Cornell University sent campus police to its Jewish center after antisemitic “threats of violence” appeared online over the weekend, the latest in a series of concerning incidents on college campuses across the U.S. since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
“Earlier today, a series of horrendous, antisemitic messages threatening violence to our Jewish community and specifically naming 104 West — the home of the Center for Jewish Living — was posted on a website unaffiliated with Cornell,” Martha E. Pollack, the president of the Ithaca, New York, university, said in a statement Sunday.
Law enforcement was notified and campus police referred the case to the FBI as a potential hate crime, she added.
“We will not tolerate antisemitism at Cornell,” Pollack said, warning those who commit such threats will be “punished to the full extent of the law.”
University police issued a community threat crime alert Sunday night saying the department is “investigating posts located on a website that contain threats of violence directed at religious groups across the campus.”
“Evidence suggests the targeted locations were intentionally selected because of the perpetrator’s bias,” police said, without providing details of the nature of the threats.
The threats come at a time of heightened tensions on college campuses across the U.S. over the Israel-Hamas war.
Students affiliated with the group Students for Justice in Palestine projected slogans critical of the Israeli government on the wall of a library at George Washington University, including “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now.” The images circulated widely on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Columbia University last week postponed a major fundraising drive amid intense debates on campus, where hundreds of people massed for competing pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations after the Hamas attack.
Russell Rickford, an associate professor in Cornell’s history department, sparked controversy following a pro-Palestinian rally on Oct. 15, according to The Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper. At the rally, Rickford said he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ attack on Israel.
While he condemned violence and the targeting of civilians, he added there were many Gazans and Palestinians “who were able to breathe, they were able to breathe for the first time in years. It was exhilarating. It was energizing. And if they weren’t exhilarated by this challenge to the monopoly of violence, by this shifting of the balance of power, then they would not be human. I was exhilarated.”
Rickford later apologized for “the horrible choice of words that I used in a portion of a speech that was intended to stress grassroots African American, Jewish and Palestinian traditions of resistance to oppression.”
“As I said in the speech, I abhor violence and the violent targeting of civilians. I am sorry for the pain that my reckless remarks have caused my family, my students, my colleagues and many others in this time of suffering,” he said to the paper.
In a series of posts Sunday on X, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that she condemned the “disgusting & hateful posts on a message board about Jewish @Cornell students.”
While it is not clear if the threats were “credible,” the governor said the New York State Police is involved.
Hochul added that she spoke to leaders from public and private universities across the state Sunday night to stress that state police and government will “support their efforts to keep their students and campus communities safe.”
“I also reiterated our strong belief in free speech and the right to peaceful assembly, but made clear that we will have zero tolerance for acts of violence or those who intimidate and harass others through words or actions,” Hochul said.
She met with students at Cornell on Monday, saying in a post on X that they “are showing incredible strength and unity in response to vile antisemitic threats.”
Also on Monday, the Biden administration said it was unveiling new actions to combat antisemitism on college campuses following an “alarming” uptick in incidents since the war began.