The Hillel director at the University of Tennessee says recent reports that anti-Semitic behavior has increased at the school have been overblown.
A campus watchdog group that monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities on college campuses, Canary Mission, told The Algemeiner in early August that a “cesspool” of anti-Semitism and racist behavior was being spread by members of the university’s branches of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students Association.
But Deborah Oleshansky, the director of the University of Tennessee Hillel, said that not only has she not seen or heard of a rise in conflict between student groups, but that Hillel and the other groups have remained cordial in their relations.
“I do not think this article is representational of campus,” she said. “We have luckily been mostly quiet and civil with strong connections between student groups.”
Oleshansky said that as recently as February, Hillel partnered with the Muslim Student Association for a comedy event called Stand Up for Peace.
In March, when the Judaic studies program at the university brought in a speaker to talk about Israel, a group of SJP students held a silent protest and walked out of the lecture, Oleshansky said.
“It was a very quiet, civil and nonviolent protest,” she said. “Exactly the way you would hope students would behave to engage in their right to free speech and protest.”
The Canary Mission named six people in Knoxville who are “responsible for the dissemination and active promotion of anti-Semitic and racist ideologies,” The Algemeiner reported.
The students named in the story are Eyad Hijr, a 2016 graduate with ties to MSA; Mohamed Ali, a sophomore and member of SJP, MSA and the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement; Hesham Annamer, a sophomore affiliated with MSA; Stori Nuri, a junior who is the president of SJP, co-president of MSA and a supporter of BDS; Jordan Welsh, a BDS supporter who connected to the UTK SJP’s Facebook page; and Afeef Youssef Kamah, a student connected to MSA.
Through the Canary Mission, the UTK chapter of SJP has morphed into an “echo chamber of hate speech,” in which each offending post by one of its members is reposted and retweeted to its followers.
“We have never seen such a like-minded group of bigots,” the watchdog told The Algemeiner.
In 2015, university SJP head Stori Nuri tweeted an anti-Semitic joke: “Jew test: throw a pen and if they pick it up they’re a Jew.”
SJP’s Welsh in 2011 posted an image of Hitler and referred to him as “The original Emo Kid,” a slang term that is sometimes used to describe people who do not care what others think of them.
“We all have an obligation to publicize this vile bigotry,” Canary Mission said. “If we ignore it, it will grow, it will become something more dangerous.”
Speaking to The Algemeiner, Oleshansky said her Hillel office was “a bit concerned” when the campus SJP chapter was founded. But Hillel and SJP talked and agreed that “violence is never the answer; it is not productive to anybody,” Oleshansky said, adding, “So far, that’s been the case at UTK.”