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Student leaders host forums, extend support in wake of anti-Semitic post

Jack Fonseca | Staff Photographer
Student leaders said the offensive Snapchat video was representative of a larger issue of anti-Semitism on campus.

Updated: Nov. 11, 2019 at 12:18 p.m.

Student leaders said an offensive Snapchat video made public last week is emblematic of a larger issue of anti-Semitism at the University.

Since the post was made public on Facebook Tuesday, student groups like GW for Israel and the Student Association have held or planned to host forums and are providing support resources for people hurt by the comments made in the video. Student leaders called the post “not surprising” and said the video reflects anti-Semitic sentiments nationwide and on campus.

The post shows an un-filmed individual asking, “What are we going to do to Israel?” to a woman on screen who responds, “Bro, we’re going to fucking bomb Israel, bro. Fuck out of here, Jewish pieces of shit.”

At the University’s fifth annual Diversity Summit keynote last week, Caroline Laguerre-Brown – the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement – said the incident reflects why events like the summit are necessary to educate students on diversity-related issues.

“Events just this week on our campus involving hateful and disturbing words directed at GW’s Jewish community are a stark reminder that we have more work to do,” Laguerre-Brown said. “All communities should stand together in condemnation of hatred and bigotry.”

University President Thomas LeBlanc condemned the video in a statement Wednesday, and University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said officials have identified the students involved with the post and are assessing information “to determine the most appropriate response consistent with the Code of Student Conduct.”

Nosal said she could not disclose any further information for legal reasons.

The woman in the video claimed she was intoxicated at the time and did not remember making the comments heard in the video or that the man was filming her. The Hatchet is not identifying the woman in the video to preserve her privacy as officials decide on disciplinary action.

The woman in the video said she filed a GW Police Department report this week after strangers sent her messages likening her to a Nazi and including information about her family.

The woman said she is still waiting to hear if she will face any repercussions, but Christy Anthony – the director of the Office for Student Rights and Responsibilities – told her that suspension or expulsion “isn’t likely.” She said she met with Rabbi Yudi Steiner, the rabbi for Chabad GW, on Thursday and plans to write an apology.

“Of everyone that has tried to help me, he’s been the person who has helped me the most,” she said. “He’s cleared my mind the most, he’s made me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The student who filmed the video said the woman told her friends she had been “drinking heavily” over the past couple of weeks and asked them to record her remarks so she could see what she had said while drunk after sobering up. He said he accidentally posted the video to his account’s story when trying to save the video to his phone.

The student said he and the woman rode in an Uber together earlier that night with a Palestinian driver who told them about the violence his family has experienced in Palestine. He said the driver told them that if Palestine bombed Israel, other countries would step in and “remedy the situation,” demonstrating that he believed that the international community was a “little biased.”

The man said the woman started recounting the conversation when the two students returned to Thurston Hall. He said the conversation in the video did not begin because the students are both “pro-Palestine” or because of their shared “Arab descent,” contradicting the woman’s statements to The Hatchet published Wednesday.

But the woman said she does not remember having the conversation with the Uber driver.

“She was just recounting what he was saying or mocking him in a way,” he said. “Then when I wanted to get the video, I told her to say it again.”

The student added that he has received a few “nasty looks” but not received any threats. He said he filed two statements with GWPD officers and detectives, adding that SRR officials told him this week that they are unsure whether he has violated University policy but, if he did, he will likely have to meet with officials or appear in front of a hearing board.

The Hatchet is not identifying the man who filmed the video to preserve his privacy as the University decides on disciplinary actions.

Junior Lissie Levitt said in a Facebook post Sunday that she decided to speak with the woman featured in the video because she felt “empathy” for her. She said the woman in the video was “coerced” into making the comments and has altered her lifestyle to ensure she does not face a similar situation.

“At GW, it has been so easy to feed into a scandal and ‘cancel culture’ without knowing the whole story,” Levitt said in the post. “We too often call out an act of hate with hate rather than empathy and thoughtfulness.”

SA President SJ Matthews said the SA released a statement condemning the post to immediately make clear that the SA supports affected students and is a resource for them. She is holding additional office hours to meet with students to talk about the incident, she said.

“I cannot speak to what steps officials are taking, but I can say that discrimination and hateful remarks cannot be tolerated or normalized on our campus,” Matthews said in an email.

SA Sen. Raina Hackett, CCAS-U and the chair of the SA diversity and inclusion assembly, said the students’ actions warrant their removal from campus. Officials should at least institute “educational remedies” to ensure the individuals understand what is “wrong” with their actions, she said.

Hackett said she will host one-on-one meetings with students concerned about the post and will co-sponsor the SA’s forum Tuesday to discuss the video. She added that the University’s “institutional culture” allows for “discrimination, hate and ignorance” to proliferate on campus.

Hackett added that the University should consider measures like a diversity and inclusion G-PAC requirement to “propel” a change in GW’s culture.

“There are still dozens of incidents that funnel through the anti-bias reporting system and through campus culture that have not been videotaped,” Hackett said in an email. “Just because we do not see it all the time, does not mean it doesn’t exist. If we do not shift this culture, incidents like this will continue to occur.”

SA Sen. Louie Kahn, CCAS-U, said he and other SA senators are drafting a resolution that would implement lessons about anti-Semitism into freshman diversity training, develop an SA-run anti-Semitism task force and establish a comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism.

“The overall goal of this resolution is to condemn all hate directed toward Jews on this campus and campuses across the country,” Kahn said.

In an email sent out to parents, Adena Kirstein – the executive director of GW Hillel – said the organization has hosted two support sessions for students, hosted a session about understanding anti-Semitism at the diversity summit and is planning educational initiatives with the Anti-Defamation League.

Tali Edid and Katelin Gochberg, the co-presidents of the Jewish Student Association, said the post is an “unfortunate reminder” of anti-Semitism on campus.

“It never gets any easier to watch or listen to,” they said. “It’s become a sad routine of just adding recent examples of anti-Semitism to a running list that has proven to be growing more and more rapidly with every passing year, both on campus and across the country.”

They said LeBlanc is a “strong ally” of GW’s Jewish community, and they “appreciate” his response to the incident, but they added that “the administration can only do so much” and students must grapple with this issue to enact change.

Yoni Slater, the chair of GW’s chapter of J Street U – a student group that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict – said members of their organization are stopping to “pause and process” the incident before announcing any specific programming in response to the video.

“It was a video of somebody walking that line of taking criticism of Israel one step too far, where it’s not criticism of Israel – it’s clearly anti-Semitism,” Slater said.

Max Webb, the GW for Israel president, said at a town hall organized by his group Thursday that it is “not appropriate” for people to confront the students involved, and people should spread a “positive message” instead by discussing the incident together as a community.

“You can’t fight something nasty with something else nasty,” he said at the town hall.

Lizzie Mintz contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly stated Yoni Slater’s pronouns. It is now correct. We regret this error.

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