When Koral Zaarur saw the pictures circulating on Twitter and Instagram, she thought they were from another campus or somewhere else in Arizona. But she quickly realized that the anti-Semitic flyers she was seeing weren’t at just any university campus: they were in Tempe, on her campus at Arizona State University.
Her first thought was “who would do something like that?”
“It was weird, you kind of believe it at first,” said Zaarur, a sophomore at ASU majoring in business and president of Students Supporting Israel. “But it was really scary, too, knowing that there’s people that either are on my campus or live around my campus that want to see me die because of my own religion.”
Anti-Semitic flyers reading “Hitler was right” and “unity of our blood,” and displaying images of Adolph Hitler and swastikas were posted on ASU’s campus on Aug. 30.
The posters included the name “Folksfront” and a URL for the same neo-Nazi group. The Folksfront website also claims credit for the hanging of a white supremacist banner in Queen Creek Aug. 1.
“It’s very disturbing to see neo-Nazis and white supremacists continue to use college campuses as recruiting grounds in order to attract young people to their violent, hateful movements,” said Tammy Gillies, the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona’s interim regional director, via text. “We thank President Crow and his team for working with ADL on this and for their continued efforts to create a safe campus climate for all students.”
The same symbols, name and URL were found on posters at the ASU Tempe campus in November 2019.
“I think it’s hard to see the same thing happen again,” said Debbie Yunker Kail, executive director of Hillel at ASU. “Even though we know it’s people coming from off campus, it feels really bad to know our campus is being targeted by anyone who harbors such hate.”
Yunker Kail said that the university administration responded quickly to reports from Hillel, “right up to President Crow,” and ASU said in a statement that police removed the posters as soon as they were reported on Aug. 30.
“Ensuring the safety and security of our students is a top priority, and the university undertakes extensive efforts to ensure student safety is not compromised,” the statement read. “ASU is a community that values diversity, tolerance, respect and inclusion. We support open debate and honest disagreements and we reject and will not accept anti-Semitism or hateful rhetoric of any kind. ASU is investigating this incident.”
But as pictures of the flyers circulated on social media, Zaarur said that the university’s response didn’t go far enough.
“I think I saw them respond on Instagram from the ASU account saying that it wasn’t an affiliate of the university and it doesn’t represent the university’s beliefs. But that’s not enough. You should be going above and beyond to make sure that your Jewish students on campus feel safe,” Zaarur said. “When something like this happens that’s targeted toward the Jewish community, you know you have a Jewish community on campus. You should be putting out a statement, not just commenting on Instagram, making sure that we know that we’re welcomed at the university and that this behavior is not tolerated.”
The anti-Semitic messages that posters like these send can be especially triggering for students who are descendants of Holocaust survivors, Yunker Kail said, and she hopes that people understand the impact that hateful imagery like this has on Jewish students.
“My concern is that people might think this is just a couple flyers,” Yunker Kail said. “I want ASU students to understand how these images can be triggering for Jewish students.”
Hillel held open forums for students to discuss the flyers, and students are working through what happened and where they want to go from here.
“It’s coming up quite a bit,” Yunker Kail said. “It’s kind of just the topic of the week. Students are still discussing what they want to do.”
Chabad at ASU also responded to the flyers by reaching out to students and encouraging them to speak up, take action and bring light to the community with good deeds. On Sept. 2, Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel shared a follow-up post on social media to thank everyone who reached out.
“I want to take a moment to thank everyone who reached out in response to the recent anti-Jewish flyers. We appreciate it greatly,” he said. “I want to reiterate something important: ASU is a safe place where Jewish students are thank G-d safe and secure … What happened on Sunday with the flyers on campus is concerning but that’s not the general environment felt at ASU.” He urged students to reach out to him directly with any concerns.
As students continue to process what happened and decide their next steps,
Yunker Kail wants them to know that they’re not alone.
“There’s a lot going on in the world, and it’s so challenging for so many reasons,” she said. “I want students to know that when something like this happens, any response, any feelings they have — numb, angry, intimidated — those are all normal, and we’re here for the long haul to help them articulate where they’re at and find their place in the ASU community.”
For Zaarur, the fact that people posted anti-Semitic flyers on campus wasn’t all that surprising, given how often she sees anti-Semitism online, in the news and on other campuses across the country.
“The sad reality is that people weren’t that shocked,” Zaarur said. “A lot of us were really desensitized to it because we were like, this happens all the time, we see this in the media. We don’t see it on our campus, but it’s on our Instagram feeds, it’s on our Twitter.”
After the flyers were found, Zaarur posted a poll to the SSI Instagram account asking Jewish students if they felt safe on campus. 25 out of 39 people, or 64% of respondents, said they didn’t.
Zaarur and her friends find themselves worrying that they’ll be recognized as Jewish on campus.
“It’s also one of those things where we’ll be walking on campus and we’ll always have our Star of David necklaces tucked into our shirts,” Zaarur said. “Now, especially, when you can go back on campus, it’s one of those things where you consider even wearing it because you don’t want to get attacked. I don’t want people to look at it and automatically look at me and be like, ‘Oh, another Jew.’”
When similar flyers were discovered last year, the ASU Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution supporting Jewish students, and Yunker Kail said that that motion meant a lot to the Jewish community on campus.
“We really appreciate when that happened,” Yunker Kail said. “As much as it is really upsetting to see these flyers, I don’t think that they reflect the overall attitude of students, of the administration or of the ASU community.”
Zaarur and SSI want to see the issue brought before USG again, and she plans to meet with student government representatives this week to start drafting a bill.
“We’re going to meet with our student government and pass some sort of proposal or bill that is going to prohibit things like that, because that is hate speech,” Zaarur said. “Posting a picture anywhere on campus of Hitler with the context of hating Jewish people, that’s hate speech. The picture of the guy breaking the Magen David in half, that’s hate speech too. So those kinds of things shouldn’t be allowed in, the same way that hate speech towards other minority groups aren’t allowed.” JN