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With antisemitism on the rise, Princeton is not immune

<h6>Naomi Hess / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Naomi Hess / The Daily Princetonian

Content Warning: The following column contains mention of antisemitism. 

The global rise of antisemitism is an indisputable fact. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), 2021 resulted in the “highest number [of antisemitic incidents throughout the United States] on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.” Universities are not immune to this increase in antisemitism. In 2021, the ADL reported 155 incidents that occurred at colleges and universities — a 21 percent increase from 2020. The University is not exempt from this increase in hateful rhetoric. It is no longer enough for students to simply not be antisemitic; the University community needs to confront and denounce antisemitism directly.

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Recently, social media has brought antisemitism to the forefront of many people’s pages when Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, tweeted to his 31.8 million followers that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” Ye did not stop his hate speech there — he boasted antisemitic remarks and conspiracy theories in interviews with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, Chris Cuomo on NewsNation, and Revolt TV. 

Ye’s antisemitic rhetoric has circulated extensively across social media platforms and been swiftly embraced by known antisemitic extremist groups. The Goyim Defense League, one of the top distributors of antisemitic propaganda in 2021 according to the ADL, held a demonstration in support of Ye’s statements toting banners above Interstate 405 in Los Angeles that stated, “Kanye is right about the Jews,” as members stood nearby in a Nazi salute. 

When you’re in the Orange Bubble, it’s easy to feel like these acts of antisemitism are far away, but this assumption is naive. A few days after Ye’s tweet threatening Jewish people, the Barstool Princeton Instagram account (@barstoolprinceton) reposted an edited version of the “death con” tweet, along with others from Ye, to their feed. The edited tweet alternatively read “going death con 3 on MIDTERMS” with the caption, “Some kanye tweets for midterms szn.”

When the post was met with a few comments calling it out for its inappropriateness and insensitivity due to the gravity of the situation, @barstoolprinceton deleted their original post and reposted it without the “death con” tweet, and did not explicitly acknowledge their wrongdoing. 

Mock tweets like that of @barstoolprinceton ignore the seriousness of the threats that Ye spreads online. Hate speech is not a joking matter when it can so easily turn into real physical violence. On Thursday, Nov. 3, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 sent an email to the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) community responding to a warning the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tweeted on Nov. 3. The unusual tweet mentioned “a broad threat to synagogues in NJ” and to “take all security precautions.”

In his email, Steinlauf wrote that there is “‘no indication whatsoever’ that the CJL is a target in any way,” and that the Center “‘is taking this matter seriously.’” The Department of Public Safety is working with the CJL to increase security.

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In the wake of such physical threats, normalizing hate speech by manipulating it into a lighthearted Instagram post is dangerous. It ignores the real, far-reaching consequences of online discourse, especially when promoted by celebrities with tens of millions of followers. Antisemitic incidents are increasing at an alarming rate. Extremist groups, or individuals inspired by extremist ideology, were responsible for 484 incidents in 2021 alone, an 18 percent increase from 2020, according to the ADL.

It’s not normal for a celebrity to spew hate to an audience of millions. It’s not normal for the FBI to issue warnings about serious threats to one group throughout a whole state. It’s not normal for entire groups of people to wish, and incite, violence against one community. It’s not normal to feel fear when attending synagogue. All of these experiences are unacceptable and must be condemned, not normalized.

The CJL recently worked with the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) to present a workshop for Princeton students entitled “Jewish Identity, Inclusion, and Antisemitism on Campus.” The CJL hopes to host more events in the future around the topic and has found the university eager to “promote [their] antisemitism education for students, faculty, and administration.”

On Nov. 16, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) voted to pass a resolution condemning antisemitism and recommending the increase of trainings on campus around the issue. While this resolution may be a step in the right direction on the part of USG, there is so much more than needs to be done.

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The University community cannot take hate speech lightly and turn it into humor when these remarks have real impacts on many members of our own community, as was exemplified when Rabbi Steinlauf relayed the threat that the FBI warned of to the CJL community. Princeton hosts a large and vibrant Jewish community. The entire campus has a responsibility to protect these students — not to invalidate their experiences by turning consequential threats of violence into an Instagram meme.

Charlotte Pfenning is a first-year from Fairfield, Conn. She can be reached at cp3317@princeton.edu.

Editor’s Note: The ‘Prince’ could not independently verify the statistics concerning the rise of antisemitism cited in this column.

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