William & Mary students experience antisemitism

by | Nov 9, 2023 | Other News

Stephanie Peck
Prior to the terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7, William & Mary students from various faith groups would come together on campus and a positive relationship existed between Muslim and Jewish students. This peaceful exchange collapsed when Hamas invaded Israel, and some Jewish students on the Williamsburg campus now say they feel intimidated, threatened, and harassed.

At a tabling event on October 10 to raise money for Magen David Adom, Rabbi Gershon Litt, director of William & Mary Hillel, experienced overt antisemitism as pro-Palestinian students aggressively confronted Jewish student volunteers and pronounced Hamas as “freedom fighters” and Jews as “genocidal enthusiasts.” Pro-Palestinian students were seen at a later date, dressed in full facemask keffiyeh to mimic terrorists.

The William & Mary Hillel boasts 600 Jewish students. “In their lifetime, they have never seen outright antisemitism,” Litt says, responding to the fragile emotions and fear that many students are experiencing. He is constantly meeting with Jewish students; some students have sought counseling.

Litt praises the actions of President Katherine Rowe, whose husband is Jewish. In fact, a mezuzah adorns the front door of the president’s mansion. When banners appeared on campus, exclaiming “from river to sea,” police removed the signs within minutes. (According to jewishjournal.com, one interpretation of the phrase suggests “a Palestine that is Judenrein, where Jews will literally be chased into the river and the sea.”) Extra security has been provided to the Shenkman Jewish Center, home of William & Mary Hillel.

The school’s administration is in constant communication with Litt, and together they are consulting the offices of Virginia’s Governor Youngkin and Attorney General Miyares. On October 31, Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive directive aimed at combatting antisemitism and all anti-religious hatred in the state amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“What we need is effective policy and guidance,” says Litt, referring to conversations on a broader scale. “Students for Justice in Palestine have hijacked the Palestinian narrative, and this causes extremism like we’re seeing at Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and other campuses. It’s harmful and prevents dialogue.”

Litt sees hope within this dark and troubling period in the lives of college students. The events of October 7 and the subsequent clashes on campus are unifying the Jewish community. Students want more education and knowledge. “Being Jewish is meaningful.”

Litt also serves the same role at Old Dominion University and Christopher Newport University.