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Antisemitic Graffiti Found at Jesuit College in Philadelphia

Antisemitic graffiti was found in the second floor men’s bathroom of Barbelin Hall on Feb. 3.

A St. Joe’s faculty member notified The Office of Public Safety & Security, according to Arthur Grover, director of Public Safety. The graffiti, which was removed from the bathroom the day it was discovered, promoted propaganda by an American neo-Nazi known for antisemitic and white supremacist views.

Grover said Public Safety notified Student Life, the Office of Community Standards, the Office of Title IX, and Facilities Management. The incident is under investigation, but with limited evidence, Public Safety has been unable to identify a perpetrator, according to Grover.    

Rabbi Alan Iser, visiting professor of theology who teaches courses on the Holocaust, said this graffiti is part of an overall increase in antisemitic incidents across the U.S. 

“It’s part of a general trend in our society of increasing intolerance for people that are the ‘other,’” Alan said. “The massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh a couple years ago, a shooting in a synagogue in San Diego, an attack on a Hanukkah party last year in Monsey, New York. Physical acts of violence against Jews are increasing, as well as verbal attacks.” 

Iser said the groups that were “the core” of the insurrection carried out by former U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 have antisemitic tendencies. These groups, in addition to some government officials, spread antisemitic conspiracy theories that contribute to the national increase in anti-Semitism. 

For Iser, the parallels between current events and historical ones are unsettling.

“The frightening thing to me as somebody who teaches a course on the Holocaust is that some of these things have eerie parallels to the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s before they came to power,” Iser said. “These kinds of conspiracy theories were rampant in Europe and particularly among the German National Socialist Workers’ Party.” 

Philip Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, said finding this graffiti at St. Joe’s is self-referential because it is a Jesuit institution.  “The Jesuits have a particular charism, promoting interreligious mutual enrichment among the different religious traditions, in particular with Judaism because of the very close roots,” Cunningham said. 

Cunningham said St. Joe’s community members can fight antisemitism, and other hateful rhetoric towards minority groups, by taking action in their daily lives. 

“One [action] is responding to negative things when they occur, responding and critiquing casual anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic rhetoric when it happens,” Cunningham said. “Also, taking advantage of the opportunity to really be enriched by the encounter with the other.”

Kirwan-Avila said Campus Ministry is ready to support all students, regardless of religious affiliation, in their faith journey. 

“I really desire for students to be able to practice their faith, whatever that faith is, and not just feel like they’re being tolerated, but celebrated,” Kirwan-Avila said.