Vermont Jewish groups condemn shooting of 3 Palestinian students in potential hate crime


((JEWISH REVIEW)) – Jewish congregations, politicians and campus groups in the Vermont area and beyond condemned Saturday’s shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington, an incident authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime.

A 48-year-old Burlington man has been arrested in connection with the shooting of the students, whose names are Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ahmed.

At least three area rabbis and four different Hillels were among the voices expressing shock and sadness over the shooting, the latest outbreak of violence in the United States connected to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, called the violence “shocking and deeply upsetting,” adding, “Hate has no place here, or anywhere.”

We denounce this horrendous violence in our community. And we denounce any hatred that could lead to an act like this,” the three local rabbis wrote on social media

“As Jews, we are keenly aware of the impact of violence on minority religious communities, and so we stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters at this frightening time,” wrote the rabbis — David Edleson of Temple Sinai, Aaron Philmus of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue and Jan Salzman of Congregation Ruach haMaqom. They added that they had reached out to the local Islamic center president to offer their support.

The students who were shot all graduated from Ramallah Friends School, a Quaker-affiliated private school in the Palestinian West Bank city, according to the school. They attend Brown University in Rhode Island, Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Trinity College in Connecticut. 

Two of the students were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian headscarves, at the time of the shooting, according to local police, and a spokesperson for the families told The New York Times that the men were speaking a mixture of Arabic and English at the time of the attack. 

Authorities arrested a suspect, Jason Eaton, on Sunday night and arraigned him on Monday. Eaton, a 48-year-old white Burlington resident, pleaded not guilty to three attempted murder charges for shooting and wounding the men with a handgun, and was ordered held without bail. The Daily Beast, speaking with Eaton’s mother, reported that he works in finance, often reads the Bible and did not discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict during Thanksgiving dinner. Police said Eaton shot at the men without speaking with them, then fled the scene. He pleaded not guilty during an arraignment Monday morning.

Two of the victims are in stable condition while a third has “much more serious injuries,” Burlington police said in a statement. The three men are all 20 years old and were visiting one of the victim’s relatives for the Thanksgiving holiday. Awartani, the Brown student, regularly visited his grandmother and uncle who live in Burlington, according to an NBC News report

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Burlington police chief Jon Murad said in a statement about the investigation. The U.S. Justice Department’s Vermont district attorney also said that a federal investigation would be opened “to determine whether a federal crime may have been committed.”

The shooting was the most recent major act of violence committed against Palestinians and Jews in the United States since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. One week following the attack, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was murdered in Illinois in what authorities say was a hate crime. Earlier this month, a Jewish man in Los Angeles died following a physical altercation at dueling pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protests in Los Angeles; a suspect has been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. 

Jews have also been assaulted at Columbia University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Police have insisted that in the case of another prominent incident, the murder of a Detroit synagogue president, there is no evidence of a hate crime even as the murder remains unsolved and authorities are offering a $15,000 reward for information in the case.

Along with Sanders, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Vermont Rep. Becca Balint, who are also progressive Jews, condemned the shooting in separate statements. 

“The City of Burlington has zero tolerance for hate crimes and will work relentlessly to bring the shooter to justice,” Weinberger said in a joint statement with Burlington police. Balint, who recently became one of a small number of Jewish members of Congress to publicly endorse a ceasefire in Gaza, said in a statement that she was “horrified by this violence” and added, “I expect there to be a full investigation into evidence of any hate crime.” 

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, a Burlington-based pro-Palestinian activist group, held a vigil for the injured students Sunday evening. Around 200 people showed up, including members of the Jewish anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace and area chapters of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, according to local reports.

The presidents of the three colleges where the victims are enrolled condemned the attacks on their students. 

“I know that this heinous and despicable act of violence — this latest evidence of anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian discrimination and hate spiraling across this country and around the world — will leave many in our community deeply shaken,” Brown President Christina Paxson wrote. She identified the college’s injured student as Awartani and said a campus vigil would be held Monday. 

The executive director of Brown RISD Hillel, which oversees Jewish life at Brown, wrote in an email to students late Monday, “We strongly condemn these shootings and any act of hate or violence directed toward members of our community.” Adding that anonymous messages on campus had started to spread antisemitism in the wake of the shooting, Rabbi Josh Bolton called on the community to “lower the temperature” and asserted, “Our Jewish community on College Hill is diverse and everyone has their politics—but BRH’s support for Israel and Zionist students is unassailable.”

Greater Philly Hillel Network, which oversees the Jewish student union at Haverford College, wrote on Facebook that it was “devastated” to learn of the shooting. Trinity College Hillel also condemned the attack and said it was “saddened and disturbed.” The Hilel that serves Brown University has not made any public comments about the incident.

Although none of the victims are students there, the University of Vermont’s Hillel also condemned the attack in a statement, decrying “any act of hate or violence toward college students based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or belief.” UVM, which is located in Burlington, has been a particular flashpoint for rising tensions between Jewish and Arab groups for years, and has seen a heightened atmosphere since the outbreak of war in the region.