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N.Y. university hit by wave of swastikas


NEW YORK, April 1 (JTA) — Several months after a spate of anti- Semitic vandalism, Binghamton University in upstate New York has been hit again, this time with 23 swastikas in one day.

A state university, Binghamton has an estimated Jewish body of 3,000 to 4,000 students.

Scrawled with a felt-tip marker, the swastikas were found March 28 on various buildings, including the student union.

University officials alerted the FBI and local police to the new round of graffiti, and reported that university police believe the vandalism is the work of one individual. The swastikas were removed within hours.

In a public statement the day the swastikas were found, Binghamton’s president, Lois DeFleur, denounced the vandalism and reiterated the offer of a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the perpetrator.

In an official statement, Richard Joel, the president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, described the pattern of anti-Semitic incidents at Binghamton as “deeply disturbing.”

Joel praised the university for acting “swiftly at every level to confront this act of hatred.”

Beginning in early September and continuing throughout the fall semester, swastikas appeared in several dormitories. In October, two mezuzahs were stolen from outside student dorm rooms.

In addition, anti-Israel activism flared this fall at Binghamton as violence broke out in the Middle East.

That included graffiti equating Israel’s then-prime minister, Ehud Barak, with Adolf Hitler, said Jeffrey Ross, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of campus/higher education affairs.

Anti-Israel demonstrations — many with anti-Semitic overtones — have taken place this year on campuses throughout North America, but the swastika outbreak is unique to Binghamton, Ross said.

Binghamton is “the swastika capital of higher education at the moment,” he said.

Ross said the vandalism is “horrifying and troubling,” but also has “brought the campus together in common purpose.”

Shoshana Bruckheimer, co-president of Hillel: The Jewish Student Union, said that many Binghamton students unfortunately had grown “used to” the swastikas after last fall’s vandalism.

However, the latest incident was “more shocking” than the previous ones because so many swastikas appeared at once, Bruckheimer said.

“I don’t understand why this is happening,” she said. “The person doing it, if he’s trying to get a rise out of us, he got a rise, but he didn’t get us to fear being Jewish.”

Hillel and the university have held several meetings in response to the ongoing vandalism, including two last week. Hillel also has continued with regularly-scheduled activities, such as holiday celebrations.

Last fall’s vandalism spurred Hillel to sponsor a program commemorating Kristallnacht, the November 1938 anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria that heralded the Holocaust.

Ironically, the recent vandalism is leading to stronger relations between Hillel and the university’s other cultural and ethnic groups, Bruckheimer said. She noted that several presidents of other groups attended last week’s meetings responding to the swastikas.

Binghamton’s Jewish student organization — unlike those at most comparable-sized universities — is entirely student-run. However, efforts are underway to raise money from New York-area philanthropists and Jewish federations to fund a Hillel staff person.

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