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Several American Universities Receive Sinister Threats against Jewish Students

Members of the Princeton University community received a TigerAlert on Friday, Feb. 23 about an email sent to multiple community members containing threats against the Jewish community on campus. According to the alert, members of other U.S. university communities received identical emailed threats.

According to the alert, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) “assessed the credibility of the threat as low.”

“DPS is continuing its investigation with local, state, and federal authorities and is increasing patrols on campus,” the message continued.

The University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University also received violent messages targeting Jewish community members on Friday.

The Penn Division of Public Safety described the threat as using “hateful rhetoric based on religion and political affiliation.”

The Dartmouth, which obtained the email, specified that the email was “threatening violence against Jewish students and professors on campus.”

The threat to Cornell contained “hateful, incendiary language” and “threat[ening] violence,” according to Cornell Associate Vice President for Public Safety David Honan.

In an email to The Daily Princetonian, University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss confirmed that the incident “remains under investigation.”

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Center for Jewish Life (CJL) Executive Director and Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 said that the threat was sent “to a random assortment of people at Princeton.” He reported that some recipients no longer work at the University.

“Somebody got a hold of some kind of list somewhere and sent it – that’s the impression that I have and it was a letter threatening the Jewish community on campus. I spoke to campus security even before the TigerAlert came out, and they assured me immediately that this is not a credible threat, because the same letter went to other universities as well,” Steinlauf said.

In an emailed statement to the ‘Prince,’ Rabbi Eitan Webb, co-founder of the Chabad House and a Princeton University Jewish Chaplain, wrote, “The Department of Public Safety and the Princeton Police Department are both a pleasure to work with and I cannot thank them enough for their attentiveness. Princeton’s administration deserves a shout-out here too. They take these threats seriously, and they are responding. I am grateful for that.” 

Steinlauf also praised the DPS’s response to the threat, and said, “The Department of Public Safety works incredibly closely with the CJL, particularly after October 7. We are in constant touch with them.”

“They in turn have a strong relationship with local law enforcement authorities, if God forbid anything should happen. So there is a strong concerted effort to keep our students safe,” he added.

Both Steinlauf and Webb attributed the threat in part to the rising antisemitism on college campuses and in the United States as a whole, with Webb writing, “It is certainly true that the demonization of Jews and of Israel has an effect. When people preach hatred, threats of violence increase.”

Steinlauf said, “What that threatening email does represent is the very measurable increase in antisemitism across the country and around the world right now. And that’s a very serious concern.”

Steinlauf also emphasized the importance of education in combating antisemitism. 

“Education is the most important thing. We are a university and the more people understand … what antisemitism is and where it comes from and how to recognize it, it can only create conditions for better dialogue across the differences and political … divides that we have on our campus,” he said.

Steinlauf pointed to the various educational workshops hosted by the CJL about antisemitism. These workshops are open to faculty, students, and staff, and the CJL is now working with the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) to host another session specifically for students.

“From our end, we’re providing information on antisemitism. People need to be educated about Islamophobia, and all other kinds of bigotry and hatred that can arise. We’re very fortunate that Princeton University is not as bad as other campuses in terms of some threats and actual violence that do happen on other campuses. And we’re all working very hard to keep it that way,” Steinlauf added.

Webb and Steinlauf both emphasized the importance of positivity and Jewish celebration on campus.  

“I want to remind the entire Princeton community that positive can be as infectious as negative. If one person can set an entire campus on edge, then one person can also set it right,” Webb wrote. “In Hasidic parlance this is called shtus dikedusha – holy folly. There are times to be overwhelmingly positive, far out of balance with what is expected, and this is one of those times,” he said.

Webb added that while hatred has an effect, “negativity does not last. Positivity does.” 

“We will protect ourselves when we need to and we will be vigilant, but most of all, we will educate, and we will celebrate,” he wrote.

Steinlauf said that students were “entirely unfazed” by the TigerAlert.

“We had a tremendously well-attended Friday night service, as we always do. We honored Dean Dolan and her wife, Professor Stacy Wolf. It was a send-off Shabbat, because Dean Dolan will be retiring,” he said.

“It was a beautiful and vibrant Shabbat even with the TigerAlert … We were unfazed and all too happy to celebrate Jewish life and the people who we honor in the Jewish community at Shabbat. It didn’t affect us.”

https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2024/02/princeton-news-stlife-violent-threat-email-jewish-community-low-credibility