Yale University leaders, elected officials and clergy in New Haven, Conn., condemned what they called the desecration of a public Hanukkah menorah after a protester briefly hung a Palestinian flag from it over the weekend.
“The placement of a Palestinian flag on the menorah conveys a deeply antisemitic message to Jewish residents of New Haven, including members of the Yale community,” Peter Salovey, the Yale president, said in a statement.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is Jewish, called the incident an act of hate and described his father’s escape from Germany in 1935.
“It may look like a prank,” he said appearing at a news conference in New Haven on Monday. “It may look like a joke. But it couldn’t be more serious because it is the mockery and desecration of a profoundly important religious symbol.”
The incident, captured on video in a public space near the Yale campus but not on it, lasted little more than a minute, according to a participant in a pro-Palestinian rally nearby. The protester who hung the flag quickly removed it at the urging of other demonstrators.
“Get down!” the demonstrators can be heard shouting repeatedly in the video.
“That looks bad for us,” said one person in a kaffiyeh, a scarf that symbolizes Palestinian liberation. “Take it down!”
Pro-Palestinian activist organizations across Connecticut — including Yalies4Palestine, a co-sponsor of the rally on Saturday — also condemned the incident, which they described as an “antisemitic action.”
“We are appalled by this behavior, and are especially disappointed since it comes during the religious observation of Hanukkah,” they said in a joint statement. They apologized and said the climber was not affiliated with their groups.
The incident comes at a tense time for elite colleges whose campuses have become the scene of regular protests over the Israel-Hamas war.
Elizabeth Magill, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned over the weekend after fumbling through congressional testimony about antisemitism on campuses. Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, apologized after her own testimony. She is facing calls to resign.
Dr. Salovey, the Yale president, has condemned hate on campus more forcefully.
Last week, after his peers’ testimony, he released a statement outlining steps to counteract both antisemitism and Islamophobia at Yale. He noted the university’s commitment to free expression but drew a clear line.
“Chants or messages that express hatred, celebrate the killing of civilians, or contain calls for genocide of any group are utterly against our ideals,” Dr. Salovey said.
Yale does not know if the person who placed the flag on the menorah was a member of the university community. The New Haven Police Department said it was investigating.
“While the incident was hateful, it does not appear — in the various parties’ assessment — that it triggers a hate crime,” David Zanelli, an assistant chief of police, said. He said that the menorah did not appear to have been damaged.
Many officials and Jewish community members said that targeting a menorah — a religious symbol — was an attack on Jews, not on the actions of the Israeli government.
“A menorah has nothing to do with Zionism,” said Ina Silverman, a New Haven resident who came to the news conference on Monday.
Ms. Silverman, who is Jewish, was wearing a pin with the Israeli and American flags.
“A menorah is an ancient sign of the Jewish religion,” she said. “It was clearly an antisemitic attack. Nobody should think otherwise.”
Others described the news conference as an overreaction.
Jake Dressler, an attorney who attended the Saturday rally and filmed the hanging of the flag, said that the person responsible had acted alone and was “totally rogue.”
“One guy broke off from the group,” Mr. Dressler, 29, said. “Nobody knew he was doing it.”
He said the man immediately went back to remove the flag at the urging of other protesters.
“It’s been exaggerated,” said Mr. Dressler.
He also noted that someone started throwing eggs at the protesters. “That’s like a direct violent act toward a person,” he said. “Nobody got hurt with the menorah thing.”
Other critics argued that the uproar over speech and protests around elite college campuses distracts from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where health authorities say that at least 15,000 people have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7.
“They’re taking one person’s action out of 300 or 400 people at this rally, which was completely peaceful,” said Dan Garrett, 63, who attended the news conference. He noted that he is Jewish and his mother survived the Holocaust.
“It’s a diversion,” he said. “The real story is what’s taking place in Gaza.”
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