College Students Get App To Combat Anti-Semitism
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College Students Get App To Combat Anti-Semitism

Simon Wiesenthal Center launches CombatHateU to encourage immediate reporting of anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Early Sunday morning, just hours after the end of Yom Kippur, the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) at Atlanta’s Emory University was spray-painted with swastikas and offensive graffiti. The Anti-Defamation League immediately released a statement calling the incident “despicable and cowardly.”

“It is important that the Emory police are investigating this matter and will pursue this to the full extent of the law,” the statement read.

Though immediately condemned by Jewish organizations and university staff, the incident didn’t take place in a vacuum. The Emory attack is just one in a growing number of incidents targeting Jewish students that have taken place on college campuses around the U.S. in recent months. Just last week fliers, which appeared around the University of California, Santa Barbara campus declared that “9/11 Was an Outside Job,” with a large blue Star of David.

In an attempt to arm students with high-tech tools to fight anti-Semitism on campus, the Simon Wiesenthal Center this week unveiled its new mobile app, CombatHateU. The group’s leaders were joined by AEPi international fraternity leaders Tuesday in Midtown to announce the launch of the app, which will give college students a way to immediately report incidents of anti-Semitism on campus. The app is the third in a series of digital anti-hate initiatives developed by the Wiesenthal Center’s Digital Terrorism and Hate Project; the previous two have focused on reporting and monitoring anti-Semitic incidents online.

At the launch, representatives from the Wiesenthal Center also noted recent anti-Israel incidents, including at Ohio University last month, when Student Senate president Megan Marzec doused herself in fake blood on video while urging students to boycott Israel (the video was intended to parody the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge). Mock eviction notices were also slipped under the dorm-room doors of Jewish students at New York University and University of Michigan in recent months. According to the Wiesenthal spokesperson, anti-Israel incidents can also be reported through the app.

Asked why anti-Israel incidents were included with examples of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Steven Burg, Eastern region director for the Wiesenthal Center, said, “A lot, though not all, of anti-Israel incidents involve elements of anti-Semitism. We’re encouraging students to report anything that concerns them, so that we can get an idea of what’s really going on.”

Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, added that criticism of Israel is not included in the “concerning” category unless the incident also includes anti-Semitic elements.

At Tuesday’s press conference, at the Museum of Tolerance on East 42nd Street, Rick Eaton, senior researcher for the Wiesenthal Center, called CombatHateU “straightforward and easy to use.”

“Students will be able to report incidents quickly and anonymously, and our team with respond with the best practices in defeating these attacks.”

The app, which can be downloaded for free on any smartphone, provides a form through which students can describe the incident and upload videos and photos. The reports will be reviewed by Eaton or Aron Hier, director of campus outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. If the incident requires further action, regional offices will be notified.

Alison Pure-Slovin, Midwest region director for the Wiesenthal Center, followed a similar protocol in response to the incident at Emory University. After finding out about it, she was able to immediately reach out to the university’s administration. Emory President Jim Wagner responded with a letter decrying the behavior as “unacceptable” and “an offense to the entire university.”

“The ability to respond quickly is key when it comes to responding to hate crimes,” said Pure-Slovin. “The app will help us know about something directly after it happens, so we can help students deal effectively.”

Andrew Borans, executive director of AEPi, attended the conference with several AEPi campus leaders. The app, he said, will reach the fraternity’s 10,000 students worldwide.

“Hate speech has no place on college campuses,” he said. “Empowering students — that’s what this app is all about.”

hannah@jewishweek.org

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