Jewish students at Northeastern speak up about anti-Semitism


Quillan Anderson

The roundtable Feb. 17 was intended to foster a discussion about anti-Semitism and create a safe space for students to share personal experiences.

Grace Comer, news staff

Last November, the Student Government Association, or SGA, passed a resolution adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s, or IHRA, official definition of anti-Semitism. 

In conjunction with this resolution, SGA senator and member of the Student Affairs Committee Arika Dwivedi organized a roundtable discussion for members of Northeastern’s Jewish community to talk about anti-Semitism. The Feb. 17 discussion was closed to non-NU students with the intention of providing a safe space for students to share personal experiences. 

At the roundtable, students noted the difficulty in passing the resolution at SGA. 

“I thought it was going to be an easy conversation, but no, it took a very long time,” said Elie Codron, a third-year international affairs major, who signed the resolution as a student-at-large and is involved with several Jewish organizations on campus. While no senators voted against the resolution, 28 chose to abstain from voting. 

“A lot of the objections come from a place of stifling free speech,” said Yehuda Gannon, SGA senator and a fourth-year political science major. According to Gannon, there was concern among senators that the resolution could prevent free discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Despite the concern, other senators said that the resolution would not prevent this discussion. “We very explicitly and in great detail, went line by line through the definition, and there is no language in the definition that restricts speech,” said Josh Glickman, a second-year business administration major. He was also the senator for Alpha Epsilon Pi, or AEPi, which is a Jewish fraternity. 

The debate over whether or not the resolution would restrict free speech resulted in a longer SGA meeting than some of the co-authors had been expecting, Codron said. In the end, the resolution was adopted as it had originally been written. 

The IHRA definition is the broadest accepted definition of anti-Semitism. It covers outright acts of violence and extends to microaggressions. These include propagating myths of Jewish control over the economy or denying the Holocaust. The definition also encompasses ways in which protests against the Israeli government can turn anti-Semitic. 

This definition has been adopted in 29 of the United Nations, or UN, states, as well as many smaller organizations and university administrations across the world. 

“In all of the countries that have approved the use of that definition, debate about politics, and about the conflict, is as lively as ever,” said Jonathan Golbert, a third-year political science major involved in AEPi. 

Some of the conversations at the roundtable centered around the Israel-Palestine conflict, which, as explained in the IHRA definition, can lead to anti-Semitic attacks. “I’ve experienced microaggressions from people who I consider my friends, and from certain organizations on campus,” Golbert said. 

Another issue discussed at the roundtable was the prevalence of anti-Semitic microaggressions and discrimination both nationally and on campus. FBI statistics from 2019 show that nearly 60% of religious-based hate crimes targeted Jewish people, despite making up only 2% of the U.S. population. 

The resolution mentions specific incidents of anti-Semitism on university campuses across the U.S., including printers being hacked to distribute white supremacist fliers that mention the anti-Semitic work “The International Jew” and swastika graffiti in dorms

Beyond students and student organizations, Jewish students have also been frustrated with actions from Northeastern administration. The academic calendar conflicts with major Jewish holidays, and some students said that it was hard to get a religious exemption to leave class or reschedule exams. 

Earlier this year, the Office of the Provost mixed up the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with the spring holiday of Passover, taking a week to send a follow-up email. 

Some Jewish students say they have faced discrimination from professors, many of whom still work at Northeastern. According to the SGA resolution, one professor claimed that being called an anti-Semite is “a sign of distinction.” 

Other students felt that they needed to hide their pro-Israel views or Jewish identities from pro-Palestine professors, according to a letter written to President Joseph E. Aoun by Jewish students

The goal of the roundtable was not only to share these common experiences with microaggressions and other forms of discrimination, but also to unite students as a community. 

“The Jewish community can come together to overcome those obstacles, and we can advocate and fight for ourselves,” Gannon said. 

Codron said that when the resolution was presented to the SGA, it was accompanied by a petition signed by almost 300 Jewish students at Northeastern. 

“The purpose was to highlight the unanimous backing of the Jewish community for this resolution,” Glickman said of the petition. 

Only 17 states in the U.S. currently require an education on the Holocaust and advocates agree that there is still much more work to be done. Members of SGA and other Jewish groups said that they plan to continue educating non-Jewish students about anti-Semitism. One common theme of the roundtable was that much of the anti-Semitism on campus is rooted in ignorance. Gannon said that educating others about anti-Semitism is the first step to fighting it, and it’s important to address the issue proactively, before it escalates further.

Students also offered advice for addressing anti-Semitism once it is recognized. “On the individual level, each of us needs to make anti-Semitism a deal breaker when it comes to our friends, family and the political figures that we may support,” Golbert said. 

Other plans include working directly with the administration on new legislation to protect students. 

“We really hope that this resolution will wake up the administration and realize that Jewish students want and need this,” Codron said. The ultimate goal of the resolution, and educational events like the roundtable discussion, is to make Northeastern safer for Jewish students. 

“What we’re trying to do right now is make it so that there is a mechanism if something happens, the university can do something about it,” Gannon said. Although Title VI protections covers anti-Semitic discrimination, SGA is looking to create a more direct method of protecting Jewish students, Gannon said.