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The Daily Northwestern

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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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Gibson: How not to fight antisemitism at Northwestern

I am a 1973 alumnus of the Medill School of Journalism and a proud Jewish American who supports the state of Israel and its right to exist — although I am fiercely critical of the Netanyahu government and its policies. As a proud supporter of Northwestern, a member of the Alumni Admission Council and a donor for the past 45 years, I am concerned about the spread of antisemitism at Northwestern, both before and since the brutal Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, 2023.

First, let’s understand what is and is not antisemitism. In 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance developed a working definition of the term. As of April 2023, 42 countries have adopted that definition, including the U.S., members of the European Union, nations in Latin America and Asia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania.

The IHRA working definition lists concrete examples of antisemitism, including: denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, such as by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor; applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation; drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel. 

To be clear, it is not antisemitic to criticize or call for the removal of the Israeli government. It is antisemitic to call for the elimination of Israel. 

Next, it is important to understand Hamas, which has governed Gaza since 2007. Among other things, its founding principles call for the elimination of Israel as a country. In 1997, the U.S. designated Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization.

Other countries have followed. And they are not alone. 

On March 9, 2023, the Islamic Fatwa Council issued a fatwa — a formal ruling on a point of Islamic law — against Hamas, citing extortion, terrorism, corruption, imprisoning and torturing journalists and recruiting a reported 50,000 Palestinian children as soldiers to sacrifice their lives for Hamas.

Students at NU have used the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a phrase used by Hamas leaders and many of their supporters around the world, to reference the elimination of Israel. Senior Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad has promised that Hamas would repeat Oct. 7 “again and again” until Israel is “annihilated.” Supporting Hamas’ justification for and pledge to repeat the atrocities of Oct. 7 and remove Israel from the map is antisemitic to the core.

It should go without saying that support for Hamas’ genocidal campaign to kill Jews and annihilate Israel does not belong on any campus, let alone NU’s. Yet, faculty and student groups continue to call Israel a colonizer, even though groups like the Anti-Defamation League, an international organization founded to fight antisemitism, have made clear that Jewish immigration to the area did not equate to European colonial projects at the time. 

Despite this distinction, student groups defend their so-called “right” to engage in what the IHRA defines as antisemitic behavior… including by chanting this phrase

I had hoped that the President’s Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate that President Schill announced last November and populated last month would be able to get to some of the root causes of Jew hatred on our campus and propose concrete steps to eliminate them. 

Unfortunately, the task may simply be too difficult for the committee as constituted. Here are some of the important issues they seem to be avoiding:

The committee should include alumni. Without alumni, an important voice will not be at the table — those of us who not only write checks every year to support NU but also serve as ambassadors for our school. Failing to address antisemitism on campus makes it less likely that Jewish alumni like me will support the school and encourage high-performing Jewish students to attend. Inexplicably, while the committee excludes alumni, it includes one NU professor who signed a petition supporting a terrorist convicted by Israel for her involvement in a bombing that killed two university students in Jerusalem and demonizing the Jewish state.

The committee should address school sanctioned student and faculty groups that, in the view of many supporters of Israel, advocate for the elimination of the state of Israel and that harass Jews on campus. This includes groups that hosted convicted terrorists on campus in 2017, and interfered with the right to safety and security of their fellow students who support Israel. Students placed checkpoints on campus during an anti-Israel-fest called Israeli Apartheid Week in 2015.

The committee should be charged with identifying professors on campus who are calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, but haven’t called for such measures against other countries with far worse human rights records. 

This is antisemitism by definition. This is certainly happening at NU right now by professors who allege the Jewish state is a “colonial” power that oppresses Palestinian people, ignoring the historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of their ancestors and their expulsion from that land many times over the past 3,000 years.

The committee should be charged with addressing whether the University should accept funding from a country that hosts the leaders of Hamas and a NU campus. Additionally the committee should address pro-Hamas rhetoric expressed by some NU professors, such as the NU Qatar professor who took to the radio to claim that reports of some Hamas violence were “kind of fabricated,” despite gruesome images posted to social media on Oct. 7 and in the days following.

While the radio station pulled the interview from national distribution after its original broadcast, the NU administration revised their original statement to merely condemn “any attempt to minimize or misrepresent” what Hamas did on Oct. 7, while seemingly defending the professor’s right to lie about Hamas’ atrocities, citing “academic freedom.” 

Perhaps this is a mountain too high to climb, for reasons best expressed by a member of the Harvard committee tasked with addressing antisemitism on that campus. After she was appointed to the committee, Dara Horn, author of “People Love Dead Jews,” described the impossible task her committee was given. Among other things, she said it would require “firing a lot of people,” and getting rid of programs and courses that actively teach the antisemitism Harvard claims to fight.

I can only hope that the NU committee members undertake this important mission in good faith, understand what they must do to actually address Jew hatred on campus and produce a work that honors our motto, ‘Quaecumque sunt Verae’ — “Whatsoever things are true.”

Stuart Gibson is an alumnus of the Medill School of Journalism, Class of 1973. 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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