National News

Jewish professor finds swastikas spray-painted in office at Columbia

Posted November 29, 2018 3:42 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2018 5:02 p.m. EST

NEW YORK — Two swastikas and an anti-Semitic slur were spray-painted Wednesday on the walls of a Jewish professor’s office at Columbia University, the latest in a surge of anti-Semitic incidents in New York this year.

The office belongs to Elizabeth Midlarsky, 77, who has written about the Holocaust and has been a repeated target of anti-Semitic vitriol while working as a psychology and education professor at the university’s Teachers College in Manhattan.

The Police Department said it was investigating the vandalism — the swastikas and the word “Yid” were scrawled in bright red in the entryway to the office — as a possible hate crime.

Midlarsky, who could not reached for comment Thursday, found the graffiti Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

“I was in shock,” she told the Columbia Daily Spectator, the university’s student-run newspaper. “I stopped for a moment, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

The vandalism comes amid a rise in anti-Semitic crimes that have unsettled a city long at the heart of American Jewish identity. Just weeks ago, a Brooklyn synagogue was defaced with graffiti, including the phrase “Die Jew Rats,” on the same day that two swastikas were found spray-painted on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Days before those incidents, 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a gunman shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

Still, Evan Bernstein, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said the vandalism at Columbia was striking because it took place inside an office.

Graffiti being found inside “somebody’s intimate space like that was very unique,” Bernstein said, adding that “this is the first that I can recall ‘Yid’ being used in an anti-Semitic vandalism incident.” (The word “Yid” is derived from a Yiddish word for “Jew,” he said, but it is sometimes used as an offensive epithet.)

Law enforcement officials would not comment on whether they had a suspect or how the perpetrator entered Midlarsky’s office. Buildings on the Teachers College campus require identification for entry, which includes government-issued photo IDs and ID cards provided by affiliated Columbia schools.

Thomas Bailey, president of the Teachers College, said in a written statement the school was working with police to investigate the vandalism.

“We are outraged and horrified by this act of aggression and use of this vile anti-Semitic symbol against a valued member of our community,” he said.

Midlarsky’s office had also been vandalized in 2007, when a swastika was spray-painted on the door. She told The New York Times then that she had been the target of anti-Semitism three times in less than a month, having also received multiple offensive flyers in her mailbox.

She was also sent an image of a swastika in the mail in 2009, according to a CNN report.

Police said they did not have information about the previous episodes, nor did they know whether they were connected to the graffiti found Wednesday.

According to Police Department statistics, there have been 168 reported incidents of anti-Semitic crimes in New York so far this year, up from 136 reports over the same period in 2017. The total number of reported hate crimes in the city has also risen since last year.

“Reports of swastikas concern us and other criminal mischief here in the five boroughs absolutely concern us,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said in a news conference earlier this month. “None of it will ever be tolerated in New York City.”