During the past few months, three different bias crimes have been directed towards Jewish student Bryan Turkel ‘15.
The first incident occurred during the second week of school, when the Israeli flag hanging on Turkel’s wall was stolen by way of a broken screen, through which the perpetrator broke in. The second incident occurred only a few days later when Turkel’s mezuzah, a small, encased holy scroll that Jewish households place on their doors, disappeared as well. Then on October 24th, Turkel found that his new mezuzah had also gone missing.
Turkel contacted the administration after the thefts, who responded by sending an email to the students, faculty, and staff condemning the incidents, calling them violations of the “fundamental freedoms of identity, speech, and association of each and every member of our community.”
While this is the first time that there have been multiple bias episodes reported in such a short span of time, there have been reported incidents of anti-semitism in the past: in November of 2012, a student reported seeing a drawing of a swastika in the first-floor men’s bathroom of Honnold-Mudd Library.
When asked what an appropriate response to the incidents would be, Turkel suggested, “education, specifically on anti-Semitism.” He believes that what happened to him “could very well be a part of a larger, wider, and deeper issue at CMC. Therefore as a community we need education on bias. A lack of constructive dialogue in a lot of areas is leading to a lack of cross-cultural understanding,” he noted.
The members of AEPi, the Jewish fraternity, also took measures to support Turkel, who is a member of the group. To protest the incidents, the AEPi members put up thirty additional mezuzahs.
Turkel and the AEPi brothers are not the only ones reacting to the issue. In a direct response to the incidents, a group of Jewish CMC students decided to write a letter to President Chodosh asking for more concrete action. The letter led to a meeting about tactics for preventing bias incidents. According to Josh Naon ‘15, the meeting “involved the discussion of a plan to help prevent not only the anti-Semitism spawned from anti-Zionism, but also bring a more positive approach to the trouble in the Middle-East.” He stated that the ultimate goal of these meetings is to “create strong sub-communities that comprise people from either side [of the conflict] to easily work alongside each other, using them as markers and examples for everyone else.”
Although some see these episodes as anti-Semitic issues arising from anti-Zionism, others have a different opinion. Ben Waldman ‘15, another one of the students who signed the letter to President Chodosh, stated, “I see great danger in the growing conflation of Judaism and Zionism on campus. Some may argue that the two are intrinsically linked, but I do not believe that to be the case. We claim anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, when it usually is not. This is partially our responsibility as Jews, because we too often connect our faith to our views on Israel.” To clarify the difference, anti-Zionism reflects sentiments that are in opposition to the idea of a Jewish state in the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, while anti-Semitism reflects prejudice against, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews as a national, ethnic, or religious group.
It is also important to note that it is not solely Jewish students who are concerned by these incidents. This is important when considering the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, as students who might hold a more pro-Palestinian position on questions regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestine are equally ready to condemn the incidents that have occurred. When asked about the incident concerning Turkel’s stolen property, Ashraf Mathkour ‘15 was quick to respond that, “although I have different views on the conflict in question, I of course would never condone this or any discriminatory behavior.”
While Mathkour was clear that he did not feel as though he was able to comment on the presence of anti-Semitism on campus as he is not Jewish, he readily admitted that he has felt bias here at CMC. “From my perspective, and my experiences on this campus and through my college career, I have felt [the presence] of anti-Arabism, and a couple instances where I have personally felt persecuted.” Mathkour pointed out that “we are students in America at a liberal arts college where we have come to be open-minded and learn about other intellectual student’s opinions. This is the last place that biases or any sort of discrimination should be found.”
ASCMC President Ben Tillotson ‘15 echoed this sentiment, saying, “Any type of behavior that attacks or marginalizes someone for their religion, nationality, gender, race, or sexual orientation should not be tolerated by the CMC community.”