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UMass Amherst student arrested after allegedly punching Jewish student and spitting on Israeli flag

A student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst was arrested and ordered to stay off campus after they allegedly punched a Jewish student and spit on an Israeli flag following a campus demonstration of solidarity with Israeli hostages held by Hamas on Friday, according to UMass Hillel and university officials.

The alleged assault came at the conclusion of an event organized by UMass Hillel to call for the release of Israeli hostages. University officials described the gathering, called “Bring Them Home: Solidarity Walk and Installation,” as a “peaceful event” that featured a Shabbat table with empty seats representing the 240 hostages taken by Hamas since Oct. 7.

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As the gathering ended, a student walked through the crowd of participants, “aggressively giving people the middle finger,” UMass Hillel said in a statement.

“After the event had concluded and event security had left, the same student returned to the site of the event and punched a Jewish student holding an Israeli flag, then took the flag and spit on it,” UMass Hillel said. A Hillel staff member then stepped in to de-escalate the situation, the group said.

UMass police investigated and arrested the student Friday night, university officials said in a letter to the community Sunday. The letter was signed by UMass Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Shelly Perdomo-Ahmed and Chief of Police Tyrone Parham.

“What this student is accused of is reprehensible, illegal, and unacceptable,” the letter said. “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.”

The student was released on bail “with conditions prohibiting them from returning to campus,” the letter said. The student, whose name was not released, “will be subject to the legal consequences of their actions as well as the Student Code of Conduct.”

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University officials said there were “no indications of any credible threats to the UMass community” but urged students to report any safety concerns to UMass police at 413-545-3111, or 911 in emergencies.

Tensions have flared on college campuses in the weeks since Hamas launched a terrorist attack against Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mainly civilians, and Israel responded with around-the-clock airstrikes and a ground assault on the Gaza Strip. The death toll among Palestinians rose to more than 9,700 on Sunday, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

UMass officials said they are “committed to ensuring that our community’s engagement with opposing viewpoints is maintained in a respectful manner.”

Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England, said in a statement on social media that the incident at UMass is “the latest proof that Jewish students are under attack” and “an example of the disturbing reality for Jewish students on campus right now.”

Steinberg called on UMass leaders to “more fully address #antisemitism through the creation of a taskforce or advisory council to address Jewish life on campus.” This includes antisemitism awareness training as part of the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion programming, as well as “new student orientation and trainings,” and taking “proactive steps to ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

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UMass Hillel encouraged students to walk in groups at night and avoid “engaging with counterprotest activities.”

The organization said the incident Friday “is disturbing to many of us. ... 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,” UMass Hillel said. “The vast majority of students, staff, and faculty at UMass who believe there is no place for antisemitism or any type of hate on campus and who seek a healthy, caring campus community must now double down on efforts to come together across differences to embody the best values and mission of our shared campus community.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.