The victim is very involved in Jewish life on campus, according to local sources.
A Jewish student at Drexel University discovered a swastika and the word “Jew” written near an Israeli flag displayed outside his dorm room last week.
Drexel police were immediately contacted, according to statements from the school that also said the perpetrator has been identified and the school is investigating to determine what actions or sanctions are appropriate.
“I was deeply distressed to learn of an incident that occurred in one of our residence halls, in which a student was targeted on the basis of religion with the posting of a hate symbol,” Drexel president John Fry said in a statement to the Drexel community after the student found the vandalism on May 12. “Whether this malicious act was a hate crime or just blatant ignorance, it is unacceptable and incompatible with the ethos of our University.”
Neither the victim nor the perpetrator’s name has been released.
The victim “was heavily involved in Jewish life on campus,” according to Rabbi Howard Alpert, Hillel of Greater Philadelphia’s CEO. “The student is someone who is quite open both in the pride he takes in being part of a Jewish community and in his support for Israel.”
The two students knew each other, and the victim viewed it as a “personal affront, not as an anti-Semitic attack,” Alpert said. Rabbi Isabel de Koninck, the executive director of the Drexel Hillel, also said the vandalism was aimed to provoke the student and was not related to larger issues related to Israel.
The incident comes amid increased concern about anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on U.S. college campuses.
Several hundred people attended a program on May 14 at Congregation Or Ami, a Reform synagogue in Lafayette Hill, titled, “The New Face of Anti-Semitism on U.S. Campuses.”
The program featured a film on the subject and a panel discussion with Jewish student leaders and leaders of organizations such as Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League.
The incident at Drexel did not come up during the event, said Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director of the ADL in Philadelphia, who was on the panel.
“The vast majority of Jewish students who are on campus today have normal lives where they are comfortable with themselves and their Jewish identities,” said Baron-Baer. “The vast majority of Jewish students do not fear throughout their college experience, but something’s changing.”
A recent ADL analysis found that there has been a significant increase in the amount of anti-Israel activity — which can sometimes turn into anti-Semitism — on campus in recent years, according to Baron-Baer.
The organization tracked 517 anti-Israel activities that had taken place or had been scheduled to take place this academic year, compared to 375 during the 2013-2014 academic year. But she also added that anti-Semitic attacks on campus still only make up 5 percent of the total found in the organization’s annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents.
One of those incidents occurred at the start of the school year last August at Temple University. A student standing near a Students for Justice in Palestine table attacked a Jewish student who had been a fellow with the pro-Israel organization, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
The student was charged with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. The Philadelphia district attorney’s office entered an agreement with the victim and the assailant to have the latter issue written and in-person apologies to the victim. He also completed a community service program, and the charges against him were then dismissed, according to his attorney.
Despite the increased attention to these issues, Alpert said, he does not see a trend locally. He added that incidents like the ones at Temple and Drexel need to be taken seriously.
“Each incident, no matter how isolated it might seem, has an impact. It’s harmful both to the student involved, to the student’s circle of friends and to the fabric of the Jewish student community,” he said.
Jewish student life at Drexel has increased significantly in the last decade, and the school has been raising money for a new Center for Jewish Life that could open in 2016, Alpert said.
The school will discuss the “issues raised by this incident” as part of programming on diversity already announced for the coming academic year, Fry said in a statement.