Lizzy McNeill graduated from Temple University in 2017 and, during her time there, she felt “a lot of hostility toward Israel-supporting students” from her peers, she said.
She sensed that she couldn’t use the word Zionist or wear her Israel Defense Forces patch on her backpack without hearing antisemitic comments. Pro-Palestine activists would outright tell her that she didn’t deserve an opinion due to her “white privilege.”
The experience motivated McNeill, whose mother is Jewish, to make aliyah and join the IDF. After two years of service, she’s back in the United States for at least part of the year, and she’s trying to get her old school to work with her on issues of antisemitism on campus.
McNeill is a project manager for the nonprofit Zachor Legal Institute, a Delaware-based organization serving as a legal resource for Jewish students dealing with such issues. The Temple alum is attempting to develop relationships with Jewish leaders and students on Temple’s campus and other area campuses.
But so far, the attempt is just that. The institute has worked with students at other schools, but not yet in the Philadelphia region.
“We’re continuing to reach out to students,” McNeill said. “We’re always a resource. We’re always available.”
Campus antisemitism is a prominent issue. In October, the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International released a report that said one in three Jewish college students experienced antisemitism in the past year.
And in January, a story broke about a Temple rower whose roommate allegedly sent her a screenshot of a Snapchat saying, “I hate Jews.” The student, Sasha Westrick, transferred from Temple after finding the university’s response, of changing her room and finding her roommate guilty, to be both slow and insubstantial. The school also did not reveal the roommate’s punishment to Westrick and her mother.
McNeill spoke with Westrick’s mother after the incident, and it motivated her to try and work with her old school.
“It’s the kind of thing that happened when I was there,” she said. “We would love to work with Temple. That’s the goal. I’m sure this isn’t one girl feeling one thing.”
Founded and operated by Montana-based lawyer Marc Greendorfer, the institute is “a legal think tank and advocacy organization” “taking the lead in the legal battle against antisemitism and the de-legitimization of Israel, including ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,’” according to its website.
McNeill said the organization has worked with students at University of California, Los Angeles, University of Southern California and Duke University, among other schools.
One Duke student, now an intern with Zachor, had trouble establishing a pro-Israel group on campus this past school year. The university let him establish a group that “doesn’t have any rights on campus,” as McNeill explained it.
A registered student organization at Duke, according to Greendorfer, can use privileges like meeting in university buildings. This student’s group couldn’t do that.
“Sometimes a student will see something and won’t know what to do,” McNeill said.
That’s where Zachor comes in. McNeill is available to help like a friend would be: via text, phone call and email at any time.
She is the institute’s only full-time employee; even Greendorfer works a day job as a lawyer and calls the nonprofit work his passion.
Earlier in April, McNeill talked to a student whose mezuzah kept getting ripped down. A police officer told him to just take it off his door. But the student found that to be a violation of his religious freedom. So, he talked to McNeill, who told him to post a message on his door explaining what a mezuzah is.
“Even if we’re just an ear for the students, I think that’s something,” the Temple alum said.
But Zachor can also be more than just an ear, according to Greendorfer. His legal expertise can help inform them of their rights, he said.
“A lot of the students don’t know their rights; they don’t know where to go; they don’t realize that what they’re experiencing is a violation of anti-discrimination law,” the lawyer added. “We’re willing to walk through things, take our time and inform you.”
Zachor gets its funding from pro-Israel foundations and individuals, according to Greendorfer, and it has enough money to offer its services for free. The lawyer and project manager are hoping that Jewish students at the Philly schools they’ve contacted, like the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University in addition to Temple, will soon take it up on the offer.
“We do see a lot of issues there. But we’re not getting a response,” Greendorfer said. “It’s up to their leaders, the Jewish educators on campus to also be responsive and proactive in this fight against antisemitism and BDS.” JE