Fighting antisemitism: A view from campus
OpinionGuest columnist

Fighting antisemitism: A view from campus

Since the beginning of the war, many Jewish students have felt uneasy at Pitt.

Elya Jacobowitz shows his support for Israel at the Cathedral of Learning, as protesters chant anti-Israel slogans. (Photo by David Rullo)
Elya Jacobowitz shows his support for Israel at the Cathedral of Learning, as protesters chant anti-Israel slogans. (Photo by David Rullo)

In the face of heightened tensions following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, there has been a disturbing increase of anti-Israel activism on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.

Students for Justice in Palestine has emerged as a loud voice at Pitt, triggering an urgent need for change within our community. As a deeply involved Jewish student and president of Zachor (Holocaust Education and Awareness Club) at Pitt, I feel a responsibility to address the challenge of creating a more inclusive and informed campus environment.

Since the beginning of the war, many Jewish students have felt uneasy at Pitt. Some students do not feel safe attending events hosted by Jewish groups as antisemitism rises across the country. According to alarming statistics from the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents have surged 360% since the start of the war, reaching 3,283 incidents in the United States between Oct. 7 and Jan. 7.

One particularly distressing incident occurred on Jan. 24. Student Coalition for Israel at Pitt brought Yadin Gellman, an Israeli actor and former soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, to the Hillel Jewish University Center. This move by SCIP triggered strong reactions, with approximately 200 protesters from SJP marching from the Cathedral of Learning to Hillel’s building on Forbes Avenue just before the event commenced.

Along with a few friends, I watched the protest at the Cathedral of Learning from the side, documenting the unfolding scene on video. My friends and I stood strong, wearing our kippot and waving Israeli flags as symbols of our Jewish pride. The air was filled with chants of “Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free.” Beneath those slogans are antisemitic undertones that call for the destruction of my people. These slogans are associated with the idea of eliminating the Jewish state rather than advocating for a peaceful coexistence of Israel and a future Palestinian state.

As SJP started marching to the Hillel building, an elderly man at the protest looked at me and shouted, “You dirty, Zionist Jew. Keep taking a video of me.” I stood there stunned for a moment, and then laughed. I did not find his antisemitic comment funny but rather attempted to maintain a sense of resilience in the face of such hatred. Antisemitism should never be dismissed or tolerated. That moment was a painful reminder that there was an immediate need to address and combat antisemitism through open and constructive conversations.

SJP’s involvement extends beyond protests to educational and social events, exemplified by the “Shabbat dinner for Palestine” that was held in collaboration with MENASA (Middle Eastern & North African Student Association) on Friday, Feb. 16. This event was the definition of cultural appropriation, as it distorted the significance of Shabbat for the Jewish people. While SJP and MENASA stated they would only serve kosher food, they catered largely from Shah’s, a halal restaurant in Pittsburgh, with Pigeon Bagels, a kosher bakery in Pittsburgh, providing only challah.

While it is possible that the inclusion of halal options was motivated by a desire for non-Jewish students to feel welcome, kosher food also fits the requirements of halal food, making that point moot. An event that misrepresents its intentions and inclusivity has no place on our campus. If this event was fueled by ignorance, we must do everything in our power to change that.

Jewish groups on campus like Hillel and Chabad must build coalitions with non-Jewish student organizations to promote dialogue and understanding. By fostering alliances with various student groups on campus, we can create platforms for open conversations, cultural exchanges and educational initiatives. Building bridges between different communities fosters a sense of shared responsibility in combating hate. It is imperative that everyone understands the rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism that exist today, including within the media.

Grassroots activism plays a pivotal role in effecting meaningful change on campuses and in society. For example, we must use strategies such as putting up flyers of the hostages in Gaza, tabling on campus and leading rallies in support of Israel. We must call our elected officials, thank them for supporting Israel and implore them to advocate to bring the hostages home.

Israel is our Jewish homeland. More than ever before, we must stand united as one people fighting for freedom and justice. Only together do we have the power to support our brothers and sisters in Israel and combat antisemitism. I stand with Israel now and forever, and I pray that you do, too. Am Yisrael Chai! PJC

Matthew Garber is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, studying psychology and LCJS (Law, Criminal Justice, and Society). He is from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

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