By Jackson Richman
(JNS) A recent presentation during a mandatory meeting for the residential living team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that was replete with antisemitic references has come under fire from the pro-Israel community, with the school’s chancellor denouncing the incident.
Titled “Palestine & Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror,” the slideshow presentation included libelous statements with one of the slides headlined “Brief History of the Palestine-Israel ‘Conflict” that stated that in 1917 the “British signed away Palestine to Zionist entity,” when the Balfour Declaration that year declared that the right of the Jews to have a state in their homeland from which they were exiled thousands of years earlier. It also labeled Israel’s independence in 1948 the nakba (a “catastrophe”), despite the 1947 partition plan that the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected, and presented 2014 as an Israeli “assault on Gaza,” despite the fact that Hamas, which controls Gaza, started the violence by launching rockets from civilian centers into Israel.
In a campus email, Chancellor Robert Jones wrote: “This exercise was part of a university program created to help students learn to share diverse ideas and perspectives that lead to new understanding. Instead of fostering dialogue, it incited division, distrust and anger.”
“The program allowed our students to enter an extremely challenging and potentially volatile situation without the preparation, training, education and professional oversight they needed to succeed,” he continued. “This is inexcusable and unacceptable. This is a failure to our students, and that is my responsibility.”
Jones also wrote, “I want to state publicly and unequivocally that acts and expressions of antisemitism are acts and expressions of hatred and discrimination that are in direct opposition to our core values. Bias and prejudice are antithetical to the educational foundations of our university and hurtful to our entire community.”
He continued, saying “the idea that any individual feels threatened for expression of personal religious or ethnic identity is unacceptable. We will always recognize the rights of those on the campus to safely and freely express their perspectives and opinions. But we will also be ready to condemn statements and actions that violate our shared values and seek to demean, intimidate or devalue others in our community.”
IlliniPAC, a pro-Israel student group on campus, thanked Jones for his email and, in a public statement, wrote that “by not showing both sides to this complex issue and tasking [resident assistants] to support a strictly anti-Israel point, the [Multicultural Advocate] surely did not encourage dialogue, nor worked towards the creation of an inclusive community.”
The statement said the presentation “creates a hostile environment for [students] based upon their national origin identity.”
IlliniPAC, while acknowledging freedom of expression, stated that the mandatory meeting (where residential assistants can potentially be fired if they fail to attend) wasn’t the time or place to push such a presentation.
In addition to the slideshow, other antisemitic incidents have included swastikas being spotted on campus.
“We commend UIUC Chancellor Robert Jones for his statement apologizing for the presentation by the Multicultural Advocate and for his pledge to take immediate action to launch wide-ranging campus education and training about antisemitism, to review the University’s training, programming and hiring practices, and to commission an external review of the University’s multicultural education programs,” said StandWithUs in an action alert. “However, the statement neglected to include any mention of anti-Zionism, a serious omission, especially in light of the immediate response by the local [Students for Justice in Palestine] group.”
“This incident is the result of a decades-long campaign to indoctrinate students in our high schools and colleges with anti-Zionist hatred,” Club Z executive director Masha Merkulova told JNS. “We applaud Chancellor Jones for taking responsibility and launching initiatives to combat antisemitism on campus.”
She said, “Our community must prioritize this battle. Jewish parents and community leaders must work together to educate our student leaders on how to address challenging questions about Jewish rights in our homeland, so that our next generation not only has pride for Israel, but is also knowledgeable.”
Main Photo: The campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Credit: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)