Anti-Semitic flyers sought to drive wedge between groups at UICApril 8, 2017
By Johnny Figel and William S. Bike
Anti-Semitic flyers were distributed around the University of Illinois at Chicago campus starting March 14. The flyers contained statements such as “Ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege.”
UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis quickly issued a statement. “This event makes it necessary for us to reaffirm our collective commitment to two fundamental principles: the first is the importance of tolerance, inclusion, and diversity to our university community, and the second is the right to free expression that ensures we are a place of open inquiry and learning,” he wrote.
Amiridis went on to say of the flyers, “Such actions do not reflect the values we hold as a community. Acts that invoke hatred or violence toward members of our community will not be tolerated on our campus.”
Rabbi Seth Winberg, executive director of Metro Chicago Hillel, said his organization is “working with the university as they continue to investigate. We appreciate that Chancellor Amiridis immediately and unequivocally called the flyers anti-Semitic. Based on the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses, this could have happened anywhere, and universities need to have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.”Rabbi Winberg reiterated Hillel’s commitment to the safety of all students, adding, “We will not let these hateful flyers deter us from our work to build a vibrant community at UIC.”
A UIC student involved with Hillel, Pierce Boyd-Bagby, said he first learned about the posters in a text from a friend. “I freaked out a little bit,” he said, noting that he left the building he was in “and saw more of the posters posted around campus.” Boyd-Bagby said he felt “both angry and concerned.”
After a second set of anti-Semitic flyers questioning the Holocaust appeared on Monday, March 20, Natasha Barnes, associate professor of African American History and some faculty members drafted a more forceful statement of their own.
“First and foremost, as units on campus that work at the forefront of UIC’s commitment to diversity and social justice, we condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, or any forms of hatred, phobia, or dehumanization,” the statement read.
Other flyers asserted Jewish donors had too much influence on the university and Zionism was similar to Nazism. The bottom of the flyers indicated they came from #BlackLivesMatter, #WeAreAllMuslim, and #StandWithPalestine. Many on campus, however, felt the flyers were a “false flag” operation from racist groups using Black, Muslim, and Palestinian groups as false cover.
“At first I thought maybe it was one of those groups,” Boyd-Bagby said, noting, however, that “each group immediately and independently posted ‘we are not affiliated, we’re not anti-Semitic.” Some did post that they were against some Israeili government policies, “and made a distinction between the two. Students for Justice in Palestine made it very clear in a statement that they stood in solidarity with Jewish students on campus.”
The faculty statement noted the perpetrators “serve the goals of both provoking anti-Semitic hatred and justifying the targeting of Palestine solidarity and Black Lives Matter movements, wrongly indicting them as purveyors of hate…We stand united against hatred and discrimination against all communities.”
Barnes stressed the importance of proving “misattributions” to progressive groups were erroneous and clarifying that this type of behavior was condemned unequivocally.
Black Lives Matter Chicago issued a statement on March 20 confirming the attributions on the flyers were false. “We’ve noticed a disturbing new trend where people have been using language from social justice circles to hide their racist agenda,” the statement said. “These posters placed all over UIC’s campus are just another example of such an occurrence. For example, by creating a false category and calling it ‘Jewish privilege’ then comparing it to the familiar term ‘White privilege’ they hope that this false association legitimizes their bigoted beliefs.
“They’re also trying to use BLM to make their claims seem true. It is widely known that BLM supports Palestinians in their struggle for liberation. However, being pro-Palestine doesn’t make you anti-Semitic, and we don’t condone or endorse any anti-Jewish ideology,” the statement added.
Concerning the flyers, Abdul Baseth Basheer, co-president of the UIC Muslim Student Association, said, “The response from members of the Muslim Student Association has been of course negative. We don’t agree or condone that type of hateful rhetoric. I feel like the University has handled it well and has stuck to its dedication to keeping UIC safe and welcoming to all types of groups and minorities, and holding diversity in high regard.”
More than 45 UIC student organizations and university departments, offices, programs, initiatives, and centers, including the African-American Cultural Center, Arab American Cultural Center, and Jewish Studies Program, issued their own joint statement.
The flyers “erroneously depict the groups ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘We are Muslims’ as authors of the anti-Semitic hateful flyers,” that statement said. “No specific group takes credit, but hashtags are added to suggest authorship of the incendiary flyers by Black and Muslim/Arab organizations. If real groups authored these flyers, why not take credit? If they did not want to be associated, why incriminate their movements? It makes no sense.
“We condemn these anti-Semitic assaults as well as the divisive suggestion that Black and Muslim students are the source of this racism. We will not allow this or any incident to pit one of our communities against the other,” the statement said.
“UIC is the fifth most diverse campus in the country,” Barnes said, “We proudly sought all these designations [of inclusivity], and then these things happen, and the University seems caught pretty flat footed.”
The author of the flyers remains unknown.