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Antisemitism Notebook

Is it antisemitic to protest Hillel?

No longer a hypothetical question, Baruch College’s Hillel found itself targeted by protesters celebrating Hamas

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Early in my days covering antisemitism at the Forward, I tried to find hypotheticals that stumped partisans on both sides of the debate over whether anti-Zionism was antisemitic. One was whether it was antisemitic to protest the existence of a campus Hillel. On its face, the answer seemed obvious: It’s offensive to picket an apolitical gathering place for Jewish students. But Hillel International requires its affiliates to support Israel and prohibits them from working with clubs that don’t share those views. And surely it’s OK to protest a political advocacy organization.

On the other hand, if the vast majority of Jewish students who engage with Hillel go there to celebrate Jewish holidays or find a kosher meal, then any protest is likely to be reasonably perceived as an antisemitic affront to Jewish life on campus.

The folks I spoke with back then seemed to agree that it was a sticky conundrum that would depend on the specifics.

While Hillels have been sporadically protested or targeted in passing during other protests in recent years, we now have one of the most prominent cases to examine: a demonstration outside the Hillel at Baruch College in Manhattan, which serves eight City University of New York campuses in the borough.

Here, it is hard to come to a conclusion that is favorable to demonstrators. They were ostensibly protesting a Hillel trip for students to visit an Israeli military base. But activists showed up with a banner that used the inverted triangle symbol that Hamas uses to point out its military targets on social media and demonstrators repeatedly made that same symbol with their hands, according to New York Jewish Week, suggesting that a primary home for Jewish students at the school was a legitimate target for violence.

In case that wasn’t straightforward enough, one protester kept shouting: “Synagogue of Satan.”

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