June 3, 2021 Robert J. Zimmer, PhD President The University of Chicago 5801 South Ellis Avenue, Suite 501 Chicago, Illinois 60637 VIA EMAIL: email@example.com RE: Urging Administrative Action to Address Antisemitism at the University of Chicago Dear President Zimmer, We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. Like many, we are appalled by the discriminatory, antisemitic statement posted on the University of Chicago’s incoming Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) official Facebook and Twitter social media accounts on May 22, 2021. First, thank you for your June 1, 2021, response to the incoming USG statement, clarifying that this statement does not represent the sentiments of the administration. We commend you for showing concern about the recent cases of antisemitism throughout the country, and how these acts are “deplorable and antithetical to [y]our values, including [y]our deep commitment to open and free inquiry, and [y]our welcoming of people of all backgrounds.” We agree that a campus environment must equally welcomeand protect all students regardless of identity, background or belief. We were troubled, however, that it took your administration ten days to make such a statement, leaving Jewish students feeling threatened, marginalized, and unprotected in the interim. More importantly, we remain concerned that your statement does not go far enough to address the underlying issues. Specifically, while we support the university’s policy not to take sides in a political disputesuch as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, your statement fails toaddress the USG’scalls for academic boycottsagainst Israel and discrimination against Zionists, which speaks to the core identity of mainstream Jewish and Israeli students and expresses a desire to discriminate against them for this core identity. In light of this, we urge you to act beyond your June 1 statement to ensure that your campus is positioned both to prevent antisemitic activity and to remedy it should it occur. With the sharp rise in antisemitic conduct both locally and throughout the country— alongside your
administration’s failure to address the issue for ten days—we fear that the perception is that antisemitism and anti-Zionist activity on campus will be tacitly accepted or deliberately ignored. As such, your administration needs to indicate now to the campus community that you will have a zero-tolerance policy toward antisemitism on campus moving forward. Why the USG Statement is Antisemitic and Harmful The incoming USG’s official statement is antisemitic and harmful in three respects: (1) it specifically calls for the university to support the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; (2) it makes Zionists unwelcome on campus when it states, “We stand against the ideology of Zionism;” and (3) it asks that the university engage in an academic boycott by “refusing treks to Tel Aviv or Study Abroad programs inJerusalem.” BDS systematically promotes national origin discrimination against Israel as well as antisemitism more broadly. The purpose of BDS is not to protest or change Israeli policy as some claim, but to isolate and pressure Israel until it ceases to exist. BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti has said, “we oppose a Jewish state” and that Jewish people “are not entitled to self- determination.” In the course of promoting discrimination against Israel, BDS purposefully uses misinformation, distortions, and classic antisemitic tropes to convey its agenda; it uses the suggestion of Jewish subversion, conspiracy, dual loyalty,greed and economic control,and most importantly, blood libels. In the second instance, when the statement rejects Zionism, it rejects mainstream Jewish identity and targets Jews on campus for their identity. The Jewish religion came into being in the land of Israel. The Jewish people have maintained a continuous presence in Israel throughout history and, despite expulsions from the land, have maintained an unbroken connection to that land. For centuries, Jews have yearned for a return to Israel/Zion, their ancestral Jewish homeland. Today, Jews are able to fulfill their inalienable rights to self-determination in the State of Israel.
Recognizing these realities, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” and “applying double standards” to Israel as elements of antisemitism. The USG’s rejection of Zionism as an ideology meets this definition of antisemitism because it seeks to deny the Jewish connection to their ancestral land and to strip Jews of their right to self-determination in that land. Additionally, the phrase “from the river to the sea”—included at the end of the first paragraph in USG’s statement—is a common refrain used by anti-Israel activists. Literally speaking, it is a call to wipe Israel off the map and strip away the rights of Jews to self-determination. It has also been used as a call for genocide and/or ethnic cleansing of Jews who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which is where Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza arelocated. Why Academic Boycotts are Harmful to Jewish Students Academic boycotts,like the one called for in the USG statement, effectively marginalize and hamper the educational opportunities of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli students who want to participate in study abroad programs in Israel.
Other universities have seen the harmful, discriminatory effects of such a boycott on Jewish students. At the University of Michigan,a professor rescinded a student letter of recommendation for a study abroad program in Israel as part of his participation in an academic boycott of Israel. Such action was discriminatory, politically motivated, and stifled the student’s education in clear violation of the university’s academic guidelines. Admirably, the University of Michigan responded unequivocally by disciplining the professor, denying him a merit-based raise and sabbatical; they also established a Blue Ribbon panel in response to this incident, which ultimately led the university to enact new policies prohibiting a professor’s personal political biases from determining whether or not to write a letter of recommendation. In doing so, the administration sent a clear message to the campus community that discriminatory and antisemitic actions fueled by faculty member’s personal politics have no place at the university and will be met with serious consequences. Academic boycotts of study abroad programs are merely one component of the suggested guidelines spelled out in the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) guidelines. This means that the potential for continued discrimination against Jewish and Israeli students at the University of Chicago through an academic boycott is much greater and ongoing. The PACBI Guidelines appear to demand that faculty members take active measures—far beyondsimply making controversial statements protected by academic freedom —to prohibit student participation in various academic opportunities. It is critical to recognize that when this happens, students become unwilling victims of a faculty member’s political biases, in directviolation of university policy and academic guidelines––as well as federaland state anti-discrimination law and the university’s Unlawful Harassment and Discrimination policy. Recommendations to Curtail the Spread of Antisemitism at the University of Chicago Because USG’s statement was met with administrative silence for ten days, we are deeply concerned that discrimination against Jewish and Israeli students at the University of Chicago is now perceived as acceptable. We therefore urge you to take the following steps to ensure that all students, including Jewish students, are treated as protected members of your campus community, with thefull support and protection of the administration:
(1) Issue an official statement recognizing that, for many individuals, Zionism is an integral component of Jewish identity. This statement has been adopted already at many other campuses faced with such hatefulactivity, including recentlyat the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. This will go a long way toward making Jewish students feel protected and valued by their university.
(2) Condemn the incoming USG’s demand for an academic boycott and reaffirm the university’s commitment to partnerships with Israeli academic institutions and study abroadprograms in Israel currently offered by the University of Chicago.
(3) Issue a public statement condemning and rejecting the BDS movement against Israel. Student governments may have a rightto engage in hateful speech; your administration,
however, has a right to prohibit any academic department or faculty member from engagingin BDS in their official capacities. Numerous university administrations havealready made such statements condemning BDS.
(4) Institute mandatory bias and sensitivity training for all faculty, staff and student government leaders during summer 2021 that includes tools for defining, identifying, and combating antisemitism.
(5) Cooperate and build closer ties between the University of Chicago and Israel.
In conclusion, with antisemitism sharply rising in Chicago and throughout the country, this is a critical opportunity and teachable moment for your administration to show leadership, provide moral clarity, and convey to your entire campus that antisemitism has no place atthe University of Chicago.
We thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter. We are available to discuss this further with you and would appreciate a response to this letter by June 16, 2021.
CEO and Co-Founder
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism
Kim Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org