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March 30, 2022 3:17 pm
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Jewish UConn Student Expelled From A Cappella Group After Facing ‘Antisemitic Harassment’

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Anna Mabel Snow Hall at University of Connecticut. Photo: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

The University of Connecticut has responded to an incident in which a Jewish student was called antisemitic slurs for removing anti-Zionist flyers posted at a school library.

On February 28, Natalie Shclover entered the Homer Babbidge Library, where she saw, tacked on the walls and scattered all over the floors, hundreds of flyers showing a map of Israel juxtaposed with an image of a child being strangled and a picture of university president Radenka Maric.

Anti-Zionism was already a noxious theme spreading through University of Connecticut’s social media circuit, Shclover told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Days earlier, when President Maric announced that she, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, and other local officials would visit Israel in support of the state’s partnerships with Israeli higher education, an Instagram post about the trip was swamped with comments describing Israelis as “greedy” and demanding “another intifada.”

The flyers that met Shclover at the UConn Library continued the social media criticisms of Maric, prompting her to call student services and ask whether they were posted in violation of university rules. After learning that they were and that any left on the ground are considered “public property,” she and her boyfriend, Zacharia El-Tayyeb, who is Muslim and of Jordanian descent, returned to the library later that day to remove “or even discard them.” But when El-Tayyeb proceeded to remove them, an argument with four other students ensued.

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While Shclover explained that El-Tayyeb was, in her view, allowed to take down the flyers, one of the students began filming the exchange with her cellphone and allegedly said, “Even though you’re a Jew, you still have to respect us.” The students, Shclover said, also called her a “f***king b**ch,” a “white supremacist,” and a “f***king Zionist.”

A partial video of the argument was soon posted, Shclover said, and she and El-Tayebb became a trending topic on UConn Yik Yak, with students posting their full names and campus addresses. She was then direct messaged several threats, and that night, The Chordials — a student a cappella society that Shclover served as president — expelled her from the group.

On Monday, University of Connecticut President Radenka Maric said the antisemitic remarks made to Shclover are “unacceptable in any context” and that the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and two other school officials have been asked to “dive deeper into the issue.”

“The incident was heated enough that the police were contacted. UConn Police investigated and issued their report this past week. It was determined that nothing criminal took place on either side,” Maric wrote in a message to the school community. She argued further that anything said by either party during the argument is protected by the First Amendment, and that the “dispute wasn’t really about flyers in the library.”

“That was what sparked it but it was really about much deeper issues tied to the combustible combination of religion, cultural identity, politics, history, and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East — a conflict that plays out around the world, including here,” Maric continued. “Everyone is free to express their opinions and ‘choose a side’ to support one way or another in the larger conflict, but UConn — the university, the state agency, the public institution — is not and will not.”

On Tuesday, Shclover told The Algemeiner that the university’s response revealed a difference between its treatment of antisemitism and other forms of racism.

“I think it fell painfully short of addressing the harassment that Zach and I endured, and calling it the ‘library incident’ is very arbitrary. We’ve had emails and communications from administrative bodies at UConn condemning acts of racism, Islamophobia, and even acts of antisemitism in years past, and I don’t understand why an issue surrounding Israel or Palestine would be treated any differently,” she said.

“I was disappointed that the email came a month on the dot later than the incident, and I think there could have been many things done to prevent the extent of this situation, and it speaks to a failure of the system that is in place,” she continued.

Shclover also urged University of Connecticut to encourage tolerance of Jews who support Israel.

“I know that this is a greater issue, one that the Jews and Zionist on this campus are afraid to talk about because they fear what happened to me might happen to them, and I don’t blame them,” Shclover continued. “UConn is not going to thrive if every Jewish student on this campus feels the way they do now, which is unsafe, unprotected, and unheard. UConn will not thrive as a space that is inclusive for everyone but the Jews.”

On Friday, UConn Hillel condemned the “antisemitic harassment” of Shclover, defending her removal of the flyers as “upholding UConn’s free speech policy.” The Anti-Defamation League has also commented on how Shclover was treated, saying it is “deeply disturbed by what [she] had had to endure after rightfully & respectfully taking a stand for what she believes in.”

Last Wednesday, a petition urging the university to reinstate Shclover in The Chordials was posted on Change.org. “U Conn cannot be the kind of school where this [kind] of racist and bigoted persecution can be allowed to stand,” it said.

Shclover, just weeks away from graduation, told The Algemeiner that since the incident, “nothing has really been the same.”

“[The Chordials] didn’t even speak to me. I had no communication at all from the moment that video was posted to the moment I was dismissed from the group,” she continued. “These were my best friends. When I joined The Chordials, it kept me at UConn. I really was having a hard time my freshman year. I joined an a cappella group and just felt like I found my family.”

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