(JTA) – Students, administrators and the Hillel director at George Washington University say they are concerned after anti-Israel messages were projected onto the exterior of a campus building on Tuesday night.
The messages — including “Glory To Our Martyrs,” “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now,” and “Free Palestine From The River To The Sea” — appeared on the side of a library building for two hours, drawing a crowd of counter-protesters to an adjacent plaza where some sang the Hebrew song “Oseh Shalom.”
The display comes at a moment of rising tensions on college campuses following a major attack by the Palestinian terror group Hamas against Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s retaliation in Gaza, which Hamas controls.
Photos shared by the student newspaper and the watchdog group StopAntisemitism showed that the messages spanned several floors and could be read clearly at a distance. Video appeared to show masked students projecting the images from the street, arguing with university police over whether their actions were in violation of campus rules, before being ticketed.
The campus newspaper, GW Hatchet, reported that four student demonstrators associated with Students for Justice in Palestine were responsible for the display. Other phrases that were projected, according to the newspaper: “End the siege on Gaza,” “GW the blood of Palestine is on your hands,” “GW is complicit in genocide in Gaza,” “Your tuition is funding genocide in Gaza,” “2,000 Palestinian children were murdered by ‘Israel’ in the last two weeks” (with “Israel” in quotation marks) and “President Granberg is complicit in genocide in Gaza.”
The last refers to GWU president Ellen Granberg, who joined the university this summer and has published two statements about the war, including one condemning “the celebration of terrorism” that followed a different SJP demonstration.
GW Hillel director Adena Kirstein, who is hosting a survivor of the Hamas-led massacre from an Israeli music festival on campus next week, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency the phrases broadcast on the library were “absolutely” antisemitic.
“‘From the river to the sea,’ when you call for the erasure of the Jewish space, yes,” she said. “When you put ‘Israel’ in quotation marks, deeply troubling. And by the way, it’s not helping the cause.”
Jewish students on campus, Kirstein said, are “navigating a really, really difficult climate and they feel really isolated and alone.”
In a statement Wednesday, the university acknowledged the projections, which it said were “unauthorized” and “violated university policy.”
“The statements made by these individuals in no way reflect the views of the university,” the statement said, adding, “We recognize the distress, hurt, and pain this has caused for many members of our community.” It also promised further communication from Granberg.
Granberg’s most recent statement about Israel, published Oct. 11, specifically condemned “the celebration of terrorism and attempts to perpetuate rhetoric or imagery that glorifies acts of violence” and came after SJP students reportedly harassed a pro-Israel vigil for the victims of Hamas attacks and published an Instagram statement praising Hamas for “breaking free, tearing down the prison walls, and making it known to the world: We will be caged no longer.” The statement also noted that the SJP chapter does not distinguish between combatants and civilians on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
College campuses across the country have struggled with how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war. Student groups and faculty at prominent universities have come under fire for statements and comments almost entirely blaming Israel for Hamas’ attacks, or even supporting the attacks themselves. University donors have also pulled support from schools including Harvard over administrators’ perceived reluctance to take a pro-Israel stance on the conflict. Even the student government at Brandeis University, which was founded after the Holocaust by the American Jewish community, this week voted down a resolution to condemn Hamas.
The GWU building where the messages were projected, the Gelman Library on the Washington, DC campus, is named after prominent Jewish philanthropists Melvin and Estelle Gelman, the former of whom endowed a chair of Judaic studies at the university. (It was also the same building where Israeli-American sociologist Amitai Etzioni, an influential proponent of “communitarianism” who died earlier this year, kept an office.)
GWU has played host to a series of antisemitism-related controversies in recent years, including when a Jewish fraternity’s miniature Torah was damaged and a bench at the campus Hillel was vandalized. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education opened a federal civil rights investigation into the university’s handling of complaints directed at a psychology professor over comments she had reportedly directed at Israeli students; the university’s own investigation of the matter determined she had not done anything antisemitic.
Kirstein told JTA that “the university gets a bad rap most of the time” when it comes to Jewish life. Except for the past two weeks, she said, “it’s a vibrant Jewish community. We have a beautiful building, we have kosher food, we have great support from the university.”
Minutes before the messages, Kirstein had posted on her blog about feeling “extra lonely” as “a Jew on a college campus” amid the Israel-Hamas war.
“I am angry — at a world where it seems critical thinking is in short supply,” Kirstein wrote. “I am scared – that some days, my heart is hardening. I am bitter – that my students have to constantly qualify their opinions, proving to others that their souls are always in the right place. I am sad – for what the future might hold.”
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Israeli and Jewish activists take campaign for greater concern about Oct. 7 sex crimes to UN
(JTA) — Less than a week after the United Nations secretary general urged an investigation into reported sexual violence by Hamas, the Israeli U.N. mission held a conference on the allegations and pressed the international community to speak out more forcefully against them.
“We have come so far in believing survivors of sexual assault in so many situations. That’s why the silence on these war crimes is dangerous,” said former Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg, the event’s keynote speaker. “The world has to decide who to believe. Do we believe the Hamas spokesperson who said that rape is forbidden, therefore it couldn’t have possibly happened on October 7th? Or do we believe the women whose bodies tell us how they spent the last few minutes of their lives?”
A CNN op-ed by Sandberg, and an accompanying Instagram post, have been at the center of a growing protest by Israeli and Jewish women who charge that the U.N. and other international bodies have dismissed or downplayed reports of sexual violence during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The protest has spread via the hashtag #Me_Too_UNless_UR_a_Jew and found its real-life expression in Monday’s event, which drew 700 people to U.N. headquarters on Manhattan’s East Side.
Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan took aim in particular at U.N. Women — the organization’s arm for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment — which caught flak for posting and then deleting a statement condemning the Hamas attack.
“Sadly, the very international bodies that are supposedly the defenders of all women show that when it comes to Israelis, indifference is acceptable,” Erdan said in his opening remarks.
“U.N. Women ignored all of the proof and were blind to all the evidence, including video footage of testimonies of sexual crimes,” he said. “Instead of immediately supporting the victims, U.N. Women brazenly suggested that Hamas’ gender-based violence be investigated by a blatantly antisemitic U.N. body.”
The condemnation of the U.N. is the latest in a long line of complaints Israel has had about the body both before and during its ongoing war with Hamas. In late October, Erdan called on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resign after he said the Oct. 7 attack “did not happen in a vacuum.”
The United Nations General Assembly has yet to condemn Hamas and has called for a cessation of the conflict, which restarted last week after a seven-day pause in which Hamas released more than 100 hostages and Israel released hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners..
Last week, Guterres called for an investigation into sexual violence by Hamas. But speakers at Monday’s event pushed for more from world leaders. Sandberg called for “the entire U.N. to formally condemn, investigate, hold the terrorists accountable.” Erdan, to loud applause, called for an “investigation of U.N. Women’s indifference to the heinous crimes against Israeli women”
In the nearly two months since the Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7, Israeli law enforcement, search and rescue groups, and the country’s recently formed Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children have collected evidence and testimony regarding Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7. Over the weekend, The Sunday Times reported testimony from survivors of the Nova music festival recalling women being gang raped and beheaded.
Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, which organized the event along with other women’s rights groups, drew a parallel between last week’s Torah portion, which includes the Biblical story of the rape of Dinah, and the experiences of the victims of Oct. 7. Katz noted that Dinah’s voice is notably missing from the Biblical narrative.
“For generations, survivors of sexual assaults have looked to Dina’s story because it speaks so powerfully to the secondary trauma of being unheard, ignored and reduced to mere objects for debate,” said Katz, who invited people to step out of the room if they felt the need, given the graphic nature of the event. “And we heard this with new significance this year, because Israeli women and girls were recently tortured, raped, and killed, forever silenced by Hamas.”
Several actors attended the event, including Tovah Feldshuh, Julianna Margulies, Emmy Rossum and Debra Messing, all of whom have spoken out against antisemitism or Hamas’ attack. (Margulies was also fresh off an apology after making disparaging comments about Black Americans who have not supported Jews after Oct. 7.)
The event also featured people who tended to victims of the event, including representatives from ZAKA, the Orthodox Israeli first-responder organization, and the Israeli police, who have been collecting and documenting evidence from victims of sexual violence and people who witnessed the violence. They recounted graphic stories, to which the crowd responded vocally with murmurs, gasps and tears. Some in the audience exchanged tissues, hugs and pats on the back for extra support.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, also came and discussed seeing a compilation of footage of the attack that a group of senators recently viewed.
“I’ve seen much of the raw footage. It takes your breath away,” she said. “You can’t unsee it.”
Speaking to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the event, Sandberg said silence surrounding sexual violence is connected to a dearth of female representation on the world stage.
“You look in that hall at those flags — those are countries run by men, very few are run by women. I really wanted that to change in my lifetime. It’s not going to happen, not going to be close,” she said. “But that means the progress we fought for to get women’s women’s rights and protection of our bodies, protection of who we are, protection against systematic, sexualized violence — can’t be lost. And that is why anyone can speak out. And when they speak out, we have to all unite together as quickly as possible.”
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Canada’s Rally for the Jewish People brought thousands to Ottawa calling for the return of the hostages in Gaza—while delivering a loud rebuke to the recent waves of antisemitism
A detailed report from a spirited snowy scene on Monday afternoon.
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Despite bus driver boycott, thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Ottawa
MONTREAL (JTA) — Despite a foot of snow in Montreal and chartered buses that never showed up in Toronto, thousands of Canadian Jews assembled on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday to voice solidarity with Israel and decry a rise in antisemitism.
Despite concerns over overall security in Canada’s capital city, which was tight, the rally’s speakers included several prominent Canadian politicians, Jewish leaders, college students who feel unsafe on campus and family members of Israelis taken hostage or killed by Hamas on Oct. 7.
Local Jewish leaders called the event, organized by Jewish federations across Canada and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, a historic gathering. But just weeks after a similar incident in Detroit before a massive pro-Israel rally in Washington, 17 of 70 chartered buses did not show up to pick up rally-goers in Toronto.
Organizers called the no-show bus company antisemitic.
“Despite charging in full in advance and confirming its participation, the [unidentified] company did not send a single bus and has declined all communications while refusing to provide any explanations,” said Adam Minsky, president and CEO of United Jewish Appeal Federations in Toronto.
“We are driven to the view that this shameful decision is intended to disrupt our peaceful rally out of hatred toward Jews,” he added. “What happened today is sickening and outrageous. We will respond aggressively with every legal and public affairs tool at our disposal.”
Israel’s ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed, Liberal Party member of parliament Anthony Housefather and deputy Conservative Party leader Melissa Lantsman all spoke on Monday.
“This is not 1943. I’m grateful that Israel exists and has an army to fight back against those who launched this pogrom,” said Housefather, who is Jewish and represents Montreal’s heavily Jewish Mount Royal district.
Raquel Look, whose son Alexandre was murdered at the music festival in southern Israel attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, called on Canadian politicians to take more action against antisemitism. Hate crimes against Jews — including multiple incidents that have involved Molotov cocktails thrown at Montreal-area synagogues — have spiked across Canada.
“Our sorrow is deep and immeasurable but today we want to channel this immense pain into a call for action,” Look said. “Please let us honour his memory by standing up against the forces that seek to destroy Jewish and Canadians values we hold so dear.”
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