Delayed Response at Milwaukee Criticized by Jewish Groups
May 18, 2010

Jewish leaders are criticizing the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee for failing to respond adequately to incidents that took place during an April 29 celebration of the anniversary of Israel's independence. During the event, a person protesting the event was arrested for assaulting one of the organizers. Also, pro-Palestinian students chalked the area where the event was to take place with anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian statements. According to the Jewish organizations, the chalkings also included a swastika. "The events -- including the image of the swastika -- were reported in the media. Jewish students on campus expressed fears for their safety; some said they no longer felt safe and welcome on the UWM campus, cited other anti-Semitic incidents and, sadly, spoke of giving up the display of their religious symbols on campus," said the statement from Jewish leaders in Milwaukee. They went on to say that "a strong statement" condemning the actions taken against the pro-Israel group had not been made by the university.

On Monday, Carlos E. Santiago, the chancellor at Milwaukee, did release a statement. (A spokesman said that he had held off in hope of being able to issue a joint statement with the Jewish leaders, but respected their right to release their own statement.) In Santiago's statement, he said that he wanted to "reaffirm the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a place for the free exchange of ideas and perspectives. Such exchanges, however, should be made in a civil, peaceful and constructive manner. UWM does not tolerate violence as an expression of any viewpoint." He said that he would encourage the creation of "programs that will enhance our campus community's commitment to a culture of safety, civility and respect in the exchange of ideas and opinions."

However, Santiago declined to condemn the chalkings -- in part because he said a swastika was never verified as part of that protest. He said that after officials learned of the chalkings, administrators went to the area. "At the time of the inspection, no members of the administrative team saw any evidence of a swastika. The messages that were seen represented protected political speech, and, therefore, were left undisturbed. I want to emphasize that chalking on university property that crosses the line of free speech to create an atmosphere of harassment for students of any race, religion, nationality or other protected status will not be tolerated."

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