THE ANTISEMITISM PROBLEM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS
The University of Illinois has experienced a spate of recent antisemitic incidents. At a student government hearing on March 6, 2019, 13 Jewish students spoke about acts of hate they have experienced on campus. They witnessed swastikas in the bathroom of the mathematics building, while studying (outside the Undergraduate Library) and while getting drinks with friends (at Red Lion). As recently as October 7, a swastika was found in the Foreign Languages Building. Mezuzahs have been torn from doorposts, and there are reports of Jewish students hiding their Jewish identities on campus for fear of harassment
As unacceptable as these antisemitic expressions by fringe individuals are, they pale in comparison to a recent attempt to institutionalize antisemitism by making a virulently antisemitic course a mandatory requirement for some U of I employees.
On September 27, at a mandatory staff meeting of resident advisers (RAs), a university Multicultural Advocate (MA), an employee whose role is to help ensure inclusion and education regarding the different cultures represented by the student population, presented training on the "Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror." Students in attendance say the presentation described pro-Israel students as being "pro-terrorist". “70 Years of Israeli Terror” of course refers to the very creation of the State of Israel in 1948, not some nuanced commentary on political dynamics. This extremist presentation, filled with historical misinformation, called the existence of the Jewish State a terrorist enterprise, justified terrorism against Jews, and endorsed martyrdom. In attendance was a Student Affairs staff member, another paid University employee.
Erez Cohen, executive director of Illini Hillel at the University, said the “antisemitic” mandatory RA training was more shocking to him than the discovery of the swastika. “With content celebrating martyrdom which promotes the deliberate killing of Jews, this training is truly terrifying the day after a shooting at a synagogue in Germany, and one year after the largest massacre of Jews on American soil,” Cohen said in an email. Cohen said all groups are entitled to define the hatred against them, and the presentation was deeply antisemitic. “How can students feel safe knowing that the staff in their first home away from their parents has been trained to support the killing of others?”
A FIRST STEP TOWARDS A SOLUTION
We commend UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones for his statement apologizing for the presentation by the Multicultural Advocate and for his pledge to take immediate action to launch wide-ranging campus education and training about antisemitism, to review the University's training, programming and hiring practices, and to commission an external review of the University's multicultural education programs However, the statement neglected to include any mention of anti-Zionsim, a serious omission, especially in light of the immediate response by the local SJP group.
THE CORE ISSUE: DEFINING ANTISEMITISM
SJP demanded that the administration officially differentiate between antisemitism and anti-Zionism and that such a definition “should not be limited to the scope of University Housing, but should be featured in and reflected by the core values and education of the University itself.” It is no wonder that a group which disseminates inflammatory anti-Israel propaganda, leads the campaign to delegitimize, isolate and weaken Israel, opposes normalization of Palestinian-Israel relations, makes excuses for terror attacks against Israelis and objects to every form of Israeli defense also tries to draw an invisible line differentiating antisemitism and anti-Zionism. A group that demonizes Israel, advocates for the destruction of the only Jewish state and often intimidates pro-Israel students with vicious and sometimes antisemitic rhetoric should not be the one to define antisemitism.
YOUR ACTION CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
We ask students, parents, and alumni to join us in encouraging the chancellor to back up his statement condemning antisemitism by taking the following meaningful actions:
1. Investigate the existing problem.
Before a problem can be corrected, it must be addressed. To that end we call for an investigation into how this program was selected and presented as a mandatory training course for university employees. The program runs directly counter to the stated purpose of MAs, which is to “serve as leaders and role models within the residence hall community by confronting acts of intolerance or hate, encouraging dialogue among students, and working toward the creation of truly inclusive communities.” Rather than a dialogue, this program was a diatribe against the Jewish state and the students who support it. The administration should similarly investigate the role of the Student Affairs staff member who permitted such political indoctrination to go unchallenged. Appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that university employees are held accountable when they abuse their authority in a way that marginalizes a segment of the student population and potentially violates their rights under both university policy and applicable laws.
2. Create better oversight of these courses (including penalties for offering courses that discriminate or marginalize a segment of the very student population whose interests these MAs are supposed to be serving);
3. Adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. To combat antisemitism, one needs first to define it. With groups hostile to Israel and/or Jews trying to create their own definition that would draw an artificial distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism, it is critically important that the administration adopt an unbiased definition that affords adequate protection against discrimination. The U.S.A. and 30 other democracies have adopted a definition, along with examples, of anti-Semitism developed by International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights uses the IHRA Working Definition, along with its explanatory examples, to determine whether antisemitic discrimination has occurred. The university should take a leading role among higher education institutions and implement this definition for use in assessing potential instances of discrimination against Jewish members of the campus community.
4. Identify antisemitism when and where it occurs in campus, call it by name, and unequivocally denounce it.
5. Track antisemitism on campus and improve university responses to complaints of antisemitism.
StandWithUs looks forward to hearing that the administration is implementing these crucial steps toward restoring the confidence of Jewish students on campus.
We ask for that response to come no later than Oct. 31, 2019.