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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

To be (visibly) Jewish in the Ivy League

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather at a street intersection at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Monday, April 22, 2024. Behavior that would be scandalous if aimed at other minorities is treated as understandable or even commendable when directed at Jews, writes Bret Stephens. (Adrian Martinez Chavez/The New York Times)

By Bret Stephens

Netanel Crispe, from Danby, Vermont, is a 21-year-old junior studying American history at Yale. He is also, to his knowledge, the university’s only Hasidic undergraduate. When he chose Yale, he told me this week, he was “looking for an institution that asserted its position in terms of maintaining and protecting free expression while not backing down on its principal values.”

It hasn’t worked out that way.

On Saturday evening he and his friend Sahar Tartak, a Yale sophomore and an Orthodox Jew, paid a visit to the university’s Beinecke Plaza, where pro-Palestinian demonstrators had set up an encampment.

“I was wearing my black hat; I was very identifiably Jewish,” Crispe said. “I was yelled at, harassed, pushed and shoved numerous times. Every time I tried to take a step someone confronted me inches from my face, telling me not to move.” Tartak said she was hit in the left eye by a Palestinian flag held by a demonstrator. She ended up in the hospital, luckily without permanent injury. “Thank God, there was a small sphere at the end of the pole,” she told me.

Yale and other universities have been sites of almost continual demonstrations since Hamas massacred and kidnapped Israelis on Oct. 7. That’s just fine, insofar as students have a right to express their views about the war in the Gaza Strip — whatever one thinks about those views. It’s fine, too, to be willing to defy campus rules they believe are unjust — provided they are willing to accept the price of their civil disobedience, including arrest, jail time or suspension.

But as the experiences of scores of other Jewish students on American campuses testify, we are well past the fine stage.

At the University of California, Berkeley, students were spat on and grabbed by the neck by anti-Israel demonstrators. When a small group of students held Israeli flags in front of the Columbia protest, a young demonstrator, her face mostly masked by a kaffiyeh, stood in front of them with a sign that read, “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets,” a reference to the wing of Hamas that led the Oct. 7 attacks. At Yale, according to a video shared by Crispe, a demonstrator read a “poem” threatening those who “finance, encourage and facilitate this mass killing against us: May death follow you, wherever you go, and when it does I hope you will not be prepared.”

What do such acts mean for Jews on campus?

There’s a certain eagerness in some media stories to highlight Jewish students who have joined the protests as a way of acquitting anti-Israel groups of charges of antisemitism. But as Jonathan Chait astutely noted in New York magazine, “this does not settle the question of their relation to antisemitism any more than ‘Blacks for Trump’ puts to rest concerns about Republican racism.”

Others have suggested that some of the more aggressive expressions of antisemitism have come from outside agitators rather than from students themselves. Maybe, though there’s plenty of evidence of atrocious student behavior. But that still leaves open the question of why these students regularly chant slogans like “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” which (if they didn’t know it before) they know now is an incendiary call to violent action against Jews.

The sad fact of campus life today is that speech and behavior that would be considered scandalous if aimed at other minorities are treated as understandable or even commendable when directed at Jews. The calling card of antisemitism has always been the double standard. How would the Yale administration have reacted if Crispe and Tartak had been Black students who said they were taunted, harassed and assaulted (whatever the ostensible political motive) by a mob of their white peers?

What goes for the student demonstrators is true of faculties, too. At Columbia, nearly 170 professors put their names on a statement suggesting that “one could regard” Oct. 7 as “an occupied people exercising a right to resist violent and illegal occupation.” Leaving aside the lawyerly language, there’s little question as to where the sympathies of the signatories lie. What are Jewish students — including the Israelis enrolled at Columbia — supposed to do when faced with such militant hostility not only from their peers but also from their professors?

I asked Crispe and Tartak if they had given thought to leaving Yale. “I have to stay,” Tartak told me. Crispe felt similarly. “I’m going to stay around Yale to support my peers as long as I need to,” he said. But he also had regrets.

“I entered Yale extremely proud to be one of the first Hasidic Jews to go as an undergraduate,” Crispe said. “I looked forward to sharing experiences with students from diverse backgrounds while living proudly in my own skin. What I find now, walking around campus, is people flipping me off, yelling at me. There’s no escaping it.”

Crispe’s and Tartak’s defiance commends them. As for the student bigots who have put them through these ordeals — and the university administrators who have dallied and equivocated in the face of that bigotry — history will eventually render a verdict. Donors, alumni and prospective students should reach their own verdicts sooner.

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1 Comment

William Rosa
William Rosa
Apr 26

Mr. Bret Stephens certainly let us know immediately his perspective about the horror Israel unleash on the Palestinian people under the pretext of self-defense or/and the others antisemitism. Wonderful! His unequivocal position can be seen when he describes Hamas "massacre and kidnapped" in opposition to the students protest against the "war in Gaza." Does this mean that the images of bodies of children, women and the total destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, universities, the city infrastructure, that the Jewish controlled television network has permit us to see are reliable? I know that you know there are.

At one point in the comment, there is a proposition to punish the student protesters and their professors for violating university rules while Mr.…

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