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USD professor condemns hate as Israel-Palestine conflict rages


Israel and Palestine are a world away, but the implications of war in the Middle East are felt here. With crimes targeting both the Jewish and Muslim communities, one USD professor hopes to see the school stand with both groups.

Yesh Cohen, professor of Sociology at the University of South Dakota, wrote an open letter to the school and faculty condemning both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Cohen, who is Jewish, said this letter came as a response to very real incidents of racism since the beginning of the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As I was seeing our affected students getting more and more scared and seeing how it impacted my colleagues – to quote one of my esteemed colleagues on the university Senate, she said ‘if the faculty are feeling this way, how must the students be feeling?’ It seemed to be essential that we speak out,” Cohen said.

Cohen said threats were made toward homes displaying Mezuzahs, a Jewish cultural symbol, in the Sioux City area around Halloween. Across the nation, reports from CNN and NBC say current incidents of Islamophobia are reflective of the post-9/11 environment. Cohen said that’s more than enough reason to include both communities in his letter.

“I think that just like Jewish students should be assured that they are seen, and they are heard and we are there for them, with what’s going on we collectively felt it was important that the Muslim students on our campus also know that the are seen, they are heard, and they are valued, and that we are there for them as well,” Cohen said.

Cohen said events across the world have effects on marginalized communities at home.

“If you know people who are struggling with what’s going on please be willing to reach out to them because sometimes we ask ‘why don’t people reach out for help,'" Cohen said. "Speaking as someone who is Jewish, South Dakota has the smallest Jewish population in the country. If I remember correctly, it’s less than 400 Jews across the whole state. It can feel like you are very very alone.”

The letter has been signed by over 40 faculty members from a range of departments. The full letter can be read below.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture