University of Chicago Student Leaders Condemn Israel in Unsigned Anti-Semitic Letter

University of Chicago campus / Getty Images
May 27, 2021

Student leaders at the University of Chicago peddled anti-Semitic tropes in a letter condemning Israel after a ceasefire ended a weeks-long conflict set off by the terrorist group Hamas.

In a joint letter with the Students for Justice in Palestine, the incoming Undergraduate Student Government called on May 22 for university officials to divest from Israel and "make accommodations" for Palestinian members of the school community. The unsigned letter states, "From the river to the sea, USG supports a Palestine that is free." Anti-Israel activists use this slogan to call for the wholesale destruction of the Jewish state.

The University of Chicago is the latest American university where student leaders have condemned Israel for defending itself against Hamas. Israeli counterstrikes sparked a wave of anti-Semitic violence in the United States. Police are investigating one assault in New York City, where six men beat and pepper-sprayed a Jew while allegedly spewing anti-Semitic remarks. And a group of men screamed "Free Palestine," "fuck you Jew," "die Jew," and "we're going to rape your wife" at a Jewish family in Miami.

In the letter, student leaders demanded the university suspend study abroad programs in Israel and participate in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the Jewish state. BDS is an anti-Semitic movement popular on college campuses and designed to put economic pressure on Israel by cutting ties with the Jewish state's companies.

The letter also included a reading list from the university's chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, whose members have bullied and assaulted Jewish students at several American college campuses.

Students for Justice in Palestine's resource list includes readings from University of Illinois professor Steven Salaita, who tweeted anti-Semitic remarks, and Rutgers University associate professor Noura Erakat, who defended Hamas during its previous skirmishes against Israel.

The student leaders made no mention of Hamas's airstrikes on Israel but wrote that "thousands of Palestinians" have been killed since Israel's founding in 1948.

"This is to say little of the horrors of the Palestinian people have both borne witness to and suffered through in their displacement from their homes, the destruction of their livelihoods, and their loss of peace—carried out by the Israeli government, paid for by American tax dollars, and invested in by the University of Chicago," the letter reads.

A University of Chicago spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that the student government's statement does not reflect the university's sentiment and that the school does not have an official position on the conflict.

"We know the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is painful for many, and one that is intensely personal for many members of the campus community," the spokesman said. "We will continue to seek to support the wellbeing of all members of our community, including those who are directly affected, and to provide an environment for faculty and students to engage freely and openly on this and other issues."

This isn't the university's first run-in with anti-Semitism. When its student government passed a BDS resolution in 2016, university president Robert Zimmer told the campus paper the administration will never support boycotting Israel.

"This was a resolution by a group of students, that's not the University's position," Zimmer said at the time. "We have to be clear about that, that this has absolutely nothing to do with the University position, which has been quite clear over time."

The University of Chicago community rallied in opposition to the student government's attacks on Israel. Seven Jewish and non-Jewish organizations attacked the incoming student government regime for its "inflammatory and discriminatory statement calling for a boycott of Israel and denying its right to exist."

"We all stand together to reject the incoming Student Government's endorsement of the delegitimization of Israel and its denial of Israel's right to exist," the groups said in a joint statement. "Student Government has no mandate to make this statement and, in doing so, does not represent us or the student body as a whole. Together, we stand against the marginalization of Jewish students on campus and demand a full retraction and apology."

Signatories of the letter include the university's Hillel, Chabad, and J Street chapter, as well as the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and Yavneh of Hyde Park.

Eight members of the University of Chicago's Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Team and Center for Identity and Inclusion did not respond to requests for comment.

Aviv Ezra, Israel's consul general to the midwestern United States, told the Free Beacon that anti-Semitism on college campuses "should be a concern to all."

"The automatic conflation of Jews with Israel is fundamentally anti-Semitic," Ezra said. "The delegitimization of Israel and its right to defend its citizens further fuels and encourages anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is the 2.0 version of anti-Semitism. … The conduct of countries and their sentiment against Israel is directly connected to the rise of anti-Semitism, and this must be taken into consideration."