Criticism of Israel is not antisemitism
Grave implications for free speech, distracts from actual racism
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN. (INSTAGRAM)
As faculty and staff within the University of Illinois system, we are writing to renew our outrage at the rampant anti-Semitism and racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, and other forms of hatred and dehumanization.
We are also deeply concerned about the way anti-Semitism is defined in a joint statement issued by UIUC, the Jewish United Fund, Hillel groups, and the Brandeis Center in response to complaints that these avowedly pro-Israel groups filed against the University based on student speech and activism for Palestinian human rights.
Specifically, the statement identifies incidents “that demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students…[or] subjects them to double standards” as expressions of anti-Semitism. This conflation of Jewish religious and ethnic identity with a viewpoint that supports the state of Israel or Zionism as a political ideology is a dangerous tactic that is expressly aimed at silencing any and all debate about Israel and Zionism on college campuses.
The way that anti-Semitism is defined in UIUC’s statement correlates with a definition that has been pushed by pro-Israel groups in legislatures, agencies, and institutions around the country and that was adopted by Donald Trump in an executive order issued in 2019. Those same groups have often funded Islamophobia across this country and have allied themselves with right wing organizations. The definition itself is uncontroversial, but it is accompanied by several illustrative examples intended to guide its interpretation and use. For instance, critiques of Israel as a racist state are treated as expressions of anti-Semitism. As the Brandeis Center has said explicitly in the complaint it filed against UIUC, the definition means that: “anti-Zionism is a contemporary form of anti-Semitism.”
The political project to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is harmful on several levels, and we urge the University of Illinois administration to reject this effort because of the grave implications it has for academic freedom and student free speech on our campuses, the way it distracts from actual racism happening on our campuses, and the ironic consequence of creating an anti-Palestinian/Arab/Muslim environment on campus by targeting students for expressing their experiences and views.
1) The harm to academic freedom and student speech
Whether or not one agrees with Israeli policy, anyone concerned about academic freedom should be gravely concerned about this definition because repressing the free exchange of ideas is antithetical to the purpose of campus life and the opportunity for students to learn how to engage with diverse viewpoints.