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Proliferation of antisemitism draws Santa Barbara’s Jewish community closer together

UCSB student leader urges people to show up when Jews tell them “something is antisemitic, even if you don’t understand, or may disagree.”

Last Sunday, more than 200 people gathered in Santa Barbara, Calif., for a “Walk to Remember” commemorating Holocaust victims and to address the importance of condemning antisemitism. Source: Courtesy of Santa Barbara Hillel.
Last Sunday, more than 200 people gathered in Santa Barbara, Calif., for a “Walk to Remember” commemorating Holocaust victims and to address the importance of condemning antisemitism. Source: Courtesy of Santa Barbara Hillel.

On a windy day last Sunday, more than 200 people gathered in Santa Barbara, Calif., for a “Walk to Remember” commemorating Holocaust victims and to address the importance of condemning antisemitism. That community has seen a fair share of the latter recently.

A Jan. 30 University of California, Santa Barbara class in Israeli politics was moved online after a professor was concerned for student safety following the discovery on a board of antisemitic phrases, including an expletive directed at Israel and “from the river to the sea”—a thinly veiled call to eliminate the Jewish state.

Later that same day, an antisemitic flier was discovered on a bulletin board at the campus’ Jewish Studies office, and on Jan. 31, residents of the nearby Isla Vista, including UCSB students, found hundreds of antisemitic fliers on driveways and yards. Posters were also found plastered on the walls of local businesses.

Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of Santa Barbara Hillel, serving UCSB and Santa Barbara City College, told JNS it has been an “emotionally exhausting week.”

“Jewish students are frustrated but resilient,” he said. “There is power in standing strong with each other, as well as feeling support of the broader community at the march held on Sunday.”

Last Sunday’s event in Santa Barbara, Calif., commemorating Holocaust victims and addressing the importance of condemning antisemitism. Source: Courtesy of Santa Barbara Hillel.

Hillel officials wrote in an email last week that surveillance footage captured someone throwing hate literature at the Hillel building while driving by in a car.

“The conspiracy theories and language are too vile and vulgar to repeat here, and include tropes that associate Jewish people with racism, homophobia, pedophilia as well as the denial of the Holocaust,” they wrote.

Many of the hate-filled leaflets bore the name of virulently anti-Jewish Goyim Defense League, and are similar to those left in towns and cities across the country recently.

Tessa Veksler, a junior at UCSB, where she is a student leader in both the Jewish and broader school communities, was one of the speakers at the “Walk to Remember.”

“The antisemitism on campus is unfortunately nothing new,” Veksler told JNS. She has seen her community’s strength and resilience in the face of hate, but it also scares her.

“It has shown the hatred that can manifest itself even among bright, young students,” she said.

Veksler’s Jewish and non-Jewish friends react very differently to ongoing antisemitism.

“The ugly truth is: People are often willing to turn the other cheek when it comes to the Jewish community,” Veksler said. “We have seen a great turnout from non-Jewish community members recently, but as I have urged in my speech, people need to show up before antisemitism happens.”

Goodman, the Hillel rabbi, said UCSB administrators and law enforcement have been in touch with the Jewish community on campus throughout the incidents and share Jewish concerns.

UCSB’s Chancellor Henry Yang and the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s office issued letters of solidarity with the Jewish community. Police are investigating the situation.

Jewish community members hope that officials will hold someone accountable for the acts, whether via criminal prosecution or at very least, expulsion from UCSB.

Goodman dismisses the view that hate is protected speech. Instead, he sees the material in the USCB classroom as “a targeted attack focused specifically on the professor, that Israeli politics class, and those students, which in no way constitutes protected free speech.”

“That classroom is not a public forum,” he said. “Those not part of the class have no legal right to deface the classroom or create an intimidating teaching and learning environment for the professor or her students.”

Veksler would like to see authorities take a more proactive approach to addressing antisemitism, urging people to stand with the Jewish community.

“Showing up today was important, but I hope it is just the beginning,” she said at Sunday’s event. “Show up for the Jewish community before antisemitism happens. Show up for the Jewish community when they tell you something is antisemitic, even if you don’t understand, or may disagree.”

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