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Jewish Faculty Refute Illinois Anti-Semitism Complaint

November 2, 2020
 
 

Jewish faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign signed an open letter in support of Chancellor Robert Jones, who is facing allegations by Jewish students that the university has not adequately responded to a pattern of anti-Semitism on campus over the last five years.

Bruce Rosenstock, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Program in Jewish Culture and Society, said the letter had 64 signatures from faculty members as of Sunday. They argue that some of the examples of anti-Semitic incidents noted in the students’ Oct. 23 discrimination complaint to the United States Department of Education, including vandalism of a Jewish religious center, have been determined not to be motivated by anti-Semitism and several remain unsolved. While the faculty members said they “condemn all these acts in the very strongest terms,” they do not represent “pervasive” harassment against Jewish students.

“They certainly are not symptoms of the administration’s lack of care for or complicit responsibility in antisemitism on this campus and in our community,” the letter said.

The faculty members also said that anti-Israel comments made by Palestinian students and their supporters during student government meetings criticizing Zionism were part of a political debate and should be protected by the First Amendment. Jones has done an “exemplary job” at providing a campus climate where free speech and expression is balanced with “university values of respect and mutual tolerance,” the letter said.

“The college campus is simply one among many sites where this political debate is being waged,” the letter said. “A college campus should certainly not sink into name-calling and mudslinging when it engages in political debate, and we call for all parties to respect the seriousness of the issues involved and to make their case in a manner consonant with Illinois values. But we do not believe that the Department of Education is the right arbiter to settle how this or any other legitimate political debate should be conducted.”

The Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a legal advocacy institution that promotes the civil rights of Jewish people, and other legal advocates filed the discrimination complaint on behalf of Jewish students, claiming that the university has failed to protect the students from anti-Semitic harassment based on their Jewish identity. The complaint was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and has been historically extended by the department to cover “students from any discrete religious group that shares, or is perceived to share, ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”

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