Chicago-area college protest organizers push back against accusations of antisemitism

Quiet day Thursday at University of Chicago encampment on quad

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Thursday, May 2, 2024
Local protest organizers push back against antisemitism accusations
As pro-Palestinian protests continue at campuses across the country, some Chicago-area organizers are pushing back on antisemitism accusations.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As campus protests continue across the country and in Chicago, some student leaders are pushing back against accusations of antisemitism.

It was a quiet day Thursday on the University of Chicago campus, as the pro-Palestinian encampment on the quad continues.

But arrests at campus protests around the country have President Joe Biden weighing in.

As tent encampments at universities across the country continue, local pro-Palestinian student protesters are pushing back against accusations of antisemitism.

"This encampment is the time at Northwestern where I have felt most connected to and supported in my faith at Northwestern because it has given me the space to be both Jewish and anti-Zionist," said Paz, a Northwestern pro-Palestinian encampment organizer.

Only going by their first names, Paz, a Jewish Northwestern student, and Lucas, a Palestinian and Jewish Northwestern student, said they are some of those who organized the tent encampment at Northwestern University's Deering Meadow.

"I'd also like to strongly refute that there was any antisemitism at the Northwestern encampment," Lucas said.

They, along with the Council on American Islamic Relations Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab, said these protests are anything but antisemitic. He said they are quintessentially American.

"They have stood to their principals of non-violence and peace using their voice, as Americans should, their free voice in a free assembly to speak out against what is happening," Rehab said.

President Biden weighed in Thursday, casting the protests as a balance between two fundamental American ideals: the right to freedom of speech and assembly and the rule of law.

"So, let me be clear, peaceful protest in America: Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is," Biden said. "Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest; it's against the law."

But Jewish students at University of Chicago said the demonstration there continues to make them feel uncomfortable, especially if there are non-students involved.

"It's more nuanced than people sort of yelling slurs at me. I think we can be made to feel unsafe even if people aren't yelling slurs," said Matthew Wieseltier, a University of Chicago Jewish student.

Seven members of the President's Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate at Northwestern University decided to step down Wednesday amid anti-war protests at college campuses across the country.

"I trust the fellow students at this university to abide by certain standards of decorum and to not be violent, but, as far as people who don't go here, I do not trust the same of them," said Sarah Mostow, also a University of Chicago Jewish student.

There have been hundreds of arrests at college demonstrations nationwide. About half of them at campuses in New York were of people not affiliated with any university.