I'm Tired of Just "Moving On" from Antisemitism

Michal Cohen
November 11, 2022

A month later, I cannot get the swastika out of my head. 

One month ago, I came back online after 48 hours of celebrating the Jewish New Year when I received dozens of messages from my friends at my alma mater, American University, saying that a swastika was found etched into the ceiling tile on campus. 

While the university did set up sensitivity training for some staff last year, after the administration characterized a separate swastika incident as “possibly” antisemitic, not enough was done. 

Although the university administration did send out an email condemning the swastika attack—the email alone does not change a campus culture riddled with antisemitism. Action does. The university must commit itself to listen to Jewish students, adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which provides a guide to identifying antisemitism in the 21st century, and improve the AUx curriculum to include a more holistic teaching plan on antisemitism.  

Growing up between Miami and Israel, antisemitism was an intellectual conversation—something I knew was out there, but did not impact my everyday life. Throughout my years in Miami, I would constantly hear people speaking Hebrew in Publix and witness the growth of kosher restaurants. In Israel, I would go about my day never actively thinking I was Jewish—being Jewish was the norm in school, after-school programs, or on the streets of Tel Aviv. 

Stepping onto American University’s campus in 2018 shattered my bubble. For the first time in my life, I experienced antisemitism in a social setting and no one blinked an eye (the first time was at a football game in High School, and my coach took immediate action). Throughout my career at AU, I finally realized what antisemitism meant—it meant having to hide your identity (both religious and ethnic) and facing online harassment from my peers after calling out a school club’s post which engaged in Holocaust distortion. My time at American University was the first time I ever experienced antisemitism on such a wide scale—administrators, professors, peers, and friends. In 2018, my dream was to work in politics or the Disney Company (two opposite sides of the spectrum, I know). My time at AU completely shifted my plan in life and now wake up each day to help students fight antisemitism on their campus—something I never imagined I would do. 

Although I experienced a fair share of antisemitism at AU, the incidents that haunt me are the two swastikas found on campus in the same building exactly one year apart from each other. The AU administration has created a culture where they move on from one antisemitic incident in hopes that the Jewish community forgets them until the next one. Through my work How many more antisemitic attacks need to happen on campus until they are no longer surprising? What is the administration telling our future lawmakers, judges, diplomats, and presidents when it comes to responding to antisemitism? 

History has shown us, nothing good results from a society that does not react to antisemitism with the utmost attention. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks once said, “The hate that begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews.” The AU administration has a clear choice: fight antisemitism through action, or allow the status quo to continue—endangering not only your Jewish students but the entire student population.

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