The White House announced on Monday a series of actions it is taking to combat the “alarming” rise in reported antisemitic incidents on American college campuses since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.
The announcement came hours after anonymous antisemitic posts on a Greek life website threatened to “shoot up” the Cornell University kosher dining hall and to kill and rape Jewish students, leading the campus Hillel to urge students to stay away from the site and to expressions of outrage from US officials.
White House deputy communications director Herbie Ziskind tweeted afterward that what had happened at his alma mater was “deeply concerning, dangerous and blatantly antisemitic.”
US Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, who has been one of the main faces of the administration’s fight against antisemitism, discussed the matter during a meeting with executives of major American Jewish community organizations later Monday at the Education Department with its leader Secretary Miguel Cardona and US antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt, the White House said.
The top Biden officials “heard from Jewish leaders about the extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic threats of violence in schools and college campuses” since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the White House said.
Emhoff and Cardona “unequivocally denounced antisemitism and all other forms of hate. They also reaffirmed the Administration’s support for Israel and the right for Israel to defend itself against terrorism,” the US readout added.
Later this week, Cardona and White House domestic policy czar Neera Tanden will visit a university campus and hold a roundtable with Jewish students.
These videos are circulating on WhatsApp of Jewish students saying they were locked up in the Cooper Union Library as pro-Palestinians were trying to get in. pic.twitter.com/MdNLW12WzI
— Jacob N. Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) October 25, 2023
The Education Department, which has already conducted site visits in San Francisco and St. Louis, as well as Maine to address and learn about antisemitism at college campuses, will make visits to schools in New York City and Baltimore later this week, the White House said.
As part of their engagements with local law enforcement regarding antisemitism, the Justice and Homeland Security Departments have begun including campus police in those meetings, the White House added.
The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service will continue to provide support on college campuses and remains in dialogue with Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other impacted communities on college campuses nationwide, according to the White House.
The Homeland Security Department has tasked its cybersecurity experts to engage with colleges across the countries regarding campus antisemitism.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has also expedited an initiative launched just over a week before the war instructing federal officials to include antisemitism and other forms of religious bigotry as prohibited under civil rights law, meaning Jewish groups cannot be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
That initiative was part of a broader, first-of-its-kind presidential strategy to combat antisemitism launched last May.
The administration said it has sped up the process of filing complaints and will also offer technical assistance to people on campuses who want to file complaints.
Last week, the White House called out the “grotesque” and “antisemitic” actions of students protesting against Israel on American college campuses.
“Delegitimizing the State of Israel while praising the Hamas terrorist murderers who burned innocent people alive, or targeting Jewish students, is the definition of unacceptable — and the definition of antisemitism,” White House deputy spokesperson Andrew Bates told The Times of Israel.
The comments appeared to be the furthest that the White House has gone yet to weigh in on campus debates about Israel. In the past, Biden officials stressed the importance of allowing peaceful protests while also emphasizing the importance of Arab, Jewish and Muslim Americans feeling safe.
However, the escalating incidents across the country appear to have led the White House to speak out more forcefully. Last Tuesday night, messages including “Glory To Our Martyrs,” “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now,” and “Free Palestine From The River To The Sea” were projected onto the exterior of a campus building at George Washington University.
At Cooper Union College in New York last Wednesday night, Jewish students were locked in their school’s library for 20 minutes as pro-Palestinian demonstrators pounded on the doors and shouted anti-Israel slogans.
Also last week, the Anti-Defamation League sent letters to the heads of nearly 200 universities asking them to investigate their chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.
The letters claimed that SJP chapters could be guilty of “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.” They call on universities to investigate the chapters for “whether they have improper funding sources, have violated the school code of conduct, have violated state or federal laws, and/or are providing material support to Hamas.”
Separately, Lipstadt said on Sunday that the Biden administration was “deeply concerned” about what she said was a “dramatic increase” in antisemitic incidents worldwide since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, which started the ongoing war.
“Governments, law enforcement and community groups in Europe, Latin America, Australia, South Africa, North America, Russia and elsewhere have reported a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents, rhetoric and incitement in the past three weeks,” she said. “Violent incidents throughout the world in October have included harassment of and attacks on Jewish individuals, and defacement of and attacks on Jewish sites.”
Hours earlier, hundreds of people stormed onto the tarmac at the airport in Russia’s Dagestan republic as a flight from Israel arrived, reportedly yelling antisemitic slogans and forcing officials to shut the airport down.
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, massacring some 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties. The Hamas-run health ministry says over 8,000 people have been killed in Gaza. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.
JTA contributed to this report.