On November 3, 2023, a University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMass Amherst) student intimidated and assaulted a group of students during an on-campus event held by UMass Hillel, a Jewish student organization.
The incident occurred against the backdrop of a surprise Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that left over 1,000 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and more than 200 abducted, and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of the Gaza Strip which, as of mid-November, has reportedly killed more than 11,000 Palestinians. The violence led to heightened tensions around speech on campus in the United States and across the world.
UMass Hillel organized the event to call for the release of the hostages. During the event, a student, identified as Efe Ercelik, approached the crowd and aggressively gave people the middle finger. He left after event security confronted him.
Following the conclusion of the event and the departure of security personnel, Ercelik returned to the event site. In a statement to the press, Dylan Jacobs, a student, said Ercelik was waving a Palestinian flag and he waved an Israeli flag in return. Ercelik then ran over, shouted expletives, and punched Jacobs and another student who attempted to intervene. Ercelik spit on the Israeli flag that Jacobs was carrying, stabbed it with a knife, and threw it into a trashcan. A UMass Hillel staff member attempted to calm the situation until campus police arrested Ercelik at the scene. Ercelik was later released on bail.
In an email to the university community, UMass Amherst Vice Chancellor Shelly Perdomo-Ahmed, and Assistant Vice Chancellor and Chief of Police Tyrone Parham, denounced the assault and stated that Ercelik was prohibited from returning to campus and would be investigated for violations of the student code of conduct.
Ercelik was arraigned on November 6 on seven charges, including two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and is scheduled to reappear for a hearing in January 2024.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a violent targeted attack intended to intimidate, threaten, or otherwise harm members of the university community on the basis of their ethnic or religious identity. Members of the higher education community have a responsibility to refrain from interfering in the functioning of higher education. State authorities have an obligation to take available measures to protect the functioning of the higher education space, and to respond appropriately to threats, particularly during a period of heightened vulnerability of the higher education space. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such acts chill academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.