Knapp responds to concerned Jewish advocacy groups

Updated: March 8, 2015 at 11:02 a.m.

University President Steven Knapp responded to nearly 20 national human rights organizations that asked┬áhim to issue a formal apology to Jewish community members still concerned about GW’s response to three swastikas drawn on walls in International House.

Knapp said in his letter that University officials immediately “took steps to remove [the swastikas], communicate with resident students and their parents, and launch an investigation that is still very active.”

He added that University Police Department officers receive anti-bias training, and that senior officials involved with the ongoing investigation are responsible for GW’s “diverse and inclusive campus environment.”

One male suspect has been identified in the case, Knapp said in the letter. That GW student is awaiting disciplinary action.

Jewish campus figures like GW Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth and Walter Reich, the former director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, have given the University advice and assistance throughout the investigation, Knapp said.

“We continue to investigate, educate and communicate,” the letter read. “As we do so, we are fully aware that, since its adoption nearly a century ago as the symbol of the Nazi Party, the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning, and therefore that its appearance on our campus is a very disturbing occurrence.”

The AMCHA Initiative, the Jewish student advocacy group that was backed by nearly 20 other organizations, responded to Knapp on Friday at about noon.

The organizations’ concerns “have not yet been fully addressed” by Knapp’s response, the letter read.

The letter listed three steps that Knapp should take “to deter future acts of anti-Jewish bigotry and help protect Jewish students and all students on [GW’s] campus.”

First, the letter said the University should make a public statement to acknowledge the anti-Semitic nature of swastikas. The letter added that the University should educate staff, especially campus police, “in identifying antisemitism and antisemitic hate crimes.”

The organizations also want to ensure that the University will investigate the vandalism case as a hate crime, and it will treat any future incidents that are similar as hate crimes as well, the letter read. University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email last week that GW is investigating the case as just an incident of vandalism because “there is no indication at this time that specific individuals were targeted.”

“The swastikas found inside the International House were particularly upsetting to Jewish students on your campus, who felt targeted for hatred and discrimination,” the organizations’ letter read.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the AMCHA Initiative’s message called for GW to educate students and faculty “in identifying antisemitism.” The letter actually called for staff to receive the education. We regret this error.

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