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ADL Gives Purchase a Failing Grade on Campus Antisemitism

Updated: May 10

By: Paige Merz and Thomas Dachik


ADL report card gives Purchase College a failing grade in their recent report on campus antisemitism (via adl.org)


Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), compiled a Campus Antisemitism Report Card, where SUNY Purchase was among 12 institutions to receive a failing score, by their standards.


Purchase took the hardest hit with categories such as failing to have an official position against BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), publicly condemning antisemitic incidents, promoting awareness of Jewish holidays, and mandatory antisemitism education for students and staff.


“Joyfully Jewish” sign locating an event by Hillel of Purchase that was marked with the phrase “free Palestine” on April 15, 2023. (Photo by: Paige Merz)


The ADL’s report card of Purchase College made note of bias incidents that have occurred on-campus in the past year. This includes an Israeli flag being vandalized on Rosh Hashanah, a sukkah being damaged in September 2023, and a student who was suspended after tearing down a “we stand with Israel” flag from an administrator’s office in December 2023.


An email sent to the Purchase community by Police Chief  Dayton Tucker on Dec. 12, 2023.


On April 16, President Milagros Peña issued a statement saying that the ADL report is an “inaccurate picture” of Purchase College.


“Being on-campus or being part of campus is not as simplistic as a grade,” Peña said. “It’s not my place to be questioning an organization that has put together a report that has, for me, served as a point of reflection.”


Peña said that she was asked to attend a webinar with the ADL at a later date to discuss this grade and how Purchase can improve.


However, Raven Karlick, a member of Purchase Jews for Palestine, took exception to the ADL report.


“The later section [of the report] included the fact that our admin hadn’t denounced BDS, a peaceful act of protest through boycotting select companies with extreme ties to Israel,” Karlick said. “[The ADL] should throw their points on what antisemitism really is out the window.”


“I think focusing on the ADL and giving them power to disclose what is and isn’t antisemitism is only taking eyes away from the case at hand,” Karlick said.


According to Hillel International, the total reported antisemitic incidents on college campuses since Oct. 7 have shown a 700% increase in comparison to 2022.


Karlick feels antisemitism, especially in the context of the ongoing conflict, is commonly misconstrued with anti-zionism.


Cesar Paul, a student suspended for tearing down a pro-Israel poster in the office of Administrator Paul Nicholson last semester, which was noted in the ADL’s report, recently wrote on social media that his actions were not an issue of antisemitism, rather an act of protest.


“It is not antisemitic to act against a political entity. It is not antisemitic to express my anti-Zionist views. It is not antisemitic to stand against Israel and its genocidal actions in Gaza,” he wrote on his GoFundMe page.


Pro-Palestine protests have been on the rise on college campuses across America this month, with students demanding a “divest from Israel.” On April 27, a protest leader at Columbia University said that “Zionists don’t deserve to live,” resulting in the student being banned from campus and expelled, as reported by the New York Times.


Noah Lewis, a senior photography student, wrote via text message that “Purchase deserves a worse rating than they got.” Lewis attended an RTC-led “die-in” in March, at which he stood holding an Israeli flag. He revealed that he feels students have been “living in fear,” and said that others have thanked him for showing support to Israel during these times, also gaining the attention of administration, including Peña.


“[Noah Lewis] was sharing what other Jewish students are feeling, and it really breaks your heart to read that,” Peña said in an interview. “It’s against SUNY policy and Purchase’s policy to have a demonstration where you impede the operations of the institution but you also impede on the rights of other students.”


“What the administration has shown us this year is that they only care about Jewish students when they can equate Zionism and Judaism under the guise of concerns about their safety,” wrote Sabrina Thompson, a member of RTC, via email.


The ADL’s report criticized Purchase College for lacking mandatory education for students and staff regarding antisemitism. Following the report, faculty, staff, and administrators have already attended an anti-bias webinar, although this training was not specific to antisemitism, rather tackling all forms of discrimination and bias.


“Simply giving anti-bias and Title IX training is doing nothing to care for Jewish students who face academic stress during holidays or helping Jewish students feel comfortable celebrating their religion on campus,” Thompson said.


Rachel Klein, the executive director of Hillels of Westchester, thinks the ADL’s report card was not an accurate depiction of Purchase. According to Klein, many college campuses, specifically Purchase, have resorted to a “Tiktok/Twitter algorithm,” causing students to be more dismissive of opposing perspectives, and creating more polarized viewpoints. She feels it is due to such division and lack of dialogue between both sides that Jewish students may feel out of place.


[Students] retreat to their own camps and engage in ‘anti-normalization,’ refusing to interact with anyone who does not align with their positions,” Klein said. “That division has resulted in many Jewish students feeling unsafe in their identity, excluded, without partners in dialogue, and in many cases, targeted directly.”


In Pena’s email to the students regarding the report, she affirmed that she plans to work closely with Purchase administration and Hillels of Westchester in striving to maintain a safe, equitable education environment.


“We want to be a campus where all students can go to class, go to their dorm or go to eat without feeling like they’re running through a gauntlet,” said Peña.


© The Purchase Phoenix, 2024

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