Northwestern Jewish community challenges study that calls university an anti-Semitic ‘hotspot’

Erica Snow, Assistant City Editor

Jewish leaders and students disputed the credibility of a Brandeis University study released in October that names Northwestern an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel “hotspot.”

The study found that of 68 NU respondents, 70 percent said they at least somewhat perceived a hostile environment on campus toward Israel, and 28 percent said they at least somewhat agreed they perceived hostility toward Jews on campus.

Additionally, 9 percent of respondents said they experienced an in-person anti-Semitic insult or harassment on campus, and 17 percent reported feeling unwelcome at some point.

But Michael Simon, Hillel’s executive director, said he believes the study is misleading. Simon said it is important to differentiate between students feeling uncomfortable and feeling threatened for their lives.

“I don’t want to say there’s not anti-Israel sentiment because there is,” Simon said. “To characterize the atmosphere as being one that is pervasively anti-Semitic or even pervasively anti-Israel is just not born out in the lived experience of our students.”

However, Simon also said there have been times Jewish students felt uncomfortable on campus, such as when Associated Student Government Senate passed a controversial resolution sponsored by NU Divest.

The study, which also examined 49 other universities, estimated that NU’s undergraduate student body is roughly 15 percent Jewish, or about 1,400 students.

Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the leader of Tannenbaum Chabad House and the advisor of Alpha Epsilon Pi, said while he wouldn’t call NU an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel “hotspot,” there is no empirical way to measure if NU is an anti-Semitic campus. However, it is clear that some students perceive it that way, he said.

“Whether it’s reality or not, that’s what they feel,” Klein said. “Obviously, there are many Jews who are willing to come forward to say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortably Jewish here.’ And that’s something as a Jewish leader (that) concerns me.”

Klein said although NU is a safe place for people to be Jewish, the University should do more to address Jewish students’ concerns. He added that he was disappointed the University did not issue a statement after the study was published.

University President Morton Schapiro said he didn’t feel a need to issue a statement because there was no validity to the report.

“Every day, somebody accuses us of something,” Schapiro said. “Somebody puts us on a list, somebody does this or that. You do the best job you can, and you move forward, and you don’t want to constantly react to unscientific analyses or what they criticize us for.”

Hillel student executive president Tamar Eisen agreed that the University didn’t have to make a statement because she said the study lacked credibility.

The SESP senior also agreed with Simon that there is a difference between Jewish students feeling uncomfortable talking about their views on Israel and Palestine, and feeling unsafe because they support Israel. Eisen said the Israel-Palestine conflict is a “contentious issue” on campus.

Eisen said the close relationship between Fossil Free NU, Unshackle NU, NU Divest and Students for Justice in Palestine can make getting involved in social justice advocacy at Northwestern “challenging” for some Jewish students who support Israel, but it doesn’t always prevent them from getting involved.

She also said she was shocked when she saw the study and said it did not accurately reflect her or any of her friends’ experiences, and the report gives a “false perception” of Jewish campus life.

“The fact that it’s called a hotspot — it really just paints a picture that we are (an) environment just rife with hate and fear,” Eisen said. “That’s just not how Jewish students live on this campus. That’s just not their daily experience.”

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