Cardona ‘appalled,’ ‘horrified’ at antisemitic incidents on campuses

The roundtable, which included students from Johns Hopkins University; Goucher College; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and Towson, is the latest in a series of Education Department school visits as part of the Biden administration’s antisemitism awareness campaign.

Students told Cardona and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Neera Tanden that they feel isolated on campus, and they’re worried about potential threats to them in person and on social media because they are Jewish.

They called on the department to release guidance that could push college leaders to disavow antisemitism on campuses and criticized their campus leadership’s statements for being “neutral” about antisemitic incidents.

In response, Cardona said the department and the White House were working on sending out a guidance letter “very soon” to college leaders with “very clear language around how we stand against this.”

“Jewish students across the country are skipping school after what happened on [Oct. 7] and the subsequent actions that have happened across our country,” Cardona said. “It’s unacceptable.”

He took notes after he asked the students to describe antisemitic incidents they’ve faced and share recommendations for the Biden administration to pursue to address and prevent antisemitism on campus.

Cardona’s visit to Towson followed complaints from Jewish students at the university who said there have been combative protests on campus from pro-Palestinian students and antisemitic incidents. A group of Towson students who spoke to POLITICO before the roundtable said they were worried about going to class on Wednesday because of a pro-Palestinian protest held by the school’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter.

They told Cardona about chants in support of “Jewish genocide” and that some Jewish students who prayed daily on the campus’ “Freedom Square” were harassed.

The chalkboards in the square are covered with depictions of the Palestinian flag, Jewish stars and the phrases “free Gaza,” “let Gaza live” and “no peace on stolen land.” Towson students said the chant used by Hamas, “From the river to the sea,” has also been written on the chalkboards.

Max Zimmerman, who started the Jewish prayer group at Towson in response to the Israel-Hamas conflict, told Cardona that students have been saying and writing antisemitic things without any repercussions.

“There needs to be punishment for hate speech and harassment,” Zimmerman said as he described and showed pictures of an incident last week when students wrote on the chalkboards “F— the Jews” as his group was wrapping up their prayer in front of it. Those students then followed a Jewish student to class and harassed her, several Towson students said.

Several other students also spoke up with stories of how they felt afraid or have been targeted on campus because of their Jewish identities.

Cardona thanked them for sharing and later told the group of students to “take care of each other.”

“I deeply feel sorry that you’re experiencing a lot of these things,” he said. “I commit — not only as a secretary, but as a father — to do for you what I would want done for my own children so you can be safe on campus and you can be who you are.”

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