Michigan State University
(Wikimedia Commons)

In one incident, an individual joined a biology class group chat using a Nazi swastika as a profile picture, claiming they study biology to prove that “Jews are scum.”

Jewish organizational administrators, faculty and Jewish student leaders agree that, though they are disturbed by a two antisemitic incidents that occurred on small online forums as well as an anti-Israel rhetoric sprayed on the “MSU Rock,” they are encouraged that the incidents were reported to campus law enforcement authorities by non-Jews. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, MSU’s Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel released a statement detailing the offenses under investigation. 

In one incident, an individual joined a biology class group chat using a Nazi swastika as a profile picture, claiming they study biology to prove that “Jews are scum.” Other students in the chat denounced those statements, removed the perpetrator from the chat, and reported the incident to the class professor and to a number of campus units, including the Serling Institute. 

An individual using the same screenname also made antisemitic comments in the chatroom of an off-campus apartment complex, responding to another resident’s message with, “Shut the hell up Jew boy.” When asked to leave the chat by other participants, the perpetrator answered, “This is why you don’t trust Jews.” 

MSU investigations are trying to determine if the individual is a member of the MSU community. 

A third incident happened at the MSU Rock on Farm Lane, which featured an American flag with the caption “Never Forget” to honor the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks. The word “Israel” was spray painted over the American flag and the word “never” was painted over. 

The Serling Institute views the use of the word Israel as an evocation of the conspiracy theory that Israel was responsible for the 9-11 attack and is a “modern iteration of the centuries-old trope that Jews control world events.”

The MSU Department of Police and Public Safety was made aware of an incident that occurred on Sept.13 in an online chat group. A police report was initiated, and a police investigator was immediately assigned to the case, which is ongoing.  

“Investigators are currently following up on all available leads and are in touch with people who were impacted by the incident, and the case remains an active police investigation,” reads the statement released by the department. 

Yael Aronoff
Yael Aronoff

As a local, proactive measure to curb the nationwide rising tide of antisemitism on college campuses, Serling Institute Executive Director Yael Aronoff said she has been working with the MSU Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to increase antisemitism awareness on campus and would like to see information about anti-Jewish bias to become standardized in orientations for all incoming students.  

This year, as an initiative-taking approach to counter the presence of antisemitism at MSU, the Serling Institute will host “The Jonathan Netanyahu Symposium on Antisemitism” from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8. The free online event is hosted by the institute in partnership with the Lester and Jewell Morris Hillel Jewish Student Center and other MSU academic departments. It will feature insights from leading experts from around the country as well as a recorded message from MSU President Samuel Stanley. For more information and to register, go to jsp.msu.edu. 

“I think the symposium is going to be a great service to the university in terms of awareness and education,” Aronoff said. “But we know most students and faculty and staff will not attend. The next step for us is to try to get the university to include education about antisemitism in its orientations and workshops so all students coming to MSU can get some exposure to the issue.” 

Cindy Hughey
Cindy Hughey

Hillel Executive Director Cindy Hughey said despite what happened, the incidents were limited in scope and said she was encouraged that non-Jews acted against the hate. 

“It was non-Jewish students who reported these incidents and who repainted the rock, and to me that is amazing,” Hughey said. “It was really great to see that we have support of non-Jewish students on campus, and it is part of Hillel’s mission to keep building these partnerships and alliances. 

“Hillel has also been working with administrators in two newly created positions over the summer [concerning diversity and inclusion], and we are hoping we are going to expand antisemitism awareness into diversity training on campus.” 

The 3,000 Jewish MSU students in recent years have experienced several cases of antisemitism. In April 2021, Jewish student leaders were harassed and intimidated as they attempted to pass a bill to define antisemitism in MSU’s student government.

There have been threatening phone messages, a defaced mezuzah and a swastika painted in front of a fraternity house. In 2019, Hillel’s sukkah was destroyed by drunken vandals.

“With recent incidents here on campus, many Jewish students have been frightened and feel as if they have to hide their Judaism,” said Ethan Price, MSU sophomore and StandWithUs Emerson Fellow. The latest incidents may be disturbing, but Price added there is excellent support for Jewish students among their peers and at places like Hillel. 

As an Emerson Fellow, he participates in educational and leadership training seminars with the pro-Israel group to help offset anti-Israel bias on campus.

“We hope to combat this antisemitism by getting the university involved and by educating as many students as we can about what antisemitism looks like and how we can all work to stop it in its tracks.” 

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Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com