.

Josh Eibelman is a junior at Cornell University, where he studies biology and psychology.

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