News and Commentary

RACHMUTH: Duke University Is Not A Safe Space For Jews

It should come as no surprise that Duke University is making headlines this time of year. The highly prestigious private school is a college basketball powerhouse that tends to dominate sports pages as March Madness approaches. But this year, the stories aren’t just related to athletics. Duke has been steeped in anti-Semitism that is being green-lighted by the student newspaper and leftist student groups.

The Duke campus has been the target of numerous anti-Semitic incidents in just the past few months, including destruction of Jewish property, genocidal expression, demonizing Jews and delegitimizing the Jewish state’s right to exist, according to the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative.

A recent editorial in the student newspaper, The Chronicle, describes Israel as a “murderous” country with “genocidal policies.” Titled, “AIPAC And The Blockade On Critiquing Israel,” the piece, authored by the editorial board, defends the “ill-conceived wording” of Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent tweet invoking the old anti-Semitic canards of Jewish power and money.

“The defense of and expansion on Omar’s overt and classic anti-Semitic trope … and calls for Duke students to engage in activism to economically cripple Israel … are reprehensible,” said AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “The fact that this editorial was written by the entire editorial board of the official student paper, not an individual or a known anti-Zionist group like Students for Justice in Palestine or Jewish Voice for Peace, indicates that these anti-Semitic tropes have become completely normalized on that campus. That’s really frightening.”

Joining Rossman-Benjamin in condemning The Chronicle’s editorial board was David Brog, executive director of the anti-Semitism education group Maccabee Task Force:

How sad that students at such a prestigious university have such a simplistic view of so complex an issue. They condemn Israel’s self-defense in Gaza without ever mentioning the Hamas aggression that necessitates it. They label Israel a settler-colonial state without ever acknowledging the fact that Jews are indigenous to this land. And they double down on the anti-Semitic theory that Jewish lobbyists manipulate politicians into supporting Israel while ignoring the widespread support for Israel among their constituents. I hope that one day the authors of this article have the opportunity to study this issue more deeply and supplement their stereotypes with some facts.

Several Jewish students on the Durham, North Carolina campus have told the Haym Salomon Center that the op-ed created a negative atmosphere for Jews on campus. Junior Max Cherman and freshman Ezra Loeb responded to the editorial with a piece, “The Chronicle’s Editorial Board Embodies 21st Century Anti-Semitism.”

Cherman and Loeb received support from many students and alumni who also found the editorial disturbing. But it’s the response from other Duke students, who seem to regard the editorial as a license to hate, that has some students questioning whether to remain at Duke.

Anti-Semitism at Duke is not a recent phenomenon, but it has spiked over the past few months. University President Vincent E. Price issued a statement right before Thanksgiving, which reads in part:

I write you this morning with a deep sense of frustration and sorrow: last night, a tribute on the East Campus Bridge to the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre was defaced by a large, red swastika. That such a craven and cowardly act of vandalism — a desecration of a memorial to individuals who were killed because they were Jewish and practicing their faith — should happen anywhere is extremely distressing. That it should occur in such a visible, public location at Duke should be a matter of grave concern to us all.

Posts on The Chronicle’s Facebook page reveal that intimidation and anti-Semitism are alive and thriving on the Durham campus.

A member of the far-left anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine posted a meme mocking Jewish Duke students who were made to feel uncomfortable by The Chronicle’s article. “Let’s also not forget Israel’s habit of forcibly sterilizing African/black+brown immigrants,” posted another student.

The current hostile climate on campus toward Jewish students wasn’t initiated by The Chronicle’s editorial board. Back in October, just two weeks after swastikas were found in the language arts building, Duke seniors Sanjidah Ahmed and Hadeel Abdelhy lambasted the university’s efforts to build dialogue as “both ludicrous and shameful,” claiming Israel engages in “the annihilation of Palestinian people.”

This past May, anti-Semitic posters were found in Durham and on Duke’s east campus.

“I was deeply disturbed and, to be honest, frightened,” explained professor Gavin Yamey. “I’m Jewish, and these vile anti-Semitic threats, including the image of a gun pointed at a Jew, really rattled me.”

“I lost family to pogroms and in the Holocaust,” he added. “Seeing incitements to shoot Jews in my hometown is not something I ever imagined.”

Request for comment from The Chronicle editorial board went unanswered.​

Sloan Rachmuth is director of research and special projects for the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. @salomoncenter.