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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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LTE: When leadership and moral clarity were needed, President Schill equivocated

Content warning: This article contains mentions of death, violence and antisemitism.

My wife Lauri and I are proud parents of a Northwestern graduate, Andrew Zessar (Weinberg ’16). We are also Jews. Having invested so much to put a child through the University, Lauri and I, as well as Andrew, feel strongly that it’s our place to speak up on the crimes committed by Hamas and on University President Michael Schill’s Oct. 12 and 13 statements.

First, President Schill, it is disappointing that you had to be prodded by several members of the NU community to say something. When asked prior to Oct. 12, you said you weren’t going to make a statement. That’s not leadership.

Then, when you finally made a statement, it was pure equivocation. Why is it that you, a Jew, equivocate on Hamas’ atrocities, while a non-Jew, University of Florida President Ben Sasse, can make a simple and morally clear statement on the subject? President Sasse released a letter condemning Hamas’ actions. But he went further than you. He also condemned anyone who sought to justify Hamas, to blame Israel and the victims, or to otherwise “‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped woman, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother.” The atrocities that occurred were despicable, and as Sasse stated, any attempt to justify what Hamas did “isn’t just wrong, it’s sickening. It’s dehumanizing. It is beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans.”

Yet, your statements wouldn’t go that far. You meekly stated, in your Oct. 12 message, that “there are no doubt differences among our students and faculty on what Hamas did.” Sorry, President Schill, but anyone supportive of Hamas’ grotesque and inhumane atrocities is an immoral human being and blatantly antisemitic.

What if this were right after Kristallnacht in 1938? Would you have said “there are no doubt differences among our students and faculty” on that? Or what if this were after the world finally learned the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the murder of six million of your fellow Jews? Would you have said “there are no doubt differences among our students and faculty” on the Holocaust?

And two weekends ago, what if it were your family living in Kfar Azza or Be’eri, and you woke up on Oct. 7 to learn that they had been killed by terrorists? Would you say “there are no doubt differences among our students and faculty” on Hamas’ atrocities? To your own family?

President Sasse condemns but correctly won’t prevent people sympathetic to Hamas from stating their opinions. As he said, “Our Constitution protects the rights of people to make abject idiots of themselves.” People who seek to justify Hamas’ atrocities, blame Israel and the victims, or otherwise “provide context” are just that.

As the president of a prestigious university and a fellow Jew, it’s incumbent upon you to throw shade on such discourse. President Sasse did so. And so should you.

You obviously received blowback on your Oct. 12 message, which led to your Oct. 13 statement. Yet, unlike President Sasse, you still shied away from criticizing supporters of Hamas’s gruesome and criminal conduct. There’s a world of difference between saying we “all (should) condemn these barbaric acts” and calling out those who applaud Hamas’ atrocities or who blame it on Israel or the victims. By not taking on the latter, as President Sasse did, you let them off the hook. That’s not leadership.

It should be transparent that for each and everyone one of us as Jews, Hamas wants us dead, too. Yes, sir, you included, and your family. If you were there they would have killed you. How can there be any equivocation?

Also, your Superman-Clark Kent distinction between speaking as a university president versus “Mike the individual” is disingenuous. The Wall Street Journal called you to task on it just this week.

You state in your Oct. 12 message, “The University does not speak for our faculty, students and staff … For me to speak for them displaces their own freedom to speak.” Yet at the University of Oregon in 2020, you spoke out as “University President Schill” on the topic of racism and stated, “As an institution, we will continue to listen, seek understanding, and find meaningful ways to recognize and strengthen communities of color.”

Here, you give the pretense you can only speak as “Mike” the individual on the equally pernicious matter of antisemitism. Why? Racism and antisemitism are both dangerous and immoral. This is just another example of your lack of leadership.

For all the education you have received, the honors you have been bestowed, and your esteemed intellectual capability, your statements are spineless and, unlike President Sasse, demonstrate a lack of leadership and moral clarity.

If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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