In a statement released on Friday, May 21st, the University of Chicago’s incoming Undergraduate Student Government (SG) expressed support for the “Free Palestine” movement, which denies the legitimacy of Israel as a nation and calls for the destruction of the only Jewish state.
As a proud Jewish student and supporter of Israel, it’s extremely frustrating to watch my elected student representatives demonstrate such an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a blatant disregard for the anti-Semitism that American Jews have faced in the past few weeks.
It is even more insulting when considering the obviously performative nature of SG’s statement. Not only does SG pick a side in an issue wholly unrelated to its duties, but it uses the suffering of others to virtue-signal and disingenuously showcase its “awareness” and “compassion.”
Within the statement, SG explicitly denounces Zionism, challenging the belief that Jewish people have a right to self-determination in a Jewish State. SG also expresses support for the movement BDS, whose mission is to economically destroy Israel through boycotts, divestments, and sanctions.
More specifically, SG calls for the university to stop all association with Israel, such as by “refusing [short study abroad] treks to Tel Aviv [and by ending] Study Abroad Programs in Jerusalem.” The idea that the University of Chicago would stop all business within Israel, a strong U.S. ally and a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, is offensive and impractical. But this doesn’t stop SG from engaging in performative, uninformed rhetoric about the region.
SG requests that UChicago’s administration and faculty have selective “humanity,” by supporting and making accommodations for Palestinian community members, but presumably not for Jews. And SG self-righteously encourages community members to peruse a pro-Palestine reading list created by Students for Justice in Palestine. Such one-sided, anti-Israel rhetoric makes Jewish students like me feel alienated and targeted by our elected representatives.
Not wanting to leave out anti-Semitic dog whistles, SG also calls for Palestine to be freed “from the river to the sea,” which, if ever actually implemented, would mean the destruction of the world’s only Jewish State and would enable groups who wish to kill all Jews to gain control of the entire region.
Chicago’s incoming Undergraduate Student Government was under no obligation to release a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. SG’s representatives don’t actually have the authority to do anything substantive about long-term conflict in the Middle East or to formally change university policy. And, in releasing its statement, SG fails to properly represent the student body it was elected to represent.
While SG’s statement does not represent the study body, its vilification of the Jewish state is in line with the left’s broader anti-Semitism. As a typical leftist student organization, SG self-righteously says that “silence is violence,” and purports to feel a moral obligation to comment on issues it does not understand.
SG wants the rest of the community to blindly applaud its virtue signaling, review its reading list, and accept its uninformed perspective verbatim. Rather than consider the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, SG selectively mentions that over 200 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes initiated by the Israeli Defense Force; meanwhile, SG purposefully omits all surrounding context.
Even though SG attempts to characterize Israel as “evil,” it wholly disregards the fact that Hamas, the US-designated terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip, has recently and indiscriminately fired over 4,000 rockets at Israel. If not for the Iron Dome, these rockets would have killed countless innocent Israeli civilians.
Hamas supposedly fired these rockets after clashes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. The initial clashes were instigated by a land dispute, in which a Palestinian family had not paid rent for decades and was therefore evicted. Hamas exploited this situation as an excuse to kill more Jews, something its terrorist mission statement demands.
Not only does SG side with terrorists, but it also disregards that Hamas cares so little for Palestinian lives that it has housed rockets in schools, hospitals, and mosques. And many of the rockets that Hamas has fired in the last few weeks have fallen short, endangering Hamas’s own people.
Israel, in contrast, drops “knocker bombs,” which shake buildings instead of destroying them. The Israeli Defense Force does this so that Palestinians can evacuate, even though this tactic ruins the element of surprise when attacking terrorists. Israel strives to limit civilian death as much as possible, but SG wants it destroyed.
While SG performatively sides with Hamas, its statement fails to mention any of the skyrocketing anti-Semitism in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League recently reported that the phrase “Hitler was right” was used over 17,000 times on Twitter from May 7th through May 14th. In New York, a Jewish man was beaten with a crutch, and Jews throughout the city have been verbally attacked and physically assaulted by anti-Semites, who have been newly emboldened by the increase in anti-Israel sentiment.
Similar crimes have occurred all across the United States, including here in Cook County, Illinois. Yet our Student Government has made no official statement on this (simply retweeting a statement to “look good” doesn’t count). If our SG refrained from commenting on the issue entirely, then that would be one thing; but to release a statement about Israel-Palestine, while explicitly ignoring anti-Semitism at home, demonstrates SG’s real motives: to use the hot-button, leftist stance of the day to look morally superior to the rest of the UChicago community.
In response to SG’s statement, several Jewish and non-Jewish campus groups created a petition, demanding that the incoming Student Government rescind its statement and apologize. I have signed the petition, and I encourage all members of the University of Chicago community to sign, as well. As the petition authors write, the rhetoric of the incoming SG has contributed to rising anti-semitism and alienation of the Jewish community on campus:
“[The statement] has further contributed to creating an unsafe and unhealthy environment for many Jewish students on campus. Students have increasingly been subject to antisemitic harassment, including a driver yelling expletives at Jewish students the night the statement was released. As a campus community, we have a responsibility to protect all students, and incendiary statements like these only serve to alienate and harm the Jewish community.”
The petition reiterates the frustration and anger that Jewish students have been experiencing, while uneducated, anti-Israel narratives spread across American campuses.
Despite this petition, and vocal frustration within the UChicago community, our incoming SG representatives have not rescinded their statement, nor have they made any move to apologize to the community.
It remains to be seen whether our incoming representatives will continue to express support for movements unrelated to their positions.
Regardless, the incoming Student Government’s shortsighted, uneducated position is not only alienating to Jewish and Israeli students, but it also demonstrates that SG cares more about spewing leftist rhetoric than doing anything productive for the student body it was elected to represent.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Rachel Ostergren is the Chicago Thinker’s Chief of Staff. As a rising third year, she plans on double majoring in Public Policy Studies and Jewish Studies. She is also involved with Chabad on campus. Rachel is from Fruitland, Iowa, and loves reading, playing the piano, listening to jazz, and doing crosswords.