November 19, 2019

U of I Student Government Sends Resolution to Committee Saying Anti-Zionism Isn’t Anti-Semitism

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The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Student Government voted on Oct. 17 to send a resolution to a committee stating anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitism, the Daily Illini student newspaper reports.

The resolution, titled: “Condemning Ignorance of Racism and Equating Anti-Zionism with Anti-Semitism,” addresses the recent controversy surrounding a presentation shown at a mandatory Sept. 25 housing meeting that was titled “Palestine and the Great March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror” and referred to Palestinian “martyrdom” as “death which is desired by a warrior.” UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones said the presentation contained “anti-Semitic content” in an Oct. 9 campus-wide email.

The resolution calls on Jones to retract the email and apologize “for wrongfully categorizing Anti-Zionism as Anti-Semitism, slandering many students’ image and their cause,” according to a copy obtained by the Journal. The resolution also condemns “the constant conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” The resolution could be amended in the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion before going to a final vote.

According to the Daily Illini, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) UIUC President Ahlam Khatib urged the student government to pass the resolution, arguing that the charge of anti-Semitism is used “to silence Palestinian voices.” He added: “Anti-Zionism is not a racist ideology, it is not against a people, it is against a state.”

Former Student Senator Max Shapiro criticized the resolution during the public comment section, arguing it would send “an explicit message from community leaders at the University of Illinois that Jews on this campus do not have the right to define what hatred against them is.”

Student Senator Ian Katsnelson, who is the only Jewish member of the student government, applauded Jones during the Oct. 17 meeting for condemning the presentation, arguing that in doing so “he has made us, as Jewish students on campus, truly feel safer.”

Jones defended his condemnation during the annual meeting of the faculty on Oct. 14, saying, “When things are created or said or done that create an unhealthy or unsafe environment, I will speak out as well.”

SJP UIUC issued a series of demands on Oct. 15 calling for Jones to retract his condemnation of the presentation as anti-Semitic and unequivocally state that anti-Zionism isn’t to anti-Semitism. If Jones didn’t adhere to SJP UIUC’s demands, they will be calling for his resignation.

In March 2019, then-UIUC undergraduate student Hayley Nagelberg explained in a Daily Illini column that she had faced several instances of anti-Semitism on campus. 

“As a freshman, my name and pictures were shared on social media captioned with anti-Semitic slurs,” she wrote. “I was kicked off of a University committee because of my religion as a sophomore. I filed dozens of reports with the campus bias team documenting discrimination against me because of my religion that went unaddressed. Now in my senior year, the University Board of Trustees has not responded after I presented a log of over 30 documented acts of discrimination which occurred over two and a half years.”

Nagelberg went onto criticize the student government for passing a resolution on anti-Semitism she argued had been watered down since it omitted “specific requests the Jewish community made regarding vicious anti-Semitic acts that have occurred repeatedly on campus — requests such as one mandating that references to Nazis and Hitler be classified as anti-Semitic” and “addressed a wide variety of other ‘isms’ or minority groups and misrepresented entirely what anti-Semitism is.” Such a resolution would make anti-Semitism worse on campus, she argued.

“The ISG emboldened anti-Semitism on this campus, silenced Jewish students and voted directly against the Jewish community by passing a resolution that it was told explicitly did not address anti-Semitism,” Nagelberg wrote. “It proved our student community does not know what anti-Semitism is, and anti-Semitism must be defined to be combated.”