Antisemitism watch: What’s going on at the University of Kentucky?

Numerous antisemitic incidents have happened at and near the university in the last 6 months, the most recent this month.
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Several high level antisemitic incidents have occurred at and near the University of Kentucky in the last six months.

The most egregious incident happened in December when police were dispatched to the Chabad House at the university following a report that someone was attacked at a menorah lighting.

The Jewish Student Center at the University of Kentucky in December, 2020. (Courtesy: Rabbi Shlomo Litvin)

According to witnesses someone shouted antisemitic slurs at the event and then tried to run someone over with a car. The victim told police a black SUV pulled up and then started shouting. After words were exchanged the driver allegedly grabbed the victim’s arm and then accelerated away, dragging him for a block. The victim was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The attack was condemned by the state’s governor.

Despite police acknowledging that the driver shouted antisemitic statements they claim that the attack was “more of a road rage incident that escalated.”

“The altercation occurred when the suspect/driver became upset about a car blocking the roadway in front of the Chabad house,” Police Spokeswoman Brenna Angel told the Lexington Herald Leader. “This led to an altercation between the victim and suspect, during which the suspect said an antisemitic slur.”

Police added that it will be up to a judge to determine if a hate crime had occurred. Despite police claiming that they had a suspect in mind the incident is still under investigation.

Also in November, the menorah and sign outside of the Jewish Center on UK’s campus was vandalized. According to the center’s rabbi, Shlomo Litvin, this is the fifth time the sign has been vandalized, he also says that he’s been receiving death threats since August for speaking out against neo-Nazi flyers that were distributed. Neo-Nazis in November also distributed antisemitic flyers around Lexington, home to the university.

Fast forward to April.

A Jewish student at the University of Kentucky submitted to the Instagram account Jewish on Campus an incident that reportedly happened at a fraternity house. According to the student fraternity brothers were greeting each other with Nazi salutes.

“After telling them I was actually Jewish, they continued to do it even more, laughing about it,” the post stated.

The incident was referred to the university’s Office of Student Conduct and a university spokesman confirmed the incident happened to the school’s newspaper.

“I don’t know certainly the motivations behind the students who made the comments and the gestures and everything but I think ignorance certainly plays a large factor,” said Justin Sadle, UK’s director of Jewish Student Life told Kentucky.com. “At times when there’s something that you don’t know, or it was foreign to you or whatever it might be the ridiculing, or making jokes based on the very limited knowledge you have can be an unfortunate response.”

In February Kentucky was the first state to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The document states that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor” could be antisemitic when “taking into account the overall context.”

“I don’t think what we’ve seen here in Lexington is a Kentucky issue, it’s an American, it’s a global issue,” Rabbi Litvin told WKYT after the resolution was passed.

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