Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) at UIUC Statement in response to mass mail from Chancellor Robert Jones to the UIUC community on September 24, 2017

Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) at UIUC Statement in response to mass mail from Chancellor Robert Jones to the UIUC community on September 24, 2017

September 27, 2017


Urbana-Champaign (September 27, 2017): On Sunday night, Chancellor Robert Jones sent a deeply problematic mass mail to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) students, faculty, and staff on the subject of “intolerance” on college campuses. It is unclear what sparked the Chancellor to send this email on a Sunday night. The message is flawed in many ways, but most egregious is the Chancellor’s claim that there have been “anti-Semitic attacks hidden under the guise of anti-Zionist rhetoric.” Besides being inaccurate, this strikes us as an attempt by the Chancellor to vilify UIUC’s Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group which has been at the forefront of student struggles against white supremacy, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and antisemitism. We in the GEO stand with Students for Justice in Palestine, and we condemn Chancellor Jones’ ill-conceived statement.

While anti-semitism is real, and must be vigorously opposed, anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. Zionism is a political ideology, not a racial, ethnic, or religious identity. Not all Jews are Zionists or supporters of the state of Israel. In fact, many of the leading critics of the state of Israel are Jewish organizations, scholars, and activists. Furthermore, not all Zionists are Jewish. In fact, the largest Zionist organization in the United States is not a Jewish group, but is the far-right Christian organization, Christians United For Israel. Far right-wing ideologue and former Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon rose to a White House position through his work as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, a propaganda site that was conceived by Andrew Breitbart during a trip to Jerusalem specifically to be a pro-Israel media organ. It also serves as a leading platform for “alt-right” fascist voices. Leading white supremacists such as Jared Taylor of “American Renaissance” fame, and “alt-right” fascist Richard Spencer — who openly argues for ethnic cleansing — are enthusiastic supporters of Zionism and Israel, as they admire Israel’s violent apartheid and settler colonial policies against Muslims, Arabs, and Africans, and they believe that the world should be carved up into racially exclusive ethnostates. Even Germany’s neo-Nazi party, the AfD, which just had some electoral success, and is antisemitic, supports the state of Israel and Zionism. The fact that a growing number of historically antisemitic organizations are supportive of the Zionist project should give us pause.

Regardless of one’s feelings toward the state of Israel, criticism of a state and antisemitism are not the same thing, and it is wrong for Chancellor Jones to equate anti-Zionism — opposition to a settler colonizer ideology and opposition to an apartheid state — with antisemitism. Such lazy and grossly inaccurate statements do not make the university a safer or more inclusive environment for education. Furthermore, by mentioning anti-Zionist rhetoric, such statements obfuscate real acts of antisemitism that may occur on campus in other forms. Given the anti-Palestinian history of UIUC, exemplified by the Administration’s highly-publicized and ethically dubious “un-hiring” of Palestinian Professor Steven Salaita, we take Chancellor Jones’ statement to be a continuation of the UIUC Administration’s anti-Palestinian bias. Chancellor Jones and the UIUC Administration owe our Palestinian students an apology for the central role they have played and continue to play in contributing to a campus climate of anti-Palestinian hostility.

“Intolerance” is not the problem on college campuses–white supremacy is. We can see this white supremacy manifested in administrative decisions such as the “un-hiring” of Dr. Steven Salaita, the attack on the American Indian Studies Program, and a pattern of withholding resources from ethnic studies programs, cultural centers, and resource centers. We can see this white supremacy manifested in the Administration’s silence on the pro-Israel Illini Republicans, who chalked racist anti-immigrant slogans all over campus last year, held a racist “affirmative action bake sale,” and use a modified racist “Chief” symbol as their organization’s logo. We can see this white supremacy as the university gives a platform to “alt-right” astroturf groups such as Turning Point USA. We can see this white supremacy as the university has yet to replace the racist “Chief” symbol with a non-racist mascot, and has allowed racist “Chief” symbolism to proliferate on campus and in the wider community.

We can see white supremacy manifested on campus in many other ways, but what we do not see on this campus is anti-Zionism being used as a cover for anti-semitism. In fact, the strongest voices against actual existing anti-semitism on this campus are Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace: two organizations that are strongly critical of Israel. It is telling that UIUC student organizations that represent the students who face the most historical and structural oppression–groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Black United Front, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan, Asian Pacific American Coalition, United Muslims and Minority Advocates, Campus Union for Trans Equality and Support, Black Students For Revolution, and others–have forged ties of solidarity, co-sponsoring rallies and events, and supporting each other’s organizing, while the Zionist activists on campus have consistently opposed the organizing of these groups.

We have witnessed Zionist activists on campus continually harass, surveil, and stalk Students for Justice in Palestine for years, and the Administration has allowed their creepy behavior–intended to intimidate pro-Palestine students–to go unchecked. Further, with his massmail, Chancellor Jones has contributed to a prevalent climate of Zionist harassment against Palestinian and pro-Palestine students. UIUC Students for Justice in Palestine put out a statement demanding “that the Chancellor release another massmail, clarifying the University’s independent stance on the difference between anti-Zionist work and anti-Semitic attacks. We demand that the Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Danita Brown Young, meet with members of Students for Justice in Palestine and the activist community to discuss how to better represent social justice movements on campus in an effort to live up to their promises of acceptance and understanding.” We stand in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine and call on the administration to comply with these reasonable demands.

In Solidarity,

The Graduate Employees’ Organization
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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