A University of Massachusetts Amherst student was arrested after allegedly punching a Jewish student and spitting on the Israeli flag the student was holding.
The incident took place Friday night at the end of a vigil organized by UMass Hillel in which students called for the release of the more than 240 Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. The event included symbolic Shabbat tables with empty seats representing each hostage abducted during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
The suspect is accused of approaching the crowd and aggressively giving people the middle finger, according to school officials and the UMass Chief of Police.
After security left, the same student allegedly returned to the gathering and assaulted a Jewish student holding an Israeli flag, UMass Hillel said. The suspect also allegedly grabbed the flag and spit on it. A UMass Hillel staff member stepped in to de-escalate as other staff members witnessed the incident.
The victim was not injured, according to the university.
UMass police investigated and arrested the suspect on the night of the event. The suspect was released on bail, but prohibited from returning to campus.
"What this student is accused of is reprehensible, illegal, and unacceptable," Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Shelly Perdomo-Ahmed and Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police Tyrone Parham said in a joint statement. "Let us be clear, these were the actions of an individual who did not speak for nor act on behalf of a group or anyone other than themselves. Peaceful advocacy and protest must and will be protected on our campus."
UMass Hillel said there is no ongoing security threat, but urged students to walk in groups at night and to avoid engaging with any counter-protesters.
"We know this incident is disturbing to many of us, particularly during a time when tensions, emotion and concern are heightened on our campus," UMass Hillel said in a statement. "But we must not let the most extreme voices and actions create undue fear or dominate the campus climate. It is vital that our campus community model civility, as the Jewish community did on Friday in publicly and peacefully showing solidarity with the 240 hostages."
The situation at UMass Amherst is not unique as Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel has triggered antisemitism at many colleges and universities across America.
"Antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any form of bigotry have no place in our community, and we are committed to ensuring that our community’s engagement with opposing viewpoints is maintained in a respectful manner," Perdomo-Ahmed and Parham said in their statement.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Gaza and Israel since Hamas launched its largest attack against the Jewish State in decades, prompting a military response from Israeli forces. Thousands more have been wounded, and many others have been taken hostage by Hamas and raped, tortured and murdered.