(JTA) – The governor of Ohio ordered extra law enforcement patrols around Ohio State University campus last week after a 24-hour period in which two Jewish students were reported assaulted and activists attempted to steal Israeli flags from the campus Hillel.
The heightened tensions at one of the country’s largest universities are the latest example of how activism around Israel has intensified on college campuses amid the country’s ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Donors, Jewish groups and politicians have pushed institutions of higher education to take more forceful action to deter antisemitism and protect Jewish students, as Jews have been threatened or assaulted on campuses including Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Massachusetts.
The assault of the Jewish students occurred early on Friday morning, according to the Columbus Jewish News. Two people leaving a bar engaged in a “verbal altercation” with “two Middle Eastern males” who punched them in the face, Columbus police told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that the suspects fled on foot while the victims took an Uber to the hospital.
The suspects had reportedly uttered the words “K–e Zionist” and asked the victims what their religion was. “Both victims believe this to be a hate crime,” Columbus Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Joe Albert told JTA in a statement. Albert did not indicate whether the police department would be prosecuting it as a hate crime.
Hours earlier, on Thursday, OSU Hillel reported that two females had entered the building and stolen several small Israeli flags. When Hillel staff confronted them, they raced out of the building yelling “F–k you,” “You support genocide” and “Free Palestine,” Columbus police told JTA.
The staff alerted law enforcement and has a video recording of those responsible, OSU Hillel CEO Naomi Lamb said in a statement posted to social media Friday. Lamb added that she would push the school’s administration “to clearly and unequivocally condemn this attack on the center of Jewish life at OSU.”
“We continue to be here for our students, and their physical and emotional safety remains top priority,” she said.
Lamb did not immediately return JTA requests for comment.
In an email to the campus community later on Friday, acting OSU President Peter Mohler condemned both incidents. Mohler wrote that they “directly targeted our Jewish community” and indicated the university would be treating them as hate crimes.
“I want to be direct and clear — the university has no tolerance for acts of hatred or violence. Antisemitism is despicable and has no place in our community,” Mohler wrote. “The university will pursue all action possible against anyone committing hate crimes on or near our campus.”
Ohio GOP Governor Mike DeWine said in his own statement about the incidents that he was ordering the extra police patrols to campus.
“Two antisemitic incidents have occurred in the past 24 hours against Ohio State students,” he said in the statement. “We will not tolerate hate and violence on our college campuses or anywhere in Ohio. These are despicable acts, and as Governor, I will ensure that the State continues our efforts to protect all Ohio students.”
OSU was also the site of recent protests, both in-person and online, over a campus art museum’s handling of an ongoing exhibit showcasing the work of a Palestinian artist who appeared to celebrate Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.
The museum recently announced it would leave up the exhibit by Jumana Manna, despite calls from some Jewish artists to take it down. But the museum canceled a planned panel discussion featuring Manna, which prompted protests by pro-Palestinian students and faculty. Like the building housing OSU Hillel, the museum is funded by Les Wexner, a major Jewish philanthropist from the Columbus area.
UPDATE (11/16/23): Columbus police have indicated that the activists who attempted to steal Israeli flags from the campus Hillel were not OSU students. This story has been updated to reflect that.