By Susan Svrluga
A swastika was posted on the bulletin board of a Jewish fraternity in a George Washington University dorm on Monday, leading upset students to immediately report it to police.
The symbol — recognized as an emblem of hate from Nazi Germany — apparently came from an internal source: A member of the fraternity, who is Jewish, admitted that he posted it there. The student said that he brought it back from a spring break trip to India, according to university officials.
Though known in Western cultures as a sign of hatred and anti-semitism since the Nazis co-opted it during the early part of the 20th century, the swastika is an ancient symbol still commonly used — and considered sacred — in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, denoting auspiciousness.
GW’s president, Steven Knapp, wrote in a message to the campus community that “while the student claims his act was not an expression of hatred, the university is referring the matter to the MPD for review by its Hate Crimes Unit.”
On Tuesday, the student was expelled from the fraternity by national leaders of Zeta Beta Tau.
“This type of behavior is unacceptable and is not tolerated by the brothers of this fraternity,” Nick Carr, president of the local chapter, said in a statement. “We are appalled by the actions taken by this undergraduate.”
Hillel Executive Director Yoni Kaiser-Blueth added, “The swastika is a symbol of hate and horror. It has no place here at The George Washington University.”
Last month, many GW students were alarmed when swastikas were written in a dorm on campus which houses a predominantly Jewish sorority.
Some complained that the university’s response was inadequate, and some national groups called on the university’s president to take stronger steps to eliminate hate speech. A letter to Steven Knapp read, in part:
“In the last year, more than 10 college and university campuses around the country have been defaced with swastikas, in each case causing particular distress to Jewish students.
“Therefore, we believe it is imperative for you to take the following steps to deter future acts of anti-Jewish bigotry and help protect Jewish students and all students on your campus:
“Publicly acknowledge that a swastika is an antisemitic symbol associated with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people, and that the swastikas found inside the International House were particularly upsetting to Jewish students on your campus, who felt targeted for hatred and discrimination.”
The letter asked for a public affirmation that the university would investigate this and all similar incidents as hate crimes, and affirm a commitment to educating university staff including police officers to identify antisemitism.
It was signed by AMCHA Initiative; American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists; Americans for Peace and Tolerance; Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law; Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA); David Horowitz Freedom Center; Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET); Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel; Iranian American Jewish Federation; Israeli-American Council (IAC); National Conference on Jewish Affairs; Middle East Political and Information Network (MEPIN); Proclaiming Justice to the Nations; Scholars for Peace in the Middle East; StandWithUs; Students and Parents Against Campus Anti-Semitism; The Lawfare Project; Training and Education About the Middle East (T.E.A.M.); and the Zionist Organization of America.
Knapp told the campus community Monday that the incident from February would also be referred to D.C. police’s hate crimes unit. His statement went on to say:
“Since its adoption nearly a century ago as the symbol of the Nazi Party, the swastika has acquired an intrinsically anti-Semitic meaning, and therefore the act of posting it in a university residence hall is utterly unacceptable.
“Our entire community should be aware of the swastika’s association with genocide perpetrated against the Jewish people and should be concerned about the extremely harmful effects that displaying this symbol has on individuals and on the climate of our entire university community.
“The university will embark on a program of education to ensure that all members of our community understand the damage that symbols of hatred do to us all.”