A Vitriolic Response to Standing Up for Being Jewish on Campus

By JAC Senior Intern Lily Cohen
These are frightening times to be Jewish in America, and even more so to be a student on a college campus. College should be a safe place for productive conversations about differing opinions. However, as antisemitism has invaded colleges across the country and my personal space, my campus has not been that place.
As a Junior at Northwestern University in Evanston, just 30 minutes outside of Chicago, I have seen antisemitic incidents on campus over the past three years.
Antisemitism has recently dominated national news. From Kanye West to Kyrie Irving to other well-known celebrities and influencers who promoted antisemitic views. Just as damaging was the silence from their sponsors and sports teams.
Yet after all the headlines and social media posts condemning antisemitism, comedian Dave Chappelle only worsened the atmosphere, spending the first seven minutes of his SNL opening monologue making distasteful comments about “the Jews” and specifically invoking antisemitic tropes about Jews in Hollywood. 
Other recent antisemitic incidents involved a scenic trail in Bethesda vandalized with symbols of hatred, displaying graphic cartoons of Jews as the subjects of a game of hangman; and gravestones defaced with language promoting Kanye’s antisemitic rhetoric in Waukegan, IL.
On campus, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) put up flyers and covered The Rock – the campus symbol of free speech – with antisemitic, anti-Israel language, including the phrase “from the river to the sea.” In painting The Rock, they covered up a message I had helped to write, urging students and visitors to vote for reproductive rights, gun safety, and voting rights. When several peers and I spoke to SJP about their decision to cover up our critical voting message just days before the midterm election, a member of their organization told me I do not understand what it feels like to have my identity attacked.
I had enough. I decided it was time for me to speak up boldly and proudly. I wrote an op-ed published last week in the student newspaper about my pride in my Jewish identity. (Click here to read.) I asked for student groups to engage in constructive discourse rather than destructive attacks on other students and other issues and for the university to condemn the Hamas-employed phrase “from the river to the sea.” 
I didn’t see writing my piece as a brave act, but rather a necessary act. After three years on campus, I no longer had the luxury to stay silent. I imagined there might be backlash from my op-ed and the immediate response was expected. On Instagram and Twitter, I was called a terrorist, colonizer, and other derogatory names.
But it only became worse. When copies of my op-ed were strung up by the library and painted in red with “from the river to the sea,” the incident turned deeply personal. It was painful to receive this targeted response to my attempt to engage in respectful, meaningful dialogue. 
Sadly this harmful rhetoric toward Jews is not unique to Northwestern, other college campuses, or our own communities at home. Antisemitism is a societal ill, a plague that has permeated even the highest levels of our political systems. 
Donald Trump’s announcement this week that he will be running again for President is a stark reminder that there is still a hunger for his hateful rhetoric. Our country and our democracy have not yet shifted away from electing and embracing dangerous and harmful ideologies. 
Hate and antisemitism did not end when Trump left office. They only found other messengers. If Trump wins again in 2024, he will bring antisemitism back to the Oval Office with him, signaling to the American people that hatred toward Jews and xenophobia are part of the fabric of our country.
Elections have consequences. Often, those consequences are felt long after the elected official leaves their position. 
As we move past the midterms, we must continue to work to elect candidates across the country that will fight back against antisemitism. I am proud to have been part of JAC and their election efforts during this critical time in our nation. JAC has helped to give me a voice and faith in our electoral process as a vehicle for meaningful change.
This incident reinforces my strong desire to keep fighting against hatred in all of its forms and to never remain silent.