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 Posted Sunday, June 13, 1999

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THIS happened the day after students at the State University of New York in Binghamton commemorated the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1988. Students were shocked to discover anti-Semitic slogans--including "Kill Kikes!" and "Zionazi Racists"--spray-painted inside the door of the Jewish Student Union office. Suspicion for the deed fell on one James Oppenheim, a past President of the Jewish Student Union.

The State Police investigator Charles Gould handled the case with kid gloves: "He's not a bad kid!" he said of his prime suspect. The local press quoted the investigators speculating on Oppenheim's motive: "Oppenheim was trying to broaden recognition of anti-Semitism following a mediocre showing at a memorial to the victims of the Nazi Kristallnacht program." A local rabbi also put in a good word for the suspect, saying that Oppenheim was an "emotional, highly-committed young man devoted to Jewish causes on campus."

No felony "hate crime" charges were filed against the young man, indicted instead on two relatively trivial misdemeanours: a fourth degree criminal mischief; and a third-degree falsely reporting an incident. In any event, the case ended in acquittal.

The most incriminating piece of evidence was finding the very can of spray-paint used to do the deed bearing Oppenheim's fingerprints hidden away inside his desk at the Jewish Center. However, it was explained that after he happened on the scene Oppenheim had simply picked the can up and hidden it so that it would not get lost. The judge accepted the explanation, and Oppenheim was acquitted

September 15, 1989


Jewish Student Accused of Faking Anti-Semitism

by James Feron

THE former president of the Jewish Student Union at the State University of New York in Binghamton has been charged with painting anti-Semitic slurs near a Jewish sanctuary.

The student, James Oppenheim, a 20-year-old senior from Bethpage L.I., organized an observance on Nov. 9, 1988, of the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when mobs led by Nazi storm troopers rampaged against Jews in Germany.

In Binghamton swastikas and slogans, including "Kill Kikes!" and "Zionazi Racist," were found last Nov. 10 on the inside of a door leading to the Jewish Student Union and the sanctuary. The door was locked and nothing else was disturbed, according to reports in Pipe Dream, a student newspaper.

Misdemeanour Charged

Mr. Oppenheim, regarded as outspoken on many issues on the campus, organized a second vigil later that night to condemn the vandalism. He was quoted by the student newspaper as saying, "Does it take an incident like this before Jews and everybody else get together and do something?"

District Attorney Gerald Mollen of Bloome County said Mr. Oppenheim was arrested Wednesday and charged with two misdemeanours: false reporting an incident and criminal mischief, each of which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

Mr. Mollen said his office had entered the case after an investigation by the state police and university authorities. He declined to discuss how the police had linked Mr. Oppenheim to the vandalism.

The student is to be arraigned next Thursday in Vestal Town Court.

The Jewish Student Union had no comment on the incident. It issued a statement saying that "since the news came as a complete surprise to us, we are waiting for further developments to be brought to our attention before we can truly respond."

No Comment by Accused

Mr. Oppenheim was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Students recalled him as the most outspoken of several student leaders during a sit-in at the university's administration building earlier this year. The 300 students in the demonstration represented several groups on campus. Some from the Women's Center were protesting a campus rape, and others from the Black Students Union were protesting what they said was lack of university response to a racist editorial in a conservative student newspaper.

The Jewish Student Union demands, as presented by Mr. Oppenheim, included establishment of a Judaic studies department, but the administration made no commitment. Mr. Oppenheim was quoted in Pipe Dream as saying: "The administration is hearing, but they're not listening. Reason means nothing. Action is the only thing that's going to make things happen."

Active in Student Affairs

Mr. Oppenheim ran unsuccessfully for Student Association president in April, "basically on a platform that he really did a lot for the Jewish cause following the anti-Semitic incident," a member of the newspaper staff recalled.

The university said Jewish students represented "30 to 40 percent of the 12,000 enrollment." According to the B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation in Washington, Jewish students represent 50 percent of SUNY-Binghamton's student population, including 5,500 undergraduates and 500 graduate students, one of the highest ratios of any school in the nation.

A statement by Raymond E. Dye, the school's vice president for student affairs, said Mr. Oppenheim's status remained unchanged until the charges against him were resolved. He "is entitled to full participation in all aspects of university life," Mr. Dye said, and "this should not be an occasion for pre-judging a person or a group."

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