Antisemitism sends shockwaves through UCSB campus

More than a hundred fliers circulated around Isla Vista, spreading lies about Jewish people and denying the Holocaust.

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Students at University of California Santa Barbara woke up to hundreds of antisemitic fliers thrown across campus on Tuesday, sending shockwaves through the university, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Community members in Isla Vista, which includes both local residents and UCSB students, alerted police to individuals placing pamphlets around the neighborhood Monday night.

More than a hundred bags “filled with antisemitic rhetoric and conspiracy theories” were scattered across the beachfront neighborhood, the sheriff’s office said. Inside were fliers denying the existence of the Holocaust and connecting Jewish people with racism and pedophilia.

Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany slaughtered some six million Jews, wiping out two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.

“[The fliers] were put into a ziplock or resealable bag, and then weighted down with dry beans, and they were flung from the vehicle,” said Lieutenant Garrett TeSlaa of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s office. “They don’t appear to have targeted any one specific person or type of persons in terms of where they were dropped.”

Leaflets were found on neighborhood front doors, cars, along sidewalks and in front of the UCSB Hillel center.

“This disgraceful act was carried out only four days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, reminding us that antisemitism is not a thing of the past, but something that has become disturbingly common,” UC Santa Barbara Hillel said in an online statement.

Antisemitic acts hit a record high in 2021, with 2,717 reported incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That averages to more than seven antisemitic incidents per day. In October, demonstrators waved banners over a Los Angeles freeway supporting antisemitic remarks made by rapper Kanye West.

“We are outraged and saddened by the recent distribution of hateful and hurtful antisemitic propaganda against our Jewish community,” UCSB officials said in a public statement released Wednesday night. “What has happened here at home adds to the pain and suffering that we have felt recently with the mass murder of Asian citizens in Monterey Park, and the video release of the brutal beating and murder of a young Black man, Tyre Nichols, by Memphis police officers.”

“Such horror and inhumanity should not exist in our society, and certainly not on our doorsteps,” the university added.

According to the statement, the university is also investigating a separate incident involving antisemitic graffiti on a classroom chalkboard.

“[Our] student leaders have reached out to their peers in Santa Barbara to express their solidarity, and our team of students and professionals at USC Hillel is on hand to ensure any student seeking support finds a safe, welcoming, and fully accepting home,” USC Hillel said in a statement to Annenberg Media. “Threatening behavior towards Jews has become stunningly commonplace.”

Back in Santa Barbara, the sheriff’s office worked with the Anti-Defamation League to identify the group behind the antisemitic incidents. The extremist group, which has not been publicly disclosed, aims to generate revenue by directing people to their website, police said.

Annenberg Media has chosen not to disclose the identity of the group.

“The group clearly knows the line between free speech and hate speech,” TeSlaa said. “Our initial assessment is that there doesn’t appear to have been a crime that’s enforceable, at least with the information and the evidence that we have.”

In Isla Vista, frustrations mount over UCSB’s response to the antisemitic incident.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s offensive. And the tropes are nothing that I haven’t seen before,” Tessa Veksler, co-president of students supporting Israel at UCSB said. “This act is so blatant, and so right wing, that of course it gains attention.”

Vesker said Jewish students face more subtle microaggressions from left wing antisemitic groups and individuals on a daily basis.

She also serves as a senator for Associated Students, an organization that elevates student concerns to UCSB administration.

“I believe that the administration is willing and ready to work with us,” Veskler said. “But it’s unfortunate that something so extreme has to happen. And it feels almost more like a reactive measure rather than proactively wanting to help the Jewish community.”

In their statement, UCSB offered additional mental health resources for students and staff who may be affected by the incident.

“We will continue to work together to nurture an inclusive, welcoming, and secure living and learning environment where each and every community member feels safe and comfortable expressing who we are and what we believe,” UCSB said in the statement.

For Jaime Orseck, student board co-president for UCSB Hillel, the latest wave of antisemitism will not stop her community from speaking out against hate.

“UCSB has the largest Jewish student population rate out of any of the University of California campuses, which is such an incredibly special thing to say about our campus,” Orseck said. “This past week, the UCSB Jewish community has shown up loudly and proudly to address these antisemitic incidents.”