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Student panelists in U.S., South Africa say they feel uneasy on campus since Hamas attack

In webinar hosted by American Jewish Committee and Hillel International, students describe instances of antisemitism since the Oct. 7 attack

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 12: Columbia students participate in a rally and vigil in support of Israel in response to a neighboring student rally in support of Palestine at the university on October 12, 2023 in New York City.

Jewish students are feeling a deep sense of unease on campus in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel nearly two weeks ago, a panel of students from the U.S. and South Africa agreed, during a webinar hosted by the American Jewish Committee and Hillel International on Thursday. 

“This is not something happening that you’re seeing on your news channel, this is happening  literally down the hall or on the quad,” Hillel International President and CEO Adam Lehman, who moderated the discussion, told attendees.

All four of the student speakers, who attend Georgia Tech, The Ohio State University, South African College of Applied Psychology and Yale University, described experiencing or hearing about instances of antisemitism on their own campuses. And while they all acknowledged the positive difference campus groups such as Hillel, Chabad and others have made in creating safe spaces for students, many still feel an underlying sense of unease.

“College is really just a hotbed of intense opinions,” said Talia Segal, a panelist with the Hillel international Israel Leadership Network executive committee. “Plenty of people are neutral, but the loudest voices are the extremes on both sides.”

Segal recalled that just this past weekend, the Georgia Tech house belonging to Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, was vandalized in the early hours of Sunday morning with “Free Palestine” written in shaving cream across the building’s front wall — directly under a “We Stand With Israel” sign.

Kayla Diamond, the vice president of global outreach for AJC’s Campus Global Board, and the only panelist joining from outside of the U.S., spoke of a more fraught situation in South Africa. The African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party, threw its support behind the Palestinian people when the war broke out, and has long called Israel an apartheid state. Diamond described seeing Hezbollah and Hamas flags on campus, adding that certain professors have also been “unfair with what they’ve said” about the situation around Gaza, making it a “really difficult time to be a student on campus.”

“Living in a country where your government isn’t supportive of you, and in fact is supportive of the enemies and of the genocide of your people, has been really, really trying,” Diamond said.

The four gave credit to the universities that have offered assistance to their Jewish students and issued statements of support for Israel, but the overwhelming feeling across the panel was the need for more safe spaces for students and the “moral clarity” of university leadership to condemn Hamas

“I have been really worried and honestly somewhat appalled by the inability of so many institutions and powerful individuals in this country, on and off campus, to declare the atrocious terrorist attacks, which we saw from Hamas, as crimes against humanity, or at least something very similar to that,” said AJC’s Global Board president, Abe Baker-Butler, a student at Yale.

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