Maryland college students speak about antisemitism on campus as hate incidents rise

Maryland college students speak about antisemitism on campus as hate incidents rise

BALTIMORE - Tensions have been building on college campuses across the country since the Israel-Hamas war began as schools struggle to balance freedom of speech while condemning hate.

At the University of Maryland's flagship campus in College Park, incidents at rallies last month including antisemitic chants and chalk graffiti stating 'Holocaust 2.0' have students on edge. 

Some lawmakers, including Congressman Steny Hoyer, condemned the actions on campus.    

The school also issued a statement with the headline "UMD Denounces Antisemitism in No Uncertain Terms."

WJZ recently sat down with juniors Alexis Silhavy and Noah Rabinovich—both from Baltimore County—at Maryland Hillel, the school's Jewish campus organization. 

"I've definitely experienced antisemitism whether it's personally or with my friends," Rabinovich said. "Antisemitism as a whole has grown on campus significantly. It's definitely much more vocal now in the past month. It's definitely more visible."

Silhavy told us, "It invokes a sense of fear and unsafeness that we have to live with. It has been an uncomfortable space. At times, I've felt unsafe, and I know our community has."

A security notice on the door warns people not to let anyone they do not know and trust into the building while a campus police car sits in the parking lot. 

((Add attached picture of police car at Maryland Hillel))

Rabbi Ari Israel is the executive director of Maryland Hillel.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren asked him whether some students are scared right now given the climate. 

"Unfortunately, they are," Rabbi Israel said. "Students' fear is real. It's emotional. I don't believe that students are unsafe on this campus."

He went on to say, "I do know that they're uncomfortable, and that difference between being uncomfortable and unsafe for many students leads to fear."

Rabbi Israel said he has not seen any calls for violence and more civility than at other schools.  Still, he said some people are now more open with their antisemitic views.

"We've dealt with antisemitic incidents at Maryland for as long as I can remember. It's my 21st year and 28th in Hillel, and it's present. Now, it's visible. Now, it's vocal," he said. 

The 'Holocaust 2.0' graffiti stung.

"My great grandparents were murdered in the holocaust," Israel told WJZ. "When someone says this is a holocaust, I know deep down what a holocaust is and don't dare use that word."

He also denounced a chant heard at several recent rallies on campus. 

"The overwhelming majority of students on campus by far are decent, good human beings. …The phrase from 'the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free' is an antisemitic phrase, and other people say, 'Well, we don't mean it.' I'll tell you what it means to me and it means to us: It's antisemitic. It's calling for the destruction and dismantling of the Jewish state. It's calling for displacement of Jews," he said. 

At a recent protest, WJZ spoke to a student supporting Palestinians who said he does not feel the school administration has his back.

"Our university is working to silence us," said the student who declined to give his name. "We have the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest even when our own president tries to limit that. We have that power."

The University of Maryland's president Dr. Darryll Pines recently wrote to students "the alarming international rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia at many college campuses, including our own, must be addressed head-on." 

You can read his letter here.

Dr. Pines also wrote, "Let us be clear: The University condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia and hate in all forms. Full stop."

Silhavy told Hellgren it is hard to escape the hate.  "When they chalk antisemitic and hurtful things, chalk doesn't just go away. Yes, they power wash it. The university was great for immediate action on that, but those pictures don't just disappear. The impacts they have had on people don't just disappear," she said.

Rabinovich, her classmate, agreed. "It's hard to avoid. It's hard to hide from," he told Hellgren. "My bigger fear—and the thing that makes me more uncomfortable—is just being in class because, for example, I have Jewish friends. We are talking about things that are happening, and sometimes I tell them 'lower your voice' or 'I don't want to talk about it here' in the hallways and classrooms."

Nationwide, the Anti-Defamation League reported antisemitic incidents increased 388 percent in the weeks after the Hamas attack

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has tracked a 216 percent rise in Islamophobic complaints.     

"They feel doubly victimized. On one hand, they're watching thousands of civilians be killed. Then, they're retaliated against with hate crimes, with hate incidents," Ahmad Reheb with CAIR told CBS News.     

The CBS News program '60 Minutes' recently put a spotlight on the issue and spoke to leaders at Columbia University

During a Congressional hearing last week, several university presidents faced criticism for their response to hate speech.

The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating several schools nationally for civil rights violations, although none are in Maryland

In California, students are suing UC Berkeley over antisemitism

In the wake of the recent incidents at the University of Maryland, chalk messages are being restricted to certain areas and a new task force will tackle Islamophobia and antisemitism

The school is also adding 80 staffers to its police force to increase visibility and has instituted identification checks for those entering campus. 

Maryland Hillel's Rabbi Israel said he is supportive of the recent actions by the university's administration and campus police and urged people to come together in peace. 

"Perhaps the person who hates me is never going to see eye to eye but the person who doesn't know me yet—and know us yet—is someone that hopefully we can influence for the better to recognize that we're all in this as part of humanity who cares about life," Israel said. 

Students told WJZ the tense campus climate must change and they remain optimistic that it will. 

"Nothing has been the same, and it's hard to be in these settings where we're supposed to be normal college students and we're not able to be," Silhavy said. "I think we can only have hope that things will get better. There's no other way to look than up."

You can read the latest developments on the Israel-Hamas war here.

Read more

We and our partners use cookies to understand how you use our site, improve your experience and serve you personalized content and advertising. Read about how we use cookies in our cookie policy and how you can control them by clicking Manage Settings. By continuing to use this site, you accept these cookies.