UIUC Administrators: Anti-Zionism is not Antisemitism

On September 24, Robert J. Jones, Chancellor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, sent a letter to the student body expressing opposition to bigotry, racism and hate at UIUC.

The letter listed ‘anti-Semitic attacks hidden under the guise of anti-Zionist rhetoric’ as an example of such bigotry, and failed to clarify what, exactly, constitutes an anti-Semitic form of ‘anti-Zionist rhetoric’. In response, JVP released the following statement. Read SJP at UIUC’s statement here.

As a national organization inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a just peace in Israel/Palestine and for an end to all forms of racism, we are extremely concerned by the massmail sent out by your offices on September 24th, which failed to distinguish between antisemitism and criticism of the Israeli government. This implicitly framed student activism for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic, and failed to express commitment to protect Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students, and many other marginalized groups on campus. We demand that you meet with Students for Justice in Palestine, send another massmail clarifying the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and take concrete steps to protect all marginalized groups on campus.

We at Jewish Voice for Peace are concerned with the rise of neo-Nazi, far-right activity on college campuses and around the country, in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. This activity threatens Jewish students, and all other minority groups on campuses. However, we reject the notion, implied in your statement, that all or most anti-Zionist activism is a form of anti-Semitism. Criticism of Zionism, a political set of beliefs and national ideology, has a complex history that has developed for over a century, and it is not to be conflated with anti-Semitism. States such as Israel and the United States are openly criticized in public life, and their political beliefs and policies are subject to critical debate, in accord with our basic First Amendment rights. To debate the structure of a state, and to ask about the conditions of its legitimacy in no way threatens a population with harm. Labeling anti-Zionism as bigotry, as your statement effectively does, threatens to shut down thoughtful inquiry and open public debate on an issue of great public importance.

Advocacy for Palestinian human rights, criticism of the ideology of Zionism, and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement does not threaten Jewish students, nor does such advocacy create an ‘unsafe campus climate’ for Jews at University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign or other campuses. Challenging the discriminatory policies of the Israeli government has nothing to do with identity, but with the policies themselves. In fact, the notion that all Jews necessarily support Israel, identify with Zionism, and stand against BDS is itself a form of anti-Semitism, as it falsely assumes that all Jews will automatically behave a certain way, simply by virtue of being Jewish. Jewish people, like all other people, hold a variety of political opinions around the issues of our time, including the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Across the country, a well-funded network of pro-Israel organizations works to shut down speech critical of Israel on college campuses by harassing student activists, intimidating student government representatives, pressuring university administrators, and more. As detailed in reports by Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Legal, false charges of anti-Semitism are key weapons used by those intent on stifling dissent on college campuses. Political speech critical of the policies of a nation-state- including criticism of Zionism, and calls to boycott, divest from, or apply sanctions to the state of Israel- constitutes fully protected speech under the First Amendment. Protection of this speech is a vital cornerstone of a healthy, pluralistic democracy and a vibrant campus climate.

We support the demands by Students for Justice in Palestine: that you meet with members of Students for Justice in Palestine to discuss the massmail and its faults, and release another massmail that rigorously distinguishes between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, includes Muslim students, and students facing oppression based on gender, sexuality, and class in its list of marginalized groups, and highlights your University’s position of supporting student and community groups which advocate for social, economic and political justice. Further, we demand that you commit to meet with established groups representing the interests of marginalized students on campus, including black students, Latinx students, Palestinian students, Muslim students, Native American students, queer students, and working class students, before the release of any future massmails lauding your University’s efforts at inclusion.



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