Safety concerns are on the rise for some of the hundreds of Jewish students at UC San Diego after vandalism on campus and a visit to campus by a controversial guest speaker.
The ugly discoveries at the school last week include a display case highlighting anti-Semitism that was covered in signs, with one calling Israel an apartheid state, and a swastika allegedly found scrawled on the bathroom wall of the library.
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The displays of disrespect are examples of an escalating problem that has fourth-year student Blake Dickman on edge.
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“I’m concerned for not only my safety but other Jewish students',” said Dickman, who is the vice-president of Tritons for Israel. “I'm waking up stressed and anxious, wondering if I’m going to go to campus and be physically attacked by a student who has opposing views and, simply because I’m Jewish, deems me as their villain.”
Anti-Semitic harassment cases are up 43% and vandalism cases are up 14% across the United States, according to the latest numbers from the Anti-Defamation League. That’s part of the reason why the Jewish Federation of San Diego felt compelled to write a letter to the chancellor of UC San Diego, urging him to take action to improve the campus environment.
That safe space was compromised last week, according to members of the campus' Jewish community, when pro-Palestinian speaker Taher Herzallah spoke on campus. In addition to triggering a silent protest last week, some students believe it sparked an uptick in vandalism of Jewish symbols on campus, including of a Star of David at Graffiti Park that was defaced.
“He directly incites violence to Jews, and it’s a violation of our own civil rights and safety," Dickman said.
"We believe in free speech,“ added Heidi Gantwerk, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego, “but we also want to see safe and secure spaces for teaching and learning."
Members of UC San Diego’s Jewish community said they're thankful for the letter the chancellor sent condemning antisemitism and speakers who spew hate.
Dickman and others want to create an anti-Semitism hotline at the school and take other actionable steps with the university to create safe spaces for everyone on campus.
"I want to see some form of unity," Dickman said, "a form of having our different opinions but being able to come to a place of common ground which is a shared space at UC San Diego."
NBC 7 reached out to the Students for Justice in Palestine organization at UC San Diego, who some believe may be responsible for some of the vandalism. Representatives said they don’t know who’s responsible for it.
The organization also issued a statement that reads, in part:
"Just as SJP condemns the racism and discrimination underlying many of the policies of the state of Israel, SJP also categorically opposes any form of prejudice or discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity or gender. At the same time, SJP manifestly rejects attempts to equate principled criticism of Zionism, or of the character or policies of Israel, with anti-Semitism."