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April 21, 2022 2:12 pm
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Outcry After Anti-Israel Protest Held at University of Illinois Jewish Center

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The Illini Union at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Photo: Chiwara / Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish groups this week denounced a University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UIUC) student activist group for holding an anti-Israel protest outside the campus’ Hillel center during Passover.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) included a stop at the Illini Hillel Cohen Center during what it advertised as an “emergency protest” over clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.

One student told local CBS affiliate WCIA 3 that SJP UIUC came to the Jewish center because “they obviously have a very direct connection to Israel and that’s why we’re targeting that are in specific.”

“When you come to places like these, you’re becoming complacent [sic] in it,” the student said.

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On Monday, Illini Hillel executive director Erez Cohen called SJP’s actions “unacceptable.”

“Our students are celebrating Passover right now, and they come here for kosher food that they can’t get anywhere else,” he told The Daily Illini, a campus newspaper. “We find it really unacceptable that Jewish students need to be cornered in a situation where they need to cross through a field of yelling people to come and get their religious needs answered.”

“When people come to the Jewish center to yell against Israel, they’re creating an equation between any Jewish person and the state of Israel. That’s singling out an entire community based on a country that’s miles away.”

Cohen additionally told the campus newspaper that one of the SJP protestors committed a “verbal attack,” and that another pelted an object at Illini Hillel.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said Wednesday that anti-Israel activists on college campuses are “growing more aggressive in targeting Jewish students and organizations,” pointing to the SJP UIUC demonstration as well as a recent display of anti-Zionist materials outside the Harvard University Science Center.

“@SJPUIUC’s attempt to terrorize Jewish students by targeting their cultural space is despicable. Protesting during a Passover gathering adds insult to injury,” Greenblatt tweeted.

The ADL’s Midwest chapter added that it had been in touch with Illini Hillel to offer support, and urged the university and law enforcement to investigate the incident.

“SJP’s targeting of a Jewish institution at @UofIllinois to protest Israeli policies is antisemitism. We are horrified it occurred during a Passover celebration and reports are an object was thrown at Hillel, crossing the line from protest to violence,” the group said.

University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment.

Weeks ago, the public university’s leadership warned of worsening antisemitism at the school and across the country, after hateful flyers were discovered on campus.

“What you see playing out in Urbana-Champaign, in Chicago, is kind of a microcosm of what’s going on across this nation of ours in this climate of intolerance where it just seems to be growing exponentially,” UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones told WCIA.

Chancellor Jones had previously pledged to address “an alarming increase in antisemitic and anti-Zionist harassment and discrimination” at UIUC in November 2020, after several incidents in which Jewish and pro-Israel students were called Nazis. At the time, an initiative that included educational programming on antisemitism, revisions of anti-discrimination policies, and an Advisory Council on Jewish and Campus Life was launched.

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