“I’m not surprised”: Jewish community responds to anti-Semitic hate crime arrest at UMD

The University of Maryland's Hillel. (File Photo/The Diamondback)

On Thursday, a University of Maryland student was arrested and charged with a hate crime after allegedly sending anti-Semitic texts to another student on campus — and in the wake of the arrest, Jewish students and student groups remain steadfast in their place on campus.

Police arrested and charged Muqarrab Ahmed Abdullah, 24, of La Plata, Maryland, with harassment, telephone misuse and a race/religion crime after police say he repeatedly sent a female university student anti-Semitic messages. Although the incident was originally considered a hate bias incident, it was later reclassified as a hate crime, according to a UMD Alert.

M.J. Kurs-Lasky, assistant director of student life at Maryland Hillel, wrote in a statement that students overwhelmingly consider the situation, which occurred in December of last year, as an isolated case.

“Thankfully, they’re still proud to be and show their Judaism on campus,” Kurs-Lasky said.

Though the university is a tolerant and diverse community, Kurs-Lasky wrote, police have increased their presence around the Rosenbloom Hillel Center as a precaution.

Read more: [UMD student arrested on hate crime charges after allegedly sending anti-Semitic texts]

In a statement to the campus community, Student Government Association president Ireland Lesley and Senam Okpattah, the SGA’s director of diversity and inclusion, called the university “no stranger to incidents of hate bias and the targeting of certain communities.”

“We condemn any anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior,” Lesley and Okpattah said in their statement, “and we publicly express our support for the Jewish community on campus.”

Isaac Betaharon, a senior biology major, said hearing about the incident wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“I’m not surprised because anti-Semitism is on the rise in this country,” he said. “Shocked because it actually happened to someone I know.”

The Anti-Defamation League recorded 780 cases of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. during the first six months of 2019. More than 1,800 incidents were recorded in all of 2018, the third-highest year in the last 40. But students like Sam Miller also didn’t expect it to reach his own campus.

“Maybe that’s me being naïve and sheltered,” said Miller, a freshman computer science major. “They do all this stuff to maintain safety. It’s not something you generally think about.”

Read more: [Lack of kosher dining options at UMD leaves some Jewish students feeling disconnected]

Miller said he immediately went “out of my mind” after receiving the first email informing him that there had been an anti-Semitic hate crime. But he is more concerned about the content of the texts, which remain confidential. Releasing the texts, he said, would help spread awareness of what an anti-Semitic hate crime looks like.

“It’s important that we know what people are saying, because how are we supposed to know what to look out for or what signs to see?” he said.

Rachel Robin, a freshman government and politics and communications major, said that the texts were not the first instance of anti-Semitism she’d seen on campus, but she knows it “exists everywhere.”

Robin said she was happy with the university and police’s response to the incident, saying it indicated intolerance toward anti-Semitism and hate crimes on campus.

“It shows that the university cares about its Jewish students and hopefully doesn’t care about any other racists on campus,” she said. “It demonstrates there will be consequences and not a light slap on the wrist.”

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