Jewish students have voiced solidarity with their Muslim counterparts following new revelations that the New York City Police Department collected intelligence on Muslim groups at several college campuses in the northeast corridor.
Student groups at several targeted colleges said they stepped up to defend their classmates in the face of surveillance that tramples on the rights of all students.
“The idea of religious students from any religion being surveilled I think was offensive to the [Jewish] students,” said Rabbi Mike Uram, Hillel director at the University of Pennsylvania.
In a sign of a possible generational divide, most Jewish communal leaders, even some who work in coalitions with Muslim groups, defended the police effort.
The revelations are the latest in a lengthy series published by The Associated Press, starting last summer. The stories, which have already won a prestigious George Polk Award, revealed extensive spying by the NYPD on Muslim communities in and outside New York City.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly both responded to early stories by asserting that the department acted only after getting leads about possible crimes, though the latest stories suggest otherwise.
In reports published in recent weeks, AP revealed that the NYPD had collected intelligence on Muslim student groups at many colleges. It also reported that the department had sent investigators to create files on mosques in New Jersey and Long Island.
Aside from Penn, Muslim student groups were probed at Yale, Columbia, New York, Syracuse and Rutgers. They were also targeted at several campuses of the state and city universities of New York.
Muslim organizations, noting that the institutions and individuals subject to police monitoring and data gathering were suspected of no crimes, have decried the department’s activities as ethnic profiling.
Following the revelation of intelligence gathering on Muslim students at Penn, three elected student leaders at the campus Hillel issued a statement in support of Muslim students at the school. The statement did not explicitly condemn the NYPD’s tactics or name the Muslim Students Association, the student group targeted by the surveillance.
“Given the recent findings of the NYPD’s monitoring of Muslim students, we, as leaders of Hillel and Penn’s Jewish community, stand firmly in solidarity with our brethren,” the Hillel leaders wrote. “We hope that the university will work to further prioritize the security and rights of all religious students.”
One of the statement’s signatories, Alex Jefferson, president of Penn’s Hillel, said that the gesture had already helped build bonds between the communities and that Muslim students and Muslim student leaders had expressed their appreciation.