Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

‘My community is hurting’: Jewish students share experiences after May 1 protest

Jewish community members, including 10 students, spoke about the campus climate following the May 1 protest — with some sharing experiences of antisemitism.

5:20:24_ZoeOlson_RothCenter.jpg

Six Jewish undergraduate students have been given the pseudonyms Daniel, Dylan, William, Sarah, Phoebe and Lucy. They each have been granted anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences. 

In recent weeks, as national protests over the Israel-Hamas war have swept across university campuses, a second, connected debate has raged: is antisemitism, which some claim to be present in the protest movement, on the rise? 

At Dartmouth, those debates reached a height earlier this month after police arrested 89 individuals during the May 1 protest on the Green. In the days after May 1, a number of community members expressed concerns — in petitions online and opinions published in The Dartmouth, among other spaces — about how Jewish students feel on campus. The Dartmouth spoke with Jewish community members, including 10 students, about the campus climate — and instances of antisemitism — since the May 1 protest. While Jewish students said they have felt physically safe, many said they felt “uncomfortable” or “unwelcome” on campus because they are Jewish.

Hillel Rabbi Seth Linfield said some Jewish students have felt “increasingly isolated” because of “rising antisemitism” and “hostility” toward the Jewish community at Dartmouth.

Hillel president Cara Marantz ’25 wrote in an email statement to The Dartmouth that while not every Jewish student has experienced instances of antisemitism, “the number must go down to zero.” Chabad president Mia Steinberg ’25 said in an interview that many Jewish students feel “afraid to speak up” about antisemitism. 

“The campus climate among Jewish students is, ‘Keep your head down, don’t make noise, don’t be noticed,’” Steinberg said. “Faculty won’t hear us, students won’t hear us. I feel like my community is hurting and I don’t know what to do.”

One anonymous student, who will be referred to as Dylan in this article, said he chose to remain anonymous due to unease on campus.

“I feel uncomfortable sharing my identity because I’m worried [and] don’t feel 100% comfortable on campus as a member of my religious group,” Dylan said.

Chants yield divided views 

Several students brought up chants used during the May 1 protests as evidence of antisemitism on campus. They said the phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which protesters used on the Green, is antisemitic.

In an online survey conducted this month by The Dartmouth, students were asked whether they believed that the phrase “From the river to the sea” is antisemitic. Of the 454 respondents, 53% found the phrase to be antisemitic, while 47% did not. 

Dylan said several chants made him “uncomfortable.” 

“People can think what they want about [the chants], but Jewish students may approach it in a certain way,” he said. “Chants that talk about ‘Resistance is justified’ when the resistance they’re talking about it is the rape and killing of Israelis … that, [to me], is terrifying.”

One anonymous student, who will be referred to as Sarah in this article, added that the fact that some Jewish students did not interpret the chants as antisemitic does not negate the experience of those who did.

“There are some Jews who … decide that they think ‘From the river to the sea’ is fine, and because they’re Jewish all the other Jews shouldn’t be hurt by that,” Sarah said. 

One anonymous student — who will be referred to as Phoebe in this article — said she thought the protest was peaceful and did not believe students should have been arrested. At the same time, though, Phoebe said she also thinks the protests were “exclusive” and that many of the chants were “harmful” to Jewish students.

“I do truly believe in what a lot of the people are protesting for,” Phoebe said. “I truly don’t think that people are meaning to make Jewish students feel uncomfortable or making Jewish students feel like they don’t have a voice, [but] I think that there need to be conversations about making [the pro-Palestinian movement] more inclusive.”

Jacob Markman ’27 said several chants made him uncomfortable as a Jewish person, though he thinks most people understand that overt antisemitism is “unacceptable.”

“A lot of the antisemitism on campus has been more hidden,” Markman said. “It’s just the larger climate on campus, where you have 10% of campus, based on their identity, that don’t want to express a lot of their opinions.”

Other Jewish students, however, said they felt differently about the chants. Sean Wallace ’27 said they participated in the protest and did not interpret anti-Zionist chants as antisemitic. Wallace added that they do not think “any one person can be the arbiter of what is or isn’t antisemitic.”

“My identity as a Jewish person is not tied to any state,” they said. “It is tied to my ethnicity and my family’s history.”

Wallace said discussions about what is or is not antisemitic should involve “dialogue and conversation,” as immediately labeling a statement as antisemitic could “shut down dialogue.”

Several students, however, said they wished the protesters were more open to dialogue with Jewish students, beyond those who are anti-Israel.

“Jews who seem to be aligning more with the protester coalition — their views are being taken as though they’re the views of all Jews when they say that certain phrases aren’t antisemitic,” Dylan said.

“Why do these people who aren’t Jewish get to decide that for us?”

Eight students brought up at least one example of a time when a non-Jewish person told them an experience was not antisemitic when they felt otherwise.

“People try to make their own statements about what is and isn’t antisemitic when they themselves aren’t Jewish,” Sarah said. “There’s a double standard, where these are very progressive people who, when it comes to basically every other minority, they will give those groups every right to decide what is and isn’t hurtful for them, except when it comes to Jews.”

One anonymous student, who will be referred to as Daniel — who said he affiliates with progressive circles on campus and described himself as “left-wing” — said his friends often “rightly think about how a statement said in good faith can cause harm” to minority groups. When those friends talk about Jewish people, though, Daniel said he wishes they were “consistent.” 

“When it comes to antisemitism and Jews, they [shift], and if they aren’t using a racial slur, it’s all okay and it’s my fault for getting offended,” he said. “Whatever their stance is on Israel and Palestine, I just wish that they take a step back from whatever they’re saying and think about how it could be interpreted as hateful to Jews.”

Steinberg said the question of who gets to decide what is antisemitic should be treated in the same way as what is considered offensive toward other minority groups.

“If [students] have different opinions, then that’s their prerogative, but it’s really, really upsetting when I tell people that what they are saying is antisemitic and they discount my experience,” she said. 

Students also described feeling uncomfortable in class as a result of their professors telling them the May 1 protest was not antisemitic. 

“I have heard countless stories of students being called out in class — students who are openly Jewish being called out, lectured [at] by their professors about why they shouldn’t feel that these protests are antisemitic and why they should have joined the protests,” Steinberg said. 

“Not even disguising it as a dog whistle for Jew”

All 10 students interviewed discussed their relationship to Zionism and expressed discomfort about non-Jewish students making assumptions about their feelings toward Israel. Sarah said being a Zionist has left her “demonized” by her friends.

“Zionist does not mean blindly following and approving of every single thing Israel does, because that’s not how democracy works,” Sarah said. “Nothing in believing that Jews have the right to self-determination involves blindly approving everything that Israel does.”

Daniel defined Zionism as the belief that the Jewish people deserve a nation and a military, adding that it is possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic. However, he also said being in favor of armies and nation-states “except when it comes to Jews” is a “bit hypocritical.”

Sarah said she feels that if she were to express “anything legitimately political” about the Israel-Hamas war, she would either get “demonized as a Zionist or tokenized as ‘one of the good Jews.’” She said individuals should not trust “anyone on any side” who is “oversimplifying” the conflict.

“I very much don’t like how on-campus activists seem to be viewing it in an ‘all-or-nothing’ sense,” she said. “It’s not at all welcoming to Jewish people, especially those who are Zionists.”

Daniel said a friend told him that she was “dreading” talking to a Jewish person because they “might be a Zionist.” Daniel said he then responded by telling his friend that he was also a Zionist.

“That was it. She stopped talking, she walked away and sort of gave up on our friendship,” he said. “She was willing to immediately end a friendship over an identification with Judaism and with Israel.”

Sarah said she got kicked out of a student band when she spoke up about antisemitism with her bandmates.

“I had seen people in the band getting involved with genuinely very suspicious rhetoric in terms of not respecting the line between antisemitism and genuine discourse,” she said. “I called people out for it. It was assertive. I remember saying, ‘If you can’t keep antisemitism out of your activism, then we’re done.’ They just basically removed me from the group chat, didn’t say anything and haven’t spoken to me since.”

Daniel described anti-Zionism as a “fig leaf” for masking antisemitism. 

“Without getting into why someone may or may not be a Zionist, there are people who are clearly using Zionist when they want to say Jew, using them interchangeably, and using it almost as a dog whistle,” he said.

In one instance, Daniel said he heard part of a conversation on the Collis Center porch in which someone said, “Well, [College President Sian Leah Beilock is] a typical Zionist Jew, of course she’s going to side with police against the protesters.” He recalled being “astonished” by the interaction.

“They, even without getting into the nuances of what Zionism is and isn’t, were so casually throwing around the term ‘Zionist’ not even disguising it as a dog whistle for Jew,” Daniel said. “[When they say], ‘Oh, Sian, she’s a typical Zionist Jew,’ why do they feel the need to call her a Jew in that scenario?”

“Jewish students are not a monolith” 

The Jewish community on campus has been divided on both Beilock’s response on May 1 and the Israel-Hamas war. 

“Jewish students are not a monolith,” Steinberg said.

One anonymous student, who will be referred to in this article as William, said he participated in the May 1 protest and knows many students who were arrested. He said he felt that the protest was not antisemitic and instead advocated for the “liberation of all people.”

Steinberg said she hopes those who opposed Beilock’s actions on May 1 recognize that “both things can be true” — that arrested students and Jewish students can both be afraid.

“It’s not a binary of one side is right, so the other is wrong,” she said. “Jewish students feeling afraid at the protest doesn’t mean that the trauma of getting arrested wasn’t real. Both pains can be real and valid, but to acknowledge only one and discount the other — that’s when it gets upsetting and scary.”

“Fostering greater understanding”

On her way to an exam, one anonymous student — who will be referred to in this article as Lucy — said she passed by sidewalk chalk outside the entrance to Baker-Berry Library that read “SNS KKK IDF — they’re all the same.” Lucy said the message, which implies similarities between the Israeli military, campus security and a white supremacist terrorist group, was “very disturbing” and made her feel “uncomfortable.” 

Steinberg mentioned feeling “attacked” on the social media app Fizz — an anonymous social media platform with a version for only Dartmouth students — after publicly sharing experiences of antisemitism.

“We’re entitled to disagree with each other,” Steinberg said. “But anonymous posting, talking about it behind people’s back — I think that’s where it gets hairy.” 

After sharing her experiences of encountering antisemitism at a Dartmouth Student Government meeting and in The Dartmouth, Steinberg said she was accused on Fizz of “overblowing it.”

“If someone says that there is something happening on campus, saying that you’re being dramatic is wildly offensive,” she said. “I would never tell someone that their experience is overblown because that’s rude and disrespectful and completely not my place, so I just don’t understand why they don’t give the Jewish community the same respect.”

William said it is “vital” to understand the “historical and material roots” of antisemitism rather than viewing it as inevitable or unstoppable.

“We should look at antisemitism as something that can be addressed through fostering greater understanding … and through building relationships of trust and care and solidarity with everybody on campus,” William said.

Addressing “new manifestations” of antisemitism on campus, Linfield said, will require “campus-wide education” about Jewish history and culture, dialogues that promote empathy, support systems for students who encounter discrimination and “steady application” of College policies.

“Improving the climate for Jewish students means improving the climate for all students at Dartmouth,” Linfield said.

Steinberg emphasized the importance of creating an environment where all students feel safe and heard.

“We’re just your fellow students, who have just as much right to be here and to sit in class and learn and feel safe and heard by our professors,” Steinberg said. “We have just as much right to share our opinions and not get absolutely obliterated. … We have that right.”

Jacob Markman is an opinion writer for The Dartmouth. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this story.