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Jewish Students Claim Northwestern University Tolerated Antisemitism from Pro-Palestine Protesters

— May 2, 2024

The three students claim that Northwestern University failed to take immediate action after pro-Palestine protesters allegedly breached the school’s code of conduct by engaging in disruptive and hateful speech.

Three Northwestern University students have filed a lawsuit against the Illinois school, claiming that its response to pro-Palestine protests has given antisemitic demonstrators a free pass to harass their Jewish peers.

According to CBS News, pro-Palestine protesters at Northwestern recently erected an encampment in Deering Meadow, a large field on the school’s Evanston campus.

Although the protesters agreed to take down their tents and depart after reaching an agreement with the university’s administration, the three plaintiffs claim that demonstrators created a hostile environment—one that actively threatened the safety and well-being of Jewish students, who were allegedly subjected to antisemitic harassment and threats of physical violence.

Many of the demonstrators, the lawsuit says, could be seen “openly glorifying” Hamas.

The complaint also provides the example of an individual protester who “roamed freely through the encampment” and “barked at passersby demanding that they state whether they speak Hebrew.”

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

Outside of these issues, attorneys also characterized a common pro-Palestine slogan—“from the river to the sea”—as inherently problematic, in that can be interpreted as a call for the eradication of the entire Israeli state.

Documents and images submitted with the lawsuit further detailed several contentious signboards that had been strung up outside the encampment, including a drawing of the Star of David enclosed by a circle and cleaved by a red dash.

Michael Schill, the university’s president, had earlier acknowledged in a video statement that the rhetoric of some pro-Palestine protesters was making Jewish students feel threatened and unsafe.

“I recognize that some slogans and expression are subject to interpretation, but when I see a Star of David with an “X” on it, when I see a picture of me with horns, or when I hear that one of our students has been called a ‘dirty Jew,’ there is no ambiguity,” said Schiller, who is himself Jewish. “This needs to be condemned by all of us, and that starts with me.”

Schill, whose video statement was cited in the lawsuit, said that members of the university community who “feel strong about what is happening in Gaza” should be permitted to share their views—provided that they do so peacefully, and without denigrating the beliefs of others.

Nevertheless, the three plaintiffs say that Northwestern University tacitly permitted the encampment to remain on Deering Meadow for days, despite being in clear violation of the school’s polices.

“Rather than enforce its express and implied promises to Plaintiffs that Northwestern is a place of civility where free expression is governed by transparent, content-neutral codes of conduct, Northwestern twisted itself into a pretzel to accommodate the hostile and discriminatory encampment, legislate around it, and ultimately reward it,” the lawsuit says, apparently referencing the agreement reached between protesters and the university administration.

Under the terms of the agreement, students will be allowed to protest on Deering Meadow until classes end on June 1. However, all of the tents previously on the field must be removed, with only an “aid” tent allowed to remain. Northwestern also said that it would consider the issue of divestment from Israel-specific interests in the upcoming fall semester.

A number of Jewish groups have since spoken out against the school’s concessions, with several—including ADL Midwest, StandWithUs, and the Louis D. Brandeis Center—saying that Northwestern’s decision to tolerate purportedly antisemitic protests show that Schill is not fit for his position as university president.

“For the last seven months—and longer—Jewish Northwestern students have been harassed and intimated by blatant antisemitism on campus, worsening since [the Hamas attack on October 7],” the groups statement in a statement. “It is clear from President Schill’s actions that he is unfit to lead Northwestern and must resign.”

Steven Blonder, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that his clients are not seeking money so much as a guarantee of their right to a safe learning environment.

“We are not seeking dollars,” Blonder told FOX32 Chicago. “This is about changing the student experience, so the students get what they expected to get.”


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