Lessons in fear
BACKSTORY | A visit to campus amid anti-war furor
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Pro-Palestinian rallies erupted on U.S. college campuses days after Hamas launched its deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7. A few weeks later, WORLD’s Mary Muncy traveled to New York to visit Cornell University and witness the furor firsthand. Her reporting, which contributed to Kim Henderson’s story, “Fever pitch,” in this issue, details the extent of the opposition Jewish students now face on campus. I asked her what else she learned during her trip.
How would you describe the atmosphere on campus? Most students aren’t directly affected, but it’s being brought to their door by the protests and rallies on campus. I heard several groups of students pass me talking about the war in Israel. Even a student with no interest in it would have been annoyed by the campus shutting down because of outsiders—it made it more difficult for them to get to their classes on time. But for the most part, it seems that only Jewish students are more fearful than usual.
None of the students you talked to in New York wanted you to use their names. Were their fears more about exposure and public censure, or were they worried about their physical safety? It was both. The Jewish students I talked to were afraid that if they gave me their names, they could be singled out as Jews, and that would lead to violence. They had heard of a truck driving around campus with pictures of pro-Palestinian students and the slogan, “Columbia’s biggest anti-Semites.” Jewish students didn’t want that to turn on them. The month before, one student attacked a Jewish student on campus. The police arrested the alleged attacker and classified it as a hate crime.
Opposition to Israel has festered on college campuses for years. Did the Jewish students you talked to encounter that opposition regularly before the Hamas attack? One student I talked to at Harvard described it well. More students are aware of the opposition, he said, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there before. He wears his kippa, so he told me he’s used to being easily identifiable as a Jew and dealing with any opposition it brings. But he says now more students around him are aware that some people are opposed to them.
What did you learn about this situation that you didn’t already know? I didn’t know how many Jewish students are grieving. Even if they haven’t lost someone, many are losing a piece of their home. One student described Israel as the one place Jewish people feel safe, and now she doesn’t even have that to look to.
I also didn’t know that many Jewish students feel unsafe enough to remove the outward signs of their religion. Many are not wearing their Stars of David and some feel the need to walk in groups after dark.
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