Drexel Student Advocates for National Reporting System for Antisemitic Incidents

Gisele Kahlon speaks about campus antisemitism in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Olami)

A group of Jewish university students went to Washington, D.C., on March 19 to join U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) in calling for the Office of Civil Rights to implement a national reporting system for antisemitic incidents.

It was a response “to the failure of universities to protect Jewish students or respond appropriately to reports of harassment and violence on campus,” according to an email from a public relations firm.

A Jewish student from Drexel University, Gisele Kahlon, joined Mace and spoke alongside the Republican congresswoman at a press conference. Kahlon’s fellow Jewish students stood behind her.

“To feel safe is not a privilege,” she said into a microphone. “But rather, it is a right. It is our right as American Jews.”

Kahlon went to D.C. as part of the advocacy organization Olami’s #zerotolerance campaign for antisemitism. The group, which is now active on more than 100 U.S. campuses, including Drexel, “seeks a culture shift on campuses to zero tolerance for antisemitism,” according to a news release. Kahlon connected with Olami at Drexel and joined Mace as part of a 25-student delegation.

The Drexel junior has been active with Drexel’s Chabad house and brought a Students Supporting Israel chapter to the school in 2021. The 22-year-old grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, attended the Sephardi Orthodox Beit Harambam Congregation and graduated from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in 2020.

After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Kahlon stood up for the Jewish state in a group chat with other residential advisers on campus. She was “met with backlash,” according to the news release.

“Since then, I’ve been seen as one thing and one thing only in their eyes: a Jew,” she said in her speech. “I am not safe on campus.”

Kahlon was not the only victim at Drexel. She said she also knew a girl who was openly Jewish who had her dormitory door burned. She also has a friend who was walking home from Shabbat dinner wearing a kippah when he was hit in the face. The assailant shouted, “F the Jews,” according to Kahlon.

“All the instances that occurred created an environment on campus where antisemitism became the new norm,” Kahlon said. “It became something that was tolerated.”

Jewish students took to Washington, D.C., to advocate for a national reporting system for antisemitic incidents. (Courtesy of Olami)

From Oct. 7 to early February, the number of antisemitic incidents on U.S. campuses increased by 700% compared to the same period a year ago, according to Adam Lehman, the president and CEO of Hillel International. Drexel is one of several Philadelphia-area schools to face a federal investigation from the Department of Education into alleged antisemitism.

“By having this reporting system, it would have created a supportive environment where me and my friends don’t have to worry about feeling safe when we decide to wear our Magen David,” Kahlon said. “It would hold people accountable. It would hold universities accountable.”

Kahlon was told in her group chat that if she wanted to be politically correct, she shouldn’t call Hamas terrorists.

“I felt unsafe at first. It’s a resident advisers’ group chat. Everyone knows what building I’m in,” she said. “I work with another RA who won’t speak to me since then. I lock the door every night I get home.”

“At some point, I think I took that fear and said, ‘I’m a Jew.’ For sure there are times when I tuck in my Magen David,” she continued. “But for the most part, I think it’s fueled me to show how proud I am and to continue advocating.”

“If I don’t, who will?” she asked. “I’m one of two openly Jewish RAs out of like hundreds.”

At the beginning of the spring semester, Rabbi David Markowitz of Olami visited Drexel. He told Kahlon he needed 10 student leaders to start a zero-tolerance campaign on campus. Kahlon agreed to become one.

Now, she wants to follow up with other representatives and senators to see what the next steps might be for establishing a national reporting system. She also wants to continue planning Olami events on campus that will “engage the Drexel community about Judaism in a positive light,” she said.

The junior mentioned a possible event for Israeli Independence Day in May.

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