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JEW HATRED ON CAMPUS

by Pauline Dubkin Yearwood

Is Chicago’s Loyola University one of the 10 most anti-Semitic campuses in the United States?

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, a Los Angeles-based think tank, thinks so, naming Loyola fourth among “campuses with the worst anti-Semitic activity in the United States.”

The university and both professional and student leaders of its Hillel organization deny the charge, citing such traditions as the university’s close relationship with Hillel, an annual Jewish Awareness Week, interfaith programs and events throughout the year and accommodations the school makes for Jewish students to celebrate holidays at the Jesuit university.

This year, they note, the university, which would normally be closed on Good Friday, a Catholic holiday, will open one building on that day for a seder. Friday, April 3 is also the first night of Passover.

Yet there are troubling indications that the picture may not be as rosy as the university and Hillel paint it, including some students feeling physically  intimidated by pro-Palestinian groups on campus, students being told by Hillel personnel not to speak to outsiders, including reporters, and a change in the Hillel leadership that some say has profoundly affected the climate on campus for Jewish students in the last two years.

There are an estimated 200 Jewish students at Loyola out of a population of some 15,900 undergraduate and graduate students on two Chicago campuses.

 

The David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “top 10” list was launched as part of a campaign, “Jew Hatred on Campus,” that, in the words of literature from the think tank, “aims to educate the public about the anti-Semitic acts occurring throughout the nation’s colleges and universities and calls on university administrators to withdraw campus privileges from the hate groups responsible.”

Horowitz, a respected but controversial figure who has documented his journey from an adherent of the New Left to a conservative stance in a number of books and articles, said in a recent telephone interview that his efforts are currently focusing on universities that have played host to activities such as Israeli Apartheid Week, staging mock Israeli “checkpoints” on campus , hosting speakers that call for the destruction of the Jewish state and verbal or physical harassment against Jewish or pro-Israel students.

In particular, he said, he is focusing his efforts on the national group Students for Justice in Palestine, which is active on campuses across the country.

That organization’s “only goal is the destruction of the Jewish state, and that is genocide,” he said. “SJP has every right to be a hate group but the university has a responsibility not to fund it, to provide it with offices and so forth. The university should not be funding hate.”

“Loyola University has an active SJP led by students who are part of the SJP national leadership. The university is fairly apathetic, allowing an extremist fringe to dominate too much of the discourse, and the administration has only lightly punished SJP for blatantly violating university rules,” Horowitz wrote on the website www.JewHatredOnCampus.org that explains why he picked the “top 10” campuses.

With Loyola, he also cited several anti-Israel panel discussions, a “Palestine Awareness Week” in which “inflammatory/hateful social media messages were posted,” and a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) resolution originally introduced to student government in March 2014.

The resolution narrowly passed the student government organization but was vetoed by the student government president. The university also issued a statement that it would not adopt the divestment proposal if passed.

Just this week, students again passed a resolution urging divestment from some corporations doing business with Israel, including the corporations Raytheon, Caterpillar, United Technologies and Valero Energy, stating the companies’ business dealings with Israel conflict with the university’s Jesuit values.

Horowitz also cited a much-publicized September, 2014 incident in which SJP members allegedly harassed Jewish students at a table promoting Birthright Israel. By some accounts, the confrontation turned physical as SJP students tried to block the Jewish students from setting up the Birthright table.

SJP was charged with several school policy violations and was eventually sanctioned with probation through the end of the school year, and leaders were required to attend intergroup dialogue training.

Loyola administrators also found that Hillel had violated a “solicitation policy” by setting up a promotional table for a non-Loyola organization without the proper approvals.

In the conversation with Chicago Jewish News, Horowitz said SJP has connections to Hamas, a terrorist organization, and “they have posters of Israeli airplanes shooting six-year-olds. They stimulate hatred of Israel and it would not be tolerated or funded if it were directed at any other group.”

He said Jewish students at Loyola and members of the larger Jewish community should “put pressure on the president of Loyola to withdraw campus privileges from SJP. I bang my head against the wall – Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League, the federations only emphasize the positive,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t understand, they only want to say good things.”

His goal in releasing the list and launching the “Jew Hatred on Campus” campaign “is to change the conversation on campus,” he said. “I want the conversation not to be about these ridiculous lies about Israel but about the truth of SJP and who they support. They support terrorists who are anti-American and are at war with Israel and the United States.”

A statement released by the Loyola administration said, in part, “We are aware of the commentary (from Horowitz) and we completely disagree with it. Loyola University Chicago is a diverse community that promotes mutual respect, knowledge, and learning, and we value and encourage a broad understanding of faith as part of a transformative education. We believe our diversity of thought is one of our greatest strengths and we support religious and cultural pluralism. The commentary fails to review or cite the myriad activities, programs, and events Loyola has in place to support and celebrate various religious groups.”

It cited “a very active and engaged Hillel student organization,” the university’s provision of “dedicated space,” including a kosher kitchen, “an array of interfaith programs and activities throughout the year,” and an annual Jewish Awareness Week in March, which last year  included a panel discussion with three rabbis, a Jewish comedy show and more.

“Loyola welcomes all faith traditions and fosters dialogue among and between different faiths. Universities are places of passionate, vigorous debate and we recognize that students, faculty, and staff have different backgrounds, perspectives, and beliefs about important issues and society’s greatest concerns. At Loyola, our students demand conversation as a way to problem solve and work toward social justice. Understanding that, we foster an atmosphere in which these discussions can occur while respecting our deep tradition of intellectual questioning and rigor and our core value of caring for all people,” the statement concluded.

Rabbi Seth Winberg is the director of Metro Chicago Hillel, an organization connected with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, that serves Jewish students on every local campus except for the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, which have their own Hillels. Two years ago, when Patti Ray, Loyola’s popular Hillel director for 25 years, left the post, Metro Chicago took over Loyola’s Hillel. (Circumstances under which Ray left are unclear, and she did not return repeated calls from Chicago Jewish News.)

The Loyola Hillel has an on-campus staffer, Jessica Ost. She is an employee of Metro Chicago Hillel and referred calls from Chicago Jewish News to Winberg

In a recent telephone conversation, Winberg said he found Horowitz’s characterizations of Loyola “not what my experience has been. Most of the Hillel directors whose campuses were mentioned on that list found it unhelpful and inappropriate without (Horowitz) knowing what is going on on campus.”

He said he doesn’t feel Loyola should have been singled out.

“There are anti-Semites in America, and some of them go to college,” he said. “There are people on college campuses who discriminate against Jewish students, and colleges should take that as seriously as they take racism and homophobia.” That may not be the case on all campuses but, he said, “I don’t think Loyola is mishandling this.”

Finding Horowitz’s list inappropriate and misguided “doesn’t mean I’m not concerned,” Winberg said. “There are some disturbing things being said, and repeated divestment campaigns contribute to a difficult environment for Jewish students” at Loyola and elsewhere.

“That list characterized the (Loyola) administration as apathetic, and that has not been my experience in the nine months” he has been on the job, he said. “Loyola University is one of the only schools in the country that put Students for Justice in Palestine on probation. They did the right thing. I don’t know how you can call that apathetic.”

The Loyola administration “is extremely supportive of the Jewish students,” he said. “They provide Hillel with its space, with office space for the staff. My assessment as an institution is that Loyola wants Jewish life to be vibrant.

“That’s not to say there aren’t things happening that are troublesome,” he said. “How is the university responding to them? It stands out as a university that takes allegations against Jewish students very seriously. They should be seen as a model for that. There are other universities that can learn from Loyola.”

If individual students encounter situations in which they feel uncomfortable, he said, “there are ways to deal with those things – Hillel, the campus police. We work closely with students and with the university to build relationships and be a resource to both.” That, he said, is a more productive approach than “declaring individual campuses to be bad.”

Adam Mogilevsky, a current student and the vice president of the Hillel Executive Board, agrees.

“I have not personally experienced anti-Semitism,” he said in a recent phone conversation.

(Mogilevsky was the only member of the Hillel student board who answered Chicago Jewish News’ request for comments. When a freshman student replied to Chicago Jewish News, she later said she had been told by Hillel officials not to speak to a reporter from the paper. Mogilevsky said this is because she is a freshman and “I don’t want her being a target. We don’t know how the divestment resolution has affected us, and we want to keep freshmen out of it for their safety,” he said.)

“Putting Loyola on a “top 10” list “is just a ploy that puts us in a pretty bad situation,” Mogilevsky said. “David Horowitz is known to be radical. I don’t see the validity of it. (Loyola) has been nothing but good to us.”

He said he feels the Horowitz Center “dropped the ball” by not putting Chicago’s DePaul University on its list. “DePaul is the worst” in terms of anti-Semitism, Mogilevsky said.

He said when DePaul introduced a divestment resolution some students from the Loyola Hillel went to the campus to support pro-Israel students.

“A student was spat on, and nothing was done about it. We don’t have that situation going on at Loyola,” he said. “The administration at Loyola backs Jewish students, pro-Israel students 110 percent. They are trying to be fair to all student voices. They are doing the best they can.”

“Everything is going smoothly on our part,” he said. “Students are worried, of course. We are a very under-represented community, about one percent of the student body. But I don’t believe the school is anti-Semitic in terms of the administration.”

 

Despite Mogilevsky’s optimistic picture, there are indications that Jewish life at Loyola has changed in the two years since Patti Ray left the Hillel.

Nissim Behar, who graduated in spring 2012, served as Hillel’s Israel chair and wrote in an email to Chicago Jewish News that he never felt Loyola was an anti-Semitic campus.

“The political science professors are almost exclusively neutral or sometimes even openly pro-Israel, I wore a kippah all the time and was never met with anything other than genuine interest and curiosity. At the time, Hillel was next to MSA (Muslim Students Association) and we shared a kitchen. We were always on good terms with them,” he wrote.

He added that while he was Israeli chair, he persuaded the political science department to co-sponsor a talk on campus by the Israeli consul general. “There were about 50 poli sci students there, and they didn’t even ask about Palestinians, they just wanted to know about the Arab spring, Egypt, etc.,” he wrote.

“I still know people who attend, and I heard about the harassment at the Birthright event, but from what I understand, the administration was very upset and that event was an anomaly,” Behar wrote, concluding that “a university that had its own political science department co-sponsor an event with an Israeli government official, who’s (sic) president went on a trip to Israel (organized by Ray for Loyola President Michael Garanzini) who’s student government already vetoed divestment once, and who’s student population is apathetic towards Israel at best, can hardly be called anti-Semitic, even if there is an active SJP on campus that has acted inappropriately.”

A third-year student, who did not want to be identified, emailed Chicago Jewish News that although “for the most part things have been good at Loyola,” “things changed after two major events.”

One was Ray’s departure. The other was the increase of SJP activities on campus.

“They claim they are only anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic but that is wrong. Last year they brought up a divestment campaign to the student senate. After myself and another girl spoke in front of the senate, we had to be walked to our cars/houses by campus security because of the threats we got. The Senate President once he vetoed the bill, got death threats, people came to his house with a blowhorn and woke him up in the middle of the night, people threw rocks at his apartment window. It was scary. People were scared in Hillel and in Senate,” she wrote in the email (the Senate president could not be reached for comment).

Referring to last year’s brouhaha between SJP and Birthright students over the Birthright table, she wrote, “We had a member of Hillel stop wearing his Kippah to school because he was scared. Another girl stopped coming to Hillel for several weeks, citing that she was too scared to come. Another girl’s parents almost removed her from Loyola and only agreed to stay after Hillel promised to station campus security closer to the Hillel room … Ever since that happened, we have campus security at every event, and tell them to come right before an event starts.”

In response to students who posted on a Facebook group, the student, who did not want to be identified, wrote that things have changed in the past few years and today “I believe there’s serious anti-Semitism” on the campus.

The student, who is one of a handful of Orthodox students at Loyola, also mentioned several incidents in which exams in the science department conflicted with Orthodox Jewish students’ religious observance.

In one science class, she wrote, every major exam was scheduled on a Saturday or a Jewish holiday. In order for her to take the exam on a different day, she wrote, “the teacher required that I bring him a letter from a rabbi, one letter from the university undergraduate department dean, and from the Hillel affirming that my story is true. Once I finally got permission, I was able to take the exams early. The first time he put me in his office, with the phone ringing, his assistant walking in and talking to him, and him typing, faxing etc. All of this occurred when I was sitting at a table across from him. I couldn’t focus at all. When I complained to him that I couldn’t focus because all of the noise, he told me I was lucky that he let me take the test at all.”

She also related how a teacher asked her to remove her head covering (which as a married woman she wears in accordance with Orthodox law) while “a girl with a hijab was sitting three seats away from me” and the teacher said nothing to her. The student said she complained to the department head about the request, but he did nothing about it. Later, she wrote, the same teacher assigned homework that was due on Shabbat despite the student having explained to him that she could not turn it in then for religious reasons.

The student also noted problems with being asked to wear jeans instead of a skirt to a lab class for safety reasons and being asked, in a different class, to remove her head covering.

“Five girls in the class had hijabs on, and when I mentioned that to her, she said that they are ‘actually religious.’ When I explained to her that Orthodox Jewish married women cover their hair when married, she told me she has never heard of that before. She gave up and let me wear scarves after that point,” she wrote.

“These have happened over two years,” she wrote. “So more or less every semester I have some kind of an issue with teachers at Loyola. Many have been helpful and understanding. I’ve taken six labs and only one gave me issues. Unfortunately the schedule at Loyola isn’t flexible enough for Jewish students to completely avoid all holiday classes and Sabbath exams. It simply is not possible. You end up compromising on your Judaism or on your grades. I can’t say that all of these people are outwardly racist or anti-Semitic, some are just uneducated about Judaism and don’t bother asking me to explain my religion.”

 

Lonnie Nasatir, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, works on college campuses with such ADL programs as Words to Action, designed to help Jewish students address anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on campus. He has worked with students at Loyola and told Chicago Jewish News that he believes the characterization of the campus as anti-Semitic is unfair.

“I think the majority of Jews at Loyola are feeling comforted that the administration has spoken loudly. They put SJP on probation. To characterize it (as one of the most anti-Semitic schools in the country) sends an inappropriate message. To put together a list like this just adds to the hysteria,” he said.

Working with college students is going to be a big part of his job next year, Nasatir said, because “the more we scream and yell from the mountaintops, we also have to start doing programs, make sure kids have the information they need. It’s a tough environment right now and we need to be as active as possible in campus space.”

The “other side,” he said, “is very coordinated. They’ve got a good message going on. A lot of students were telling us we couldn’t even come close in our messaging.” That situation, he believes, can be remedied by programs like Words to Action and by characterizing anti-Israel actions as human rights abuses.

He works closely on this task with Winberg, the Metro Hillel director, and other Hillel personnel, trying to discover “who is coming on campus, what their message is going to be, is it seeping into anti-Semitism or legitimate criticism of Israel?”

He said he is concerned but not worried about anti-Semitism at Loyola specifically. “I think this community is resourceful enough, smart enough to figure out a way to make it better,” he said.

 

Elissa and Ofer Barpal, a Washington, D.C. Jewish couple whose daughter is a junior at Loyola, don’t think anything is getting better. They recently sent a letter to the school administration protesting a talk given at Loyola in February by Nesreen Hasan, a member of the defense team representing Rasmeah Odeh, who was convicted in Israel in 1970 of a 1969 supermarket bombing that killed two Israeli students.

Odeh was convicted in 2014 in Detroit of falsely procuring naturalization by concealing her conviction in Israel on U.S. immigration and naturalization applications.

Hasan’s talk at Loyola, the Barpals told Chicago Jewish News, was paid for out of university Student Activity funds to the tune of $6,000. Hasan was invited by the Middle Eastern Student Association; her talk was titled “A Woman’s Intifada: the Story of Rasmea Odeh,” according to the Student Fix, a Loyola student news website.

Elissa Barpal told Chicago Jewish News that the talk and its sanctioning by the administration fits into a trend in which Loyola has become progressively more anti-Semitic.

The Barpals daughter, Noga, now studying in Rome for a semester, attended Jewish day schools and went to Loyola with a very pro-Israel orientation, Barpal said. Ofer Barpal is Israeli, and the family identifies as Conservative Jews.

At first, Elissa Barpal said, she and her husband were pleased about their daughter’s decision to attend Loyola because “we want her to be exposed to all sides of life, not to hide in a bubble at a school with a large Jewish population.” She said the family did receive some “pushback” from one of the Loyola deans “who thought this was bizarre that a Jewish family would send (their daughter) to a Jesuit school,” but they were cheered by Loyola’s mission statement and the fact that the university had an active Hillel.

Since then, she said, the university “has gotten progressively anti-Semitic. At first (her daughter) just met people who had never met anyone Jewish and were ignorant in terms of our religion. She became very involved with Hillel, but she felt everything at Loyola was so one-sided with Students for Justice in Palestine being so outspoken.”

She and her husband felt that often anti-Semitism was simply the result of ignorance, she said, but “in this case it’s way past that. It is astounding. (The administration) is very blatant about support for the Palestinian group. When you pay for a speaker, $6,000 out of School Activity Funds, that can’t be interpreted in any other way,” she said.

Her daughter was close to former Hillel director Patti Ray, she said, and “when Patti Ray was there, things were better. Patti leaving her post was mysterious and unexplained by anybody. She was pushed out for some reason, I don’t know why. Things were much better when she was there. She had a much better handle on it than what we seem to have now.”

The university’s and Metro Hillel’s explanation for Ray’s departure was that she retired.

As for Hasan’s lecture,  “If nothing else this woman (Odeh) has been indicted by a U.S. court. That is enough right to have not allowed this person to speak,” she said. “It is not acceptable to me that they’ve done this, what would clearly never be tolerated on the other side,” she said.

 


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