Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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GW Fundraiser in New York Turns Heated Over Campus Antisemitism

The George Washington University held a major fundraiser in New York City last Thursday that “went absolutely off the rails,” according to an attendee, when the school’s president, Ellen Granberg, was confronted by several participants who accused the administration of not doing enough to counter rising antisemitism on campus.

During a question-and-answer session of the reception, held at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, the mood grew tense as Granberg faced a procession of frustrated participants who raised concerns over antisemitic incidents that have increased amid the Israel-Hamas war, according to the attendee, who spoke with Jewish Insider on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.

At one point, a frustrated woman in the audience loudly interrupted Granberg as she was addressing a high-profile incident last month in which student demonstrators projected anti-Israel slogans onto a George Washington University library endowed by a Jewish family.

“You’re not really answering this question,” the woman interjected, according to a video recording of the exchange that was shared with JI. “How is it that GW has created a climate where students feel it is celebratory to celebrate actual terrorism against innocent people?” she said, drawing applause from the crowd.

Seeking to quell the outburst, Granberg, who became president in July, said firmly that she was doing her best to answer the question but was cut off again by the same woman. “Ma’am, you need to let me answer this question,” Granberg reiterated.

“What we see is this is happening at universities across the country,” Granberg continued, free of interruption. “This is not just a GW issue. It is our responsibility, it is my responsibility, to deal with what’s happening at GW, but this is a national problem.”

Dissatisfied with Granberg’s response, the woman eventually stood up and “stormed out of the room” in protest, the attendee said.

The heated moment underscores the raw emotions many Jews feel amid a proliferation of anti-Israel activism on campuses across the country, where student protestors have celebrated or downplayed Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack and used rhetoric that supporters of Israel view as antisemitic.

It also highlights the ongoing frustrations of top donors who have accused officials at several elite universities of failing to forcefully reject criticism of Israel and crack down on anti-Jewish prejudice.

For her part, Granberg has condemned “the celebration of terrorism and attempts to perpetuate rhetoric or imagery that glorifies acts of violence,” as she wrote in a statement released four days after the attack.

Last week, the administration announced that it was suspending Students for Justice in Palestine, which was accused of coordinating the library projection, for at least 90 days, while restricting the group from posting communications on university property through May 20, the end of the school year. 

A student who allegedly tore down posters of hostages held by Hamas displayed inside the school’s Hillel building was also suspended from campus, the university announced earlier this month.

At the donor event last week, which was attended by about 200 people, Granberg shared updates on the university’s efforts to combat antisemitism, noting that the administration has been working with local and federal police to bolster campus security measures, according to the attendee, who also shared notes taken during the meeting.

The university president, however, acknowledged that such work “needs to go deeper,” emphasizing a commitment to expanding “support for religious and fraternal community groups,” training staff and reconciling what she characterized as a “right to free speech with our community values,” according to the notes.

Despite her assurances, a number of parents in attendance still expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s approach. “It is now life or death,” one parent said during the question-and-answer period.

Another parent, meanwhile, raised an objection to paying high tuition rates for her daughter to take classes in the Middle East studies department, accusing its professors of espousing anti-Israel sentiment. The parent asked why the university hadn’t pushed for more diversity of thought in its program.

As the questions on antisemitism continued, the event handlers eventually tried to intercede in an effort to let participants address other subjects, prompting objections from participants who opposed the pivot, the attendee recalled.

Ultimately, Granberg allowed a “previously arranged annual event” to be converted “into a forum that was 90% about antisemitism and the safety of Jewish students on campus,” the attendee told JI. “It was almost like an emergency moment.”

The university did not return a request for comment on Monday.

“I appreciate all of the questions and perspectives that I heard tonight,” Granberg stressed in her remarks at the donor gathering last week. “What I believe in and what I always believe in is the power of universities as convening places where difficult issues get discussed in the open. That’s what I want to see GW do, and that’s what we’re going to be moving toward.”