Jewish students and their supporters announced Friday the filing of a federal complaint alleging an “unrelenting campaign of anti-Semitic harassment” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The complaint submitted in March with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights accused the university of allowing a “hostile environment to proliferate on campus,” citing an increase in swastikas, vandalism of menorahs and mezuzahs, and window-smashing at the Jewish fraternity house.
The document, which urged OCR to open an investigation, also said Students for Justice in Palestine’s members and supporters have harassed Jewish and pro-Israel students by calling them ‘Nazi’ and ‘White supremacist,’ and “converted mandatory UIUC diversity training into anti-Israel indoctrination.”
“Being a Jew at UIUC comes with immense hate and hostility” said UIUC student Ian Katsnelson in a statement. “First, as a senator on student government I’ve experienced shocking examples of anti-Semitism firsthand. I’ve been called a genocide supporter, a White supremacist, and harassed; all for being publicly Jewish. And all of this in front of the administration — who did nothing.”
Robin Kaler, UIUC associate chancellor for public affairs, said that the university “will never tolerate bigotry, racism or hate, and we condemn acts and expressions of anti-Semitism,” and that officials sought to address the problem after the complaint was submitted earlier this year to an accrediting organization.
“We were asked this summer to respond to the complaint,” said Ms. Kaler in an email. “After receiving our response, that organization determined that the allegations raised in the complaint do not indicate substantive noncompliance with their requirements and that no further review would be conducted.”
At the same time, she said, “the university has been engaged in a long, meaningful and what we believed was a collaborative discussion about the concerns raised by the involved parties, so it is very disheartening that they chose to stop engaging with us.”
“We are disappointed with the approach this group has taken to move our conversation to the media, but we are absolutely committed to an inclusive university community where everyone feels welcome,” Ms. Kaler said.
The complaint, which accused the university of violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was prepared by Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, with the involvement of the Jewish United Fund and Hillel International.
“Jewish students at UIUC have been targeted for years,” said Brandeis Center President Alyza D. Lewin. “We gave UIUC seven months since the complaint was filed to address the ongoing harassment. In the face of continuous stall tactics and almost no action from the university, we decided to publicize our efforts.”
In addition to incidents of vandalism and swastikas, the complaint listed a September 2019 university-sponsored diversity training session that included a presentation entitled, “Palestine & Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror.”
The chancellor later condemned the “anti-Semitic content,” but the student government passed a resolution sponsored by SJP defending the presentation at a meeting as supporters held up signs with messages like, “Free Palestine, F—- Zionists,” according to the complaint.
A Jewish student senator resigned from the panel earlier this month, saying in a statement that “there is a lot of hate here.”
“There are a lot of members who are here to make sure that they have a forum to spew anti-Israel anti-Semitic hate speech, directly in the face of Jews,” she said.
Last month, the student government passed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution that called for withdrawing investment from “transnational companies that contribute to the American and Israeli military, prisons, police forces, and ICE.”
“While a resolution about upholding human rights should not be controversial, there were persistent racist and Islamophobic Zionist senators and members of the public that voiced their opposition to this bill,” the SJP UIUC said in a Sept. 28 statement on Facebook.
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