To Be (Visibly) Jewish in the Ivy League

Netanel Crispe, from Danby, Vt., is a 21-year-old junior studying American history at Yale. He is also, to his knowledge, the university’s only Hasidic undergraduate. When he chose Yale, he told me this week, he was “looking for an institution that asserted its position in terms of maintaining and protecting free expression while not backing down on its principal values.”

It hasn’t worked out that way.

On Saturday evening he and his friend Sahar Tartak, a Yale sophomore and an Orthodox Jew, paid a visit to the university’s Beinecke Plaza, where pro-Palestinian demonstrators had set up an encampment.

“I was wearing my black hat; I was very identifiably Jewish,” Crispe said. “I was yelled at, harassed, pushed and shoved numerous times. Every time I tried to take a step someone confronted me inches from my face, telling me not to move.” Tartak said a demonstrator jammed a Palestinian flag into her left eye. She ended up in the hospital, luckily without permanent injury. “Thank God, there was a small sphere at the end of the pole,” she told me.

Yale and other universities have been sites of almost continual demonstrations since Hamas massacred and kidnapped Israelis on Oct. 7. That’s just fine, insofar as students have a right to express their views about the war in Gaza — whatever one thinks about those views. It’s fine, too, to be willing to defy campus rules they believe are unjust — provided they are willing to accept the price of their civil disobedience, including arrest, jail time or suspension.

But as the experiences of scores of other Jewish students on American campuses testify, we are well past the fine stage.

At the University of California, Berkeley, students were spat on and grabbed by the neck by anti-Israel demonstrators. When a small group of students held Israeli flags in front of the Columbia protest, a young demonstrator, her face mostly masked by a kaffiyeh, stood in front of them with a sign that read, “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets,” a reference to the wing of Hamas that led the Oct. 7 attacks. At Yale, according to a video shared by Crispe, a demonstrator read a “poem” threatening those who “finance, encourage and facilitate this mass killing against us: May death follow you, wherever you go, and when it does I hope you will not be prepared.”

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