SJP at UChicago posted on Instagram on January 26 a statement with a headline in all capital letters that read “DON’T TAKE SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES,” specifically citing three classes: “Multiculturalism in Israel,” “Narrating Israel and Palestine Through Literature and Film,” and “Gender Relations in Israel.
February 7, 2022
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StandWithUs wrote a letter to University of Chicago (UChicago) President Robert J. Zimmer and Dean of Students Michele Rasmussen urging the university to issue a statement condemning Student for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) call to boycott “Sh*tty Zionist Classes,” Fox News reported.
SJP at UChicago posted on Instagram on January 26 a statement with a headline in all capital letters that read “DON’T TAKE SH*TTY ZIONIST CLASSES,” specifically citing three classes: “Multiculturalism in Israel,” “Narrating Israel and Palestine Through Literature and Film,” and “Gender Relations in Israel.” They argued such classes “legitimize” Israel’s existence because they don’t refer to Israel as an “apartheid state” or “acknowledge the Nakba [catastrophe], the ethnic cleansing which reached its peak in 1948 but continues to this day.” “These classes often rely on Orientalist narratives, pinkwashing and liberal washing in an attempt to legitimize Israel as a paragon of Western liberal values,” SJP at UChicago later added. “Controlling the narrative is incredibly important to settler-colonial states, as it allows them to dehumanize indigenous populations and justify their seizure of land.” The same post was later posted to Twitter on February 5.
StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein, Center for Combating Antisemitism Director Carly F. Gammill, and Saidoff Legal Department Director Yael Lerman wrote in the letter to UChicago that “SJP’s posts are antithetical to a robust campus climate. When SJP explicitly instructs students to boycott ‘Zionist’ classes and professors, and then lists classes about Israel and that are taught by Israeli or Jewish professors, it appears as though they are encouraging their followers to boycott University of Chicago faculty members because of their Jewish or Israeli identities. If they meant a boycott of classes which promote Israeli government policies, they would say so. Instead, they cite ‘Zionist propaganda’ and the conspiratorial ‘Zionist agenda,’ both dripping with antisemitic undertones.” They added that Zionism is important part of Jewish identity, noting that “half of all Jews in the world live as citizens in the State of Israel” and that “numerous polls show that for the overwhelming majority of [American] Jews, their connection to Israel is central to their Jewish identity. As such, a boycott of ‘Zionist’ classes and the professors who teach them can amount to discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, and/or national origin.”
The university did issue a statement to Fox News condemning “antisemitism, anti-Palestinian bias and other forms of bias,” which Rothstein, Gammill and Lerman called “inadequate and inappropriate.” “Your inclusion of ‘anti-Palestinian bias’ is simply bizarre,” they wrote. “The only issue here is one of flagrant antisemitism. While bigotry against Palestinians is unacceptable and deserves condemnation when it occurs, that is not what this case is about. Instead of directly confronting the present antisemitism that is in fact at issue, your moral equivalency minimizes it and is completely unwarranted given the facts at hand.”
The letter concluded by calling SJP’s actions “a blatant attempt to normalize antisemitic discrimination and targets your own faculty and course offerings. As such, it deserves, and in fact necessitates, your immediate public condemnation of SJP’s actions specifically—not blanket and vague statements. You have an opportunity here to show moral leadership and set an example to the greater community that SJP does not reflect the values of your campus.” The letter gave the university a February 18 deadline to respond.
Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper similarly told The Jerusalem Post that SJP’s boycott calls are reminiscent of “what we experienced in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.” He added that the university’s statement “is a deflection from responsibility, not leadership… Providing a blank moral check to those who seek Israel’s destruction is an outrage that poses a further threat to Jews on and off campus.”
Alums for Campus Fairness has also launched a petition calling for the university to take “necessary and appropriate action” to protect Jewish students on campus. “We cannot sit idly by and watch SJP attempt to CANCEL Jewish identity at the University of Chicago,” they wrote. “As antisemitism spikes around the world, Jewish students deserve to feel safe on campus.”
The university and SJP at UChicago did not respond to the Journal’s requests for comment.
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