U of Illinois, Jewish Groups Reach Resolution

November 17, 2020

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign issued a joint statement Monday with advocates for Jewish students that acknowledged some anti-Zionist sentiment on campus as anti-Semitism and pledged to combat the types of harassment and discrimination that Jewish students detailed in a complaint to the United States Department of Education earlier this year.

Despite this resolution, the department has opened an investigation into the university’s handling of anti-Semitic incidents on campus, Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, said in an email. The university was notified about the investigation Nov. 13, Kaler wrote.

The joint statement, signed by the university and national, local and campus organizations that support Jewish students, said “Zionism is an integral part” of some Jewish students’ identities and heritage and vowed to protect students who “openly express identification with Israel” from discrimination, harassment and exclusion from university activities. Alyza Lewin, president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a Jewish rights advocacy institution that signed the statement, said it was the first time she has seen a university publicly acknowledge that Zionism for some students is tied to their Jewish identity.

“While we may not agree on all aspects of these complex and critical issues, we are united in a single view that our shared and common goal must be to support a safe and welcoming environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students at the University of Illinois that is free of discrimination and harassment,” the statement said. “Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place at this university.”

The university also agreed to create an Advisory Council on Jewish and Campus Life by the beginning of the spring semester. The council will consist of students, alumni, faculty and staff members and local representatives from the Jewish community, who will work with university leaders on efforts to make the campus a more inclusive place for Jewish people, including educational programming on anti-Semitism, the statement said.

Bruce Rosenstock, a professor in the university’s Program in Jewish Culture and Society who wrote a letter signed by 64 other Jewish faculty members in opposition to the Department of Education complaint, said in an email that he is happy the joint statement “is not an admission of guilt and does not point a finger of blame at anyone.” Rosenstock said he hopes the new council will include Jewish members who are Zionist and those that are not.

“Both groups of Jews suffer from anti-Semitism in common and both groups deserve to exercise their freedom of expression as Jews wherever they may live,” said a statement Rosenstock addressed to Chancellor Robert Jones. “To present a monolithic picture of Jewish identity is to falsify the reality of Jewish life today and to make it less likely that the cherished values of freedom of speech and academic freedom will be respected.”

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