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Jewish students at UIUC have faced ‘unrelenting campaign of anti-Semitic harassment,’ complaint says

‘I’ve been called a genocide supporter, a white supremacist and harassed; all for being publicly Jewish,’ student says.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. File Photo.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.
Sun-Times file photo

Jewish students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have endured “an unrelenting campaign of anti-Semitic harassment,” according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

Those students and others supportive of Israel “have been subjected to an alarming increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism over the past five years,” according to a statement issued Friday by the Louis B. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which helped prepare the complaint.

Swastikas have been scrawled across the campus, menorahs and mezuzahs have been vandalized, and windows of Jewish fraternities have been “smashed with bricks,” according to the Brandeis Center.

Also, it says pro-Palestine students have glorified members of terrorist organizations, assailed Jewish students and their allies with epithets like “Nazi” and “white supremacist” and turned university diversity training “into anti-Israel indoctrination.”

The complaint says university administrators have failed to provide “a discrimination-free academic setting” despite being notified of the “developing hostile environment.” The Brandeis Center also claims that some university employees have “been complicit” in fostering that environment.

UIUC spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the Department of Education hasn’t contacted school officials about the allegations — though administrators responded to the complaint after it was sent to the organization that accredits the university in March. That organization ultimately found the allegations “do not indicate substantive noncompliance with their requirements and that no further review would be conducted,” Kaler claimed.

“One of our core institutional values is ensuring that people of all faiths, ethnicities, national origins and viewpoints can live, learn and thrive,” Kaler said in a written statement. “We will never tolerate bigotry, racism or hate, and we condemn acts and expressions of anti-Semitism.”

The Brandeis Center said the university’s previous attempts to address the anti-Semitism “have done little to ameliorate the hostile environment on campus.” And while the complaint was only recently made public, the Brandeis Center claimed the university was given seven months to respond to the allegations after it was filed with the Department of Education.

“In the face of continuous stall tactics and almost no action from the university, we decided to publicize our efforts,” said Alyza D. Lewin, president of the Brandeis Center. “We hope public awareness of this dire situation will prompt the university to finally acknowledge and address the egregious anti-Semitic harassment it has swept under the rug for far too long.”

Kaler contested that account, saying the school “has been engaged in a long, meaningful and what we believed was a collaborative discussion about the concerns raised by the involved parties.”

“It is very disheartening that they chose to stop engaging with us,” Kaler said. “We are disappointed with the approach this group has taken to move our conversation to the media, but we are absolutely committed to an inclusive university community where everyone feels welcome.”

Despite those assurances, one current student said he has personally experienced “shocking examples of anti-Semitism firsthand.”

“I’ve been called a genocide supporter, a white supremacist, and harassed; all for being publicly Jewish. And all of this in front of the administration — who did nothing,” Ian Katsnelson, a biology and political science major, said in a statement. “Second, as a student, I’ve seen the effect that the hostility has on my friends — they’re afraid to wear Jewish stars, Hebrew writing, or even Jewish Greek letters.

“This is my third year at U of I and I can tell you … it’s exhausting.”