By Sharon Wisch-Ray
Sydney Horowitz was walking home from a friend’s dance program Friday evening when something out of place stopped her in her tracks. A poster of a person in a checkered keffiyah that said “Zionists F**K OFF” at the top and “Save Sheik Jarrah, Free Palestine” at the bottom was attached to the side of a newsstand in the middle of campus.
“I was at a loss for words. My heart kind of sank a little bit. Yeah. And I was like, Oh, my God. This sign is right here,” said Horowitz.
A Dallas native and 2021 graduate of Greenhill, Horowitz is the daughter of Angela Horowitz French and Gary Horowitz. The sophomore communications major said she chose George Washington University (GW), which has a Jewish population of a little over 25%, because it had everything she was looking for in a school: not too big, not too small and the perfect blend of city and campus life with stellar academic opportunities.
Horowitz said after coming across the poster, she immediately felt uneasy and wondered who might be watching. Her fear and anxiety heightened, she removed her Star of David necklace and slipped it into her pocket.
She had heard of the leaflets and posters that had been popping up around campus and of the protest outside the GW Hillel building during a Sukkot program, Oct. 11; she hadn’t encountered the hate speech herself.
“Seeing that firsthand, I was just like really taken aback and really scared,” she said.
When she returned back to her apartment, she said that she was unsettled and wondered if she should put her Star of David back on. She elected to wear a Shema necklace that she often alternates with her Star of David. Touching the watchwords of the Jewish people brought her some comfort as she processed what she’d just witnessed.
She knew she had to do something. Within the hour, she had written a detailed email to GW’s vice president, chief of staff and secretary of the University, Aristide J. Collins, Jr., explaining what she’d seen and how it made her feel, along with a photo of the poster. She noted that there have been numerous instances of antisemitism on the GW campus tracked by the national organization Jewish on Campus that have not been reported or publicized by the university.
Horowitz wrote, “If student safety is so important to GW’s mission, then how come these incidents go unnoticed? It saddens me that I am questioning my enrollment as a student because I do love GW, I love my classes, the faculty, and my friends. I am an upstander and I ask that GW be an upstander too, and denounce out loud, in public, and in writing, that this form of antisemitism and hatred will not be tolerated.”
Horowitz received a response from Collins on Sunday.
“First, I am sorry to hear about the harm you are feeling, and I appreciate you sharing your concerns with me.
“The entire leadership of the university care deeply about our students’ experiences and believe all members of the GW community should feel included, welcome, and live without fear, particularly when practicing your faith. Our team will ensure the poster you saw is removed.
“The President and university leadership have condemned such hateful acts of antisemitism, and they will not be tolerated on our campuses. I understand you noted concerns about other incidents of antisemitism; that is unacceptable.
“There are resources available to support you and all of our students and members of the GW community. I am copying Vice Provost and Dean of Students, Colette Coleman and Vice Provost for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement, Caroline Laguerre Brown, and Police Chief James Tate, all of whom can provide more information and support.
“We remain committed to identifying additional ways to foster an inclusive community. There are many efforts underway to support our Jewish community at GW, including a close collaboration with GW Hillel, and I am grateful to hear you are involved with this and other important organizations on campus,” Collins wrote.
Horowitz said that, at first, she was relieved her email was acknowledged quickly, but she wishes the GW administration would take a stronger stand in condemning the antisemitic rhetoric, noting that she has seen only one statement from the school’s president, Mark Wrighton, since the posters began popping up around campus.
“I just think there’s some greater force out there or something that can be done,” Horowitz said.
Horowitz said she’s always been careful and aware of her surroundings, but this most recent experience has heightened her awareness.
“I’m a proud Jew; I just have to be careful what I say who I say it to, especially in a classroom environment in a lecture hall, when it’s a lot of students and it’s controversial kinds of topics,” she said.
She added that today’s divisive environment is a difficult one to live in for all people.
“The Jewish community is not the only community being targeted in this world. There are all kinds of bigotry and hatred towards all kinds of people. It’s so devastating that this is the world that we live in.
“What is really important for me is like what they say on the airlines, ‘to put your own mask on first and then help those around you.’ My Jewish community comes first. No hatred of any kind should be condoned, but you really have to take care of yourself and your community,” she concluded.