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October 25, 2019 3:34 pm

Hundreds of Jewish Students Walk Out in Protest as University of Illinois Student Senate Passes Resolution Denying Link Between Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

avatar by Caleb Galaraga

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

More than 400 Jewish students from fraternities, sororities, Chabad, Hillel and other organizations walked out in protest earlier this week during a student government meeting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) at which a motion was approved denying any link between anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

On Wednesday, the UIUC student senate passed the resolution titled “Condemning Ignorance of Racism and Equating Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism” by a vote of 29-4, with four abstentions. The document was authored by five student senators aligned with the UIUC chapter of the group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). 

Jewish groups alleged that they were not consulted about the resolution, which also provided a definition of antisemitism.

“This resolution was written without Jewish input,” Lauren Nesher — a member of the pro-Israel group IlliniPAC — said during the meeting. “Not a single Jewish cultural house was consulted, and yet it purports to speak for the campus community.”

“We watched as it was bee-lined through the senate and the committee during some of our holiest of days,” Nesher added, before inviting all Jewish students and their allies to leave the meeting.

The resolution was drafted Oct. 16 and claimed that equating anti-Zionism and antisemitism was a false equivalence and scare tactic used against Palestinians. It was fast tracked for a vote during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The sole Jewish senator in student government, Ian Katsnelson, was only made aware of the resolution when it was made public. “They choose to willingly not listen,” said Katsnelson, who also joined the walkout.

The resolution condemned a mass email sent by Robert Jones — the university’s chancellor — on Oct. 9, in which he raised concerns about antisemitic expressions on campus including a swastika found in the school’s Foreign Languages Building.

In the same message, he pointed out that “concerns were raised about a recent presentation with antisemitic content at a staff development program by a Housing student-worker.”

The presentation in question was titled “Palestine and the Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror” and was delivered by an SJP member during a regularly-held staff training session on diversity.

SJP decried Jones’ mailing as conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism and the Oct. 16 document called for Jones to retract his message and apologize.

The anti-Israel group described the resolution’s passage as a “powerful victory.”

“The time for silencing Palestinians voices under the guise of combating anti-Semitism is over,” the group said on its Facebook page.

But Jewish students had a different message. “We do not negotiate antisemitism,” was the rallying cry of many of them as they streamed out of a standing room only hall filled with members of SJP and their supporters.

Max Shapiro — a junior and former student senator — told The Algemeiner that the Jewish community had to show up in force and tell the student government it was not being represented.

“We had to make a public statement,” he said. But Shapiro had not expected a big turnout for the walk out, declaring himself impressed with the “overwhelming community support,” including from nearby Jewish groups and synagogues.

“At the end of the day we don’t really care that the resolution was passed,” Shapiro said. “We would have like it to not be passed, but we went in last night with the assumption that it would pass.”

Katsnelson also said that he was completely unfazed about the result of Wednesday night’s vote.

“I feel that it’s actually pretty ironic, this resolution has even brought our community closer together on such a common purpose and common goal of being proud to be Jews on this campus,” he said.

Erez Cohen — director of Illini Hillel — said that he was “very proud of the response of the Jewish students.”

Those who walked out of the meeting proceeded to the UIUC quad where Michael Faibishenko and Daniel Raab — student leaders of Illini Chabad — led the group in a vigil for recent victims of antisemitic violence, including those in Pittsburgh in the US and Halle in Germany.

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