Increased reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses are prompting fears about Georgia students’ safety.
In an open letter to university presidents, Hillels of Georgia asked for extra police patrols on campuses and more training on what defines antisemitic conduct.
“Antisemitic incidents are escalating, and our Jewish college students are at the epicenter of that activity, which has only accelerated since the Hamas attack,” the letter said.
The group said in some cases students were too afraid to report incidents to law enforcement.
“This is a plea for help. Our students are not feeling safe,” said Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, CEO of Hillels of Georgia.
Meanwhile, the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported 17 “Palestine-specific incidents of Islamophobia” in recent weeks across metro Atlanta. Azka Mahmood, executive director of CAIR-Georgia, said members of Students for Justice in Palestine were doxxed before they’d said anything or held any protest.
She added: “Students are very disturbed. They feel very unsafe, and they feel extremely alienated.” She said students who have spoken up in support of Palestinians have been wrongly accused of antisemitism and college leaders have set the tone with one-sided statements that stoke fear and division.
Schools in other parts of the nation are increasing security measures. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced a person of interest was in custody in connection with a threat of a mass shooting and antisemitic violence at Cornell University. On Monday, the Biden administration said it’s seeking to combat antisemitism and hate at colleges by working with campus police, among other efforts.
The University of Georgia said it’s increased police patrols around Jewish student organizations since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The school said it’s also monitored rallies and vigils and coordinated with Athens- Clarke County to have their police officers at larger events.
During an Oct. 12 rally at UGA in support of Palestinians, one person was arrested after a confrontation with protesters on charges that included simple battery on a law enforcement officer.
On Oct. 20, UGA police arrested a 19-year-old male student after he allegedly used an antisemitic slur and shoved another student while walking down a sidewalk in Athens, according to a police report. The suspect, identified by authorities as An Nam Le, of Milton, was charged with simple assault, simple battery and disorderly conduct.
The victim told police that during the altercation the suspect yelled “You stupid Israeli (expletive) I will kill you,” according to the report.
A judge declined to sign an arrest warrant for a fourth charge of terroristic threats.
Le’s attorney, Ryan Swingle, of Athens, said in a statement that Le “is not the slightest bit antisemitic, and he has no prejudice against the people of Israel.” Le mistook the student for his girlfriend’s abusive former partner and “acted spontaneously and impulsively” to make her feel safe, the attorney said.
Hillels of Georgia, which serves 7,500 students on two dozen campuses around the state, will hold a Wednesday event to focus on safety. During the #WalkWithHillel Project, supporters of all faiths are encouraged to walk with Jewish college students to their classes.
At Emory University, which has one of Georgia’s largest Jewish student enrollments, administrators have raised concerns of antisemitism twice in recent weeks.
Emory placed a Palestinian American assistant professor on leave in mid-October pending an investigation into “antisemitic comments” posted to a private social media account. A school spokeswoman said earlier this week there was no update on that case.
Last week, President Gregory Fenves wrote an online letter in which he chastised the use of “antisemitic phrases and slogans” by speakers at a pro-Palestinian rally and in crowd chants.
Emory Stop Cop City, a group that participated in the rally, said Fenves’ letter was largely related to chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Emory Stop Cop City said the phrase “is being purposefully misconstrued as a call for genocide against the Jewish people” and said it is instead “a call for solidarity, acknowledgment, and freedom from the chains of colonial oppression that bind all.”
The American Jewish Committee says the phrase is “a rallying cry for terrorist groups” and “calls for the establishment of a State of Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, erasing the State of Israel and its people.”
Several other incidents on Georgia campuses have fed tensions. At Georgia Tech, police were called to investigate after someone used shaving cream to write “a pro-Palestinian message” on an outside wall of a Jewish fraternity.
Mahmood, of CAIR- Georgia, said a Muslim student at Georgia Tech was attacked. A Georgia Tech spokesman said campus police are “investigating the reported assault of a student that occurred during a prayer vigil on campus.”
The spokesman added: “One of our top priorities has been to provide resources and support for individuals in our community who have been impacted by recent events in the Middle East. We are also committed to a learning and working environment that is free of discrimination and harassment.”