(JTA) – Jewish congregations, politicians and campus groups in the Vermont area and beyond condemned Saturday’s shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, an incident authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime.
A 48-year-old Burlington man has been arrested in connection with the shooting of the students, whose names are Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed.
At least three area rabbis and three different Hillels were among the voices expressing shock and sadness over the shooting, the latest outbreak of violence in the United States connected to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, called the violence “shocking and deeply upsetting,” adding, “Hate has no place here, or anywhere.”
“We denounce this horrendous violence in our community. And we denounce any hatred that could lead to an act like this,” the three local rabbis wrote on social media.
“As Jews, we are keenly aware of the impact of violence on minority religious communities, and so we stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters at this frightening time,” wrote the rabbis — David Edleson of Temple Sinai, Aaron Philmus of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue and Jan Salzman of Congregation Ruach haMaqom. They added that they had reached out to the local Islamic center president to offer their support.
The students who were shot all graduated from Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-affiliated private school in the Palestinian West Bank city, according to the school. They attend Brown University in Rhode Island, Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Trinity College in Connecticut.
Two of the students were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian headscarves, at the time of the shooting, according to local police, and a spokesperson for the families told The New York Times that the men were speaking a mixture of Arabic and English at the time of the attack.
Authorities arrested a suspect, Jason Eaton, on Sunday night and arraigned him on Monday. Eaton, a 48-year-old white Burlington resident, pleaded not guilty to three attempted murder charges for shooting and wounding the men with a handgun, and was ordered held without bail. The Daily Beast, speaking with Eaton’s mother, reported that he works in finance, often reads the Bible and did not discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict during Thanksgiving dinner. Police said Eaton shot at the men without speaking with them, then fled the scene. He pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Monday morning.
Two of the victims are in stable condition while a third has “much more serious injuries,” Burlington police said in a statement. The three men are all 20 years old and were visiting one of the victim’s relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday. Awartani, the Brown student, regularly visited his grandmother and uncle who live in Burlington, according to an NBC News report.
“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Burlington police chief Jon Murad said in a statement about the investigation. The U.S. Justice Department’s Vermont district attorney also said that a federal investigation would be opened “to determine whether a federal crime may have been committed.”
The shooting was the most recent major act of violence committed against Palestinians and Jews in the United States since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. One week following the attack, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was murdered in Illinois in what authorities say was a hate crime. Earlier this month, a Jewish man in Los Angeles died following a physical altercation at dueling pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests in Los Angeles; a suspect has been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Jews have also been assaulted at Columbia University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Police have insisted that in the case of another prominent incident, the murder of a Detroit synagogue president, there is no evidence of a hate crime even as the murder remains unsolved and authorities are offering a $15,000 reward for information in the case.
Along with Sanders, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Vermont Rep. Becca Balint, who are also progressive Jews, condemned the shooting in separate statements.
“The City of Burlington has zero tolerance for hate crimes and will work relentlessly to bring the shooter to justice,” Weinberger said in a joint statement with Burlington police. Balint, who recently became one of a small number of Jewish members of Congress to publicly endorse a ceasefire in Gaza, said in a statement that she was “horrified by this violence” and added, “I expect there to be a full investigation into evidence of any hate crime.”
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, a Burlington-based pro-Palestinian activist group, held a vigil for the injured students Sunday evening. Around 200 people showed up, including members of the Jewish anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace and area chapters of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, according to local reports.
The presidents of the three colleges where the victims are enrolled condemned the attacks on their students.
“I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence — this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world — will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” Brown President Christina Paxson wrote. She identified the college’s injured student as Awartani and said a campus vigil would be held Monday.
Greater Philly Hillel Network, which oversees the Jewish student union at Haverford College, wrote on Facebook that it was “devastated” to learn of the shooting. Trinity College Hillel also condemned the attack and said it was “saddened and disturbed.” The Hilel that serves Brown University has not made any public comments about the incident.
Although none of the victims are students there, the University of Vermont’s Hillel also condemned the attack in a statement, decrying “any act of hate or violence toward college students based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or belief.” UVM, which is located in Burlington, has been a particular flashpoint for rising tensions between Jewish and Arab groups for years, and has seen a heightened atmosphere since the outbreak of war in the region.
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Harvard Alumni File Lawsuit Claiming Campus Antisemitism ‘Devalues’ Their Diplomas
A group of ten Harvard University alumni filed a lawsuit against the institution on Wednesday, accusing it of “devaluing” their degrees through permitting and fostering an environment of antisemitism, support for terrorism, and anti-Israel sentiment.
Filed in a Massachusetts federal court, the alumni claims that Harvard has breached an implicit contract with its graduates, promising to maintain the institution’s prestige, which they allege has been compromised due to a toxic campus environment. This, they argue, has led potential employers and prestigious law firms to distance themselves from Harvard alumni.
“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit argues that the university’s administration has failed to combat campus anti-semitism, and has consistently overlooked assaults on Jewish students and calls by students and faculty for the annihilation of Israel. It highlighted, among other things, an open letter signed by more than thirty student organizations blaming Israel for the October 7 Hamas-led attack, and campus protests which included chants like “Long live the intifada!” and “There is only one solution: intifada revolution!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine is Arab!”
The suit also points to then-Harvard president Claudine Gay’s testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where she stated that calls for genocide against Jews would only violate bullying and harassment policies “depending on the context,” as indicative of the school’s tolerance of antisemitism.
The lawsuit is part of a growing dissatisfaction among graduates over what they perceive as rampant antisemitism on U.S. campuses, according to attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of legal aid group, Shurat HaDin, who is representing the alumni alongside New York-based lawyer, Robert Tolchin.
Darshan-Leitner criticized the colleges for becoming “hate centers” under the guise of academic freedom.
The lawsuit, Darshan-Leitner said, reveals the “growing outrage and contempt that graduates all across the US are feeling over the wild antisemitism and hate speech being encouraged and explained away on the American campuses.”
“This dangerous weaponization of higher education by radical faculty and students as well as the impotent administration response, all justified under the guise of academic freedom, has turned the colleges into hate centers which has greatly devalued their reputation and diplomas,” she said, adding that the suit could prompt similar actions from graduates of other institutions.
Tolchin accused the university of succumbing to “the flavor of the month, the lowest level of discourse.”
“Harvard’s seal proclaims “Light and Truth” in Latin and Hebrew–yes, Hebrew, the language spoken by the indigenous Israelites. Yet light and truth have been hard to find at Harvard. The darkness of antisemitism and the dishonesty, hate, and discrimination have cast a pall over Harvard so embarrassing that people do not wish to be associated with Harvard,” Tolchin said.
Harvard has been accused of facilitating an educational environment that is unwelcoming to Israelis and Jews for years, with the lawsuit citing annual events such as “Israel Apartheid Week” and incidents targeting Jewish students and symbols on campus.
Antisemitism expert Dara Horn, a Harvard alumnus who was asked to join Gay’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, authored a damning essay published this week in The Atlantic in which she detailed the Jew hatred on campus predating October 7.
She noted that staff members “who grade Jewish students used university-issued class lists to share information about events organized by pro-Palestine groups;” In one instance, a professor continued teaching after rejecting the findings of an investigation by Harvard after he was found discriminating against several Israeli students. Last spring, a student was asked to leave because her identity as an Israeli was making her classmates “uncomfortable.”
She also pointed to courses themselves “premised on anti-Semitic lies”, pointing to one called “The Settler Colonial Determinants of Health”, and noted that lecturers invited to speak at the campus included some who peddled in blood libels that Israelis harvest Palestinians’ organs or that the IDF uses Palestinian children for weapons testing.
“The mountain of proof at Harvard revealed a reality in which Jewish students’ access to their own university (classes, teachers, libraries, dining halls, public spaces, shared student experiences) was directly compromised,” Horn writes. The alumni’s legal action comes alongside another lawsuit filed by six current Harvard students on January 10, claiming that the university has not done enough to combat antisemitism on campus which had become a “bastion of rampant anti-Jewish hatred and harassment.” It also comes a day after a professor at the university, Walter Johnson, resigned from two anti-Zionist campus groups after they posted antisemitic cartoons.
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Israel Not Budging After Eurovision Disapproval of Song Commemorating October 7
Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar sent the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) a letter on Thursday urging them to approve Israel’s submission to the Eurovision song competition, after the EBU called it “too political.”
“As you know, the State of Israel is experiencing one of the most difficult and complex periods since its establishment. We lost our loved ones, and there are women, men and children who are still held captive by a terrorist organization,” Zohar said.
Israeli media reported that the broadcasting union would not approve the song, called “October Rain,” after a number of countries even issued threats to boycott the event if Israel participates. The EBU issued a statement saying “We are currently in the process of carefully examining the lyrics of the song – a process that is confidential between the EBU and the Public Broadcasting Corporation until a final decision is made. To all broadcasters, they have until March 11th to officially submit their songs. If a song does not meet the criteria for any reason, the corporation will be given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics, according to the contest rules.”
“The song that Israel sent to the Eurovision Song Contest was chosen by a professional committee made up of well-known names in the local music and entertainment industry,” Zohar added. “It is a moving song, discussing renewal and revival from a very fragile reality of loss and destruction, and describes the current public mood in Israel these days. We see now most clearly because our lives – as one, united society – manage to overcome even the greatest suffering. This is not a political song.”
Despite the news that the song by Israeli singer Eden Golan would not be approved, The CEO of KAN, Israel’s national broadcasting service, and the body that approves the song, Golan Yokhpaz, said “We will not change the words or the song, even at the cost of Israel not participating in Eurovision this year.” Adding “The Israel Broadcasting Corporation (KAN) is in dialogue with the EBU regarding the song that will represent Israel at Eurovision.”
Zohar said later in a television interview “The songwriters, KAN, and the singer will have to make the decisions at the end of the day… I do think that Israel should participate in Eurovision because it is important for us at this time to be represented there, and to express ourselves throughout Europe.”
Speaking to the EBU, he said, “We trust that you will continue in your important task of keeping the competition free from any attempt at political manipulation.”
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UN Representative to the Palestinians Claims Israelis Are ‘Colonialists’ with ‘Fake Identities’
The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur to the Occupied Palestinian Territories referred to Israelis as “colonialists” who have “fake identities” while quoting another Twitter/X account on Wednesday, raising questions about the impartiality of the international body.
She highlighted the following quote from Mizrahi: “free Palestine scares them [Westerners] bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities.”
” free Palestine scares them bcs it is the ghost of their own sins, rediscovered as a living, breathing human. The current political structures of colonial projects cannot afford it, so they try to uproot it. Bcs it is a fight between all colonialists and their fake identities..” https://t.co/N1wkOPgKJs
— Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur oPt (@FranceskAlbs) February 21, 2024
The original post claimed that “All colonial powers work together to guarantee the supremacy of made-up identities over genuine, native ones. Because if this model breaks anywhere, it will collapse everywhere.”
Mizrahi argued that “A Palestinian state would be a major, major moral blow to white, Western colonialism.”
The tweet was met with immediate condemnation.
David Friedman, who served as the US Ambassador to Israel from 2017 to 2021 under former President Donald Trump wrote that her tweet was “Exhibit A why the UN is a failure and why we no longer belong in that bastion of hypocrisy and corruption.”
An account documenting Hamas’ October 7 atrocities asked, “If Israel is indeed a ‘colonialist project’ Where should all the Israelis go if this project should be dismantled?”
The perception of UN bias against Israel has also been boosted by the fact that, in 2023, Israel was condemned twice as often as all other countries combined.
It is not the first time Albanese has made comments that raise eyebrows. Earlier this month, in response to French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron calling the October 7 attack “largest anti-Semitic massacre of the 21st century,” she said “No, Mr. Macron. The victims of October 7 were not killed because of their Judaism, but in response to Israel’s oppression.”
Following backlash, she wrote that she opposes “all racism, including anti-Semitism, a global threat. But explaining these crimes as anti-Semitism obscures their true cause.”
Hamas’ founding charter, in a section about the “universality” of its cause, reads: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
Albanese has also argued that Israel should make peace with Hamas, saying that “It needs to make peace with Hamas in order to not be threatened by Hamas.”
When asked about what people do not understand about Hamas, she added, “If someone violates your right to self-determination, you are entitled to embrace resistance.”
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