Tuesday, Sept. 6 should have been a great day to be a Badger. All students should have been able to leave their homes with backpacks strapped, fresh notebooks ready and computers charged to learn from a university they were proud to be admitted to. Instead, the 2022-23 academic year started off on a rather negative note, especially for over 13% of the student population.
Jewish students at UW-Madison should be outraged about the comments that were drawn onto our sidewalks on Tuesday. These derogatory, defamatory claims, inferring all Jews are “racist” and have “blood on their hands,” are absolutely ridiculous attacks that assault the Jewish identity as a whole.
The comments stated five Jewish student organizations on campus — UW Chabad, UW Hillel, TAMID, Badgers Alliance for Israel and J Street UW-Madison — are Zionists, making them racist and promoters of genocide for having ties to Israel. However, by claiming this, it ultimately assumes all members of these organizations are racist and promoters of genocide when this, in fact, is not true.
It is obvious that this is an attack at the longstanding battle between Zionism and the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood. For decades there has been violent political conflict in Israel surrounding their treatment of Palestinians and their allowance of an independent Arab state.
Although, experts have agreed there is no clear answer to this conflict; logically, the violence between Palestine and Israel would have been minute if the solution to the sovereignty of this land was not complex.
Israelis truthfully claim they established a Judaic presence in this land first, therefore it should default to their sovereignty. Palestinians correctly claim they had ruled this land for centuries, so the originality of Israeli control should not play a factor in a solution.
Both sides have legitimate claims to this land — there is no denying this. Yet, extreme ultranationalists on both sides expressed flares of vocal and physical violence against the opposing view.
This is not to claim any of Israel’s internal actions have been justified. Evidence highlights humanitarian issues spearheaded by the state’s almost complete control of the land and their treatment of Palestinians. There is no dispute to this; no matter how many “spins” it may take in mainstream American media, the maltreatment of Palestinians is undeniable.
Yet, Zionist or not, the idea that both Israelis and Palestinians make legitimate claims to their own sovereignty needs to be heard, understood and respected.
Making robust claims about entire Jewish organizations on a college campus is not the correct way to understand this sovereignty. These words that were broadcasted onto Madison’s sidewalks were definitively hate speech and should not be construed any other way. Inferring that all members of UW Hillel, or UW Chabad or any other Jewish organization are wholly responsible for a disrespect to the Palestinian claim to sovereignty is completely wrong.
The creators of these hateful messages need to understand that being a Jew does not equate to being a Zionist. This is a common misconception of Jewish people, where many Jews disagree with the Zionistic idea. Although, many Zionists are undoubtedly a vocal part of the ethno-religion.
A lacking, ineffective university response
Jewish students at UW-Madison also need to realize the magnitude of the statement made in response to the antisemitism by Vice Chancellor Lori Reesor and Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer LaVar J. Charleston. Both Reesor and Charleston correctly defined the messages displayed as antisemitic but failed to portray their sympathy for Jewish students on campus.
The statement released on Sept. 8 entails a further discussion about the freedom of speech and expression, claiming these messages “represent free speech which is a core value at UW.”
Both Reesor and Charleston also made surface-level, ridiculous statements about the correct course of action to deal with these messages. The Sept. 6 antisemitic incident is not an excuse to incite more “debate and discussion” on campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the claims associating members of UW’s Jewish organizations as ultranational Zionists are completely incorrect.
While some members of these organizations may believe in the Zionist movement, many do not. Stereotyping all these Jewish members and assuming their religion predetermines their opinions is rather foolish.
As a Jewish person, I understand how frustrating this can be. I do not agree with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, yet I do believe that both Israel and Palestine show merit in their arguments for sovereignty.
Ultimately, Reesor and Charleston failed to acknowledge that this viewpoint exists for many other members of the Jewish community at UW-Madison. They fail to realize parts of these antisemitic comments were completely incorrect and stereotypical of all Jews on campus, and rather, these statements should incur debate about the ongoing conflict.
There is no debate to be had that UW Hillel is racist or UW Chabad has “blood on their hands.” This is simply not true.
According to both the vice and deputy vice chancellors, the antisemitism portrayed remains within the confines of “free-speech.” While freedom of speech is a constitutionally protected right and not to be infringed upon, defamatory statements legally limit this constitutional right. These libelous stereotypes should not be constituted as free speech as they wrongly represent the Jewish population on campus.
LaVar J. Charleston should be fired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
As LaVar J. Charleston is the Chief Diversity Officer on campus, he has epically failed at his job of maintaining equity and inclusion on campus.
Appropriating the chalkings as a non-violation of campus policy is rather demeaning to Jewish students on campus when these are blatant, false attacks. If this is not against campus policy, what is?
If Charleston was able to do his job, UW-Madison would not have a long record of plaguing antisemitism. The 2021-22 academic year started on Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important holidays for Jewish people. While exceptions were given to those who planned to celebrate the high holiday, it was rather disrespectful to Jewish students to start classes on this important day.
Later in the academic year, March 8 brought swastikas drawn onto bathroom stalls and evidence of antisemitic slurs used to harass “Jewish looking” people — a much more visible and unfortunate display of antisemitism on campus.
While he is not responsible for these recent, indecent events, Charleston’s only resolution was to condemn the events and instruct students to debate the conflict at hand. His most recent comments did not highlight the UW-Madison Bias Incident Report Form at all, but rather instructed students that the “free speech” these debates bring may be “difficult and uncomfortable at times.”
This is rather appalling for the Jewish community on campus, as spirited attacks on any student identity should absolutely be against campus policy and not a time for debate. Rather, this should be a time of understanding these stereotypes are completely wrong and will not be tolerated on campus.
If UW-Madison executives do not agree, this furthers the idea that the university correlates defamatory hate speech with constitutionally protected freedom of speech and protest.
Unless the point is made that the response to these recent events on Sept. 6 was completely ineffective, Charleston and other executives will continue to ineffectively pursue equity for all and should look elsewhere for employment.
Ethan Wollins is a current editor of the Opinion section and serves on the editorial board. He is a junior studying Political Science and Journalism. Do you believe the University had an ineffective response to the recent antisemitism? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.