By Jonah Lewis, Deputy News Editor
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Towson University Thursday to meet with Jewish students and leaders and discuss the recent uptick in antisemitism on college campuses as part of a Biden administration antisemitism awareness campaign.
“I’m not Jewish, but I’m appalled and horrified by the events happening across the country,” Cardona said. “We’re here to listen, and to get feedback on what you would like to see.”
Twenty students from Goucher College, Towson and Johns Hopkins Universities, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County convened in the Towson Room in the Albert S. Cook Library where Cardona and Towson President Mark Ginsberg hosted a roundtable discussion.
Neera Tanden, the White House’s domestic policy advisor, was also on the panel.
The meeting occurred during a time of increased violence in the longstanding conflict between Israel and Palestine.
On Oct. 7, Hamas, the governing organization in the Gaza Strip, broke through the Israel-Gaza border blockade in a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,400. This led to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring war on Hamas, beginning a ground invasion and aerial bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip that has killed over 9,000 Palestinians.
Political strife surrounding the conflict has been high, especially on college campuses. Tanden said President Joe Biden is in support of a two state solution between Israel and Palestine.
Ginsberg, who is Jewish, said he hoped that some light would come out of the darkness of antisemitism.
Concerned Jewish students expressed worry at the silence on the part of universities towards antisemitism.
Several students brought up incidents recently committed on Towson’s campus.
One student said that a group of students had written “F— the Jews” at Freedom Square, while another group followed a Jewish student to class and harassed her about her faith.
Student ideologies have clashed at Freedom Square for several weeks, with pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli messaging adorning the chalkboards. Freedom Square has been host to various vigils and rallies in the past month, including one in solidarity with Israel hosted by Towson Hillel, the on-campus Jewish group.
While Freedom Square encourages free expression, its guidelines state that discriminatory or threatening language violates the student Code of Conduct.
Steven Doctorman, a Johns Hopkins senior, said that he has seen firsthand how Johns Hopkins University has handled antisemitism.
“We’d love for the Department of Education to particularly raise guidance encouraging administrations to take tangible actions to combat antisemitism,” Doctorman said.
With increased student activity surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict, some Jewish students took offense to sloganeering on the part of pro-Palestinian activists.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” was under scrutiny by various Jewish students at the meeting. They considered it to be antisemitic due to its association with Hamas, which is classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization.
The slogan predates the Israel-Hamas war. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the phrase has been in use since the 1960s, when it was introduced by the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
However, some interpret the phrase as a call to eliminate Israel and the Jews who live there.