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Friday, May 24, 2024
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Jewish student group meets with UW-Madison administrators to present requests regarding Library Mall encampment and campus antisemitism

The group presented 12 requests to the school, including to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism and enforce the law on encampments.

Twelve Jewish University of Wisconsin-Madison students met with campus administration Monday at 12 p.m. to present 12 requests.

The requests were presented to Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor and Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs John Zumbrunnen to resolve issues of “intimidation, harassment and antisemitism from encampment protesters and outside agitators,” according to a statement shared with The Daily Cardinal.

The students, led by senior Ben Newman, requested the university to condemn incidents of antisemitism, broaden their definition to reflect the HRA definition of antisemitism, ensure Jewish students are a part of all protest negotiations and further regulate the pro-Palestine encampment that began April 29 on Library Mall. 

Currently, camping is prohibited on university grounds outside of designated camping or picnicking areas, under Chapter 18 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code. But Mnookin has the ability as the “chief administrative authority” to grant an exception and authorize the encampments. 

A pro-Palestine protest organizer said there were Jewish students present at campus negotiations. Mnookin was not present at Saturday negotiations with pro-Palestine protesters. 

“It’s really important to try to both protect free speech and create an environment where protests are allowed, and people are encouraged to share their voices, as well as recognize when the conduct of those people who are protesting or encamping also degrades the quality of our community,” Newman said. 

Newman also said people in and around the encampment have engaged in “specific acts determined to intimidate or make Jewish or Israeli students feel unwelcome.”

The request asked the university to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which includes “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” It also called for the university to condemn antisemitic phrases, provide equal representation of Jewish and Israeli students in negotiations and make a statement affirmatively waiving Chapter 18 or enforce the law on encampments. 

Newman said the IHRA definition of antisemitism would help give the university guidelines to call out anti-Jewish speech and antisemitic incidents, including the chalkings found Saturday at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and chants such as “Zionists are Nazis,” made by a group that walked through the encampment at Library Mall.

“That is absolutely language that is meant to intimidate Jewish students, to make them feel unwelcome, and it uses a sick, twisted Holocaust distortion which is meant to use past Jewish trauma in order to accuse the Jewish state of crimes, and that is absolutely wrong,” Newman said. “The university, as it would for other kinds of hateful speech, needs to use its power of moral suasion, and IHRA can help them do that.”

There have been a number of antisemitic incidents in Madison and near campus. Chalk endorsing Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis, all of which are designated by the U.S. as terror groups or organizations, was found at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday. Hezbollah and the Houthis promote and act upon antisemitic and anti-Sunni Muslim philosophies. 

Chalkings included “Al-Qassam you make us proud, kill another soldier now,” “Power to Al-Qassam” and “Al-Qassam show us how, kill another soldier now.” Other chalkings said “Power to Hezbollah,” “Power to Ansrallah [Houthis] Seize them All,” “Down with ‘Israel’ down with ‘USA’” and “All cops are Zionists.”

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On Thursday, two people marching as part of a group from Capitol Square to Library Mall carried a “Glory to the Resistance” banner depicting Hamas spokesperson Abu Obeida, the spokesperson of Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas militant group. The group later entered the encampment space on Library Mall and chanted “Zionists are Nazis,” “Israel is not real” and “USA is not real.”

“It's very important that we don't hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel,” Newman said. “We have seen on this campus individual examples where Jews were targeted because of Jewish religious symbols and because of their connection to Israel.”

They also requested that any agreements regarding the protests have affirmative approval of the Board of Regents and addressed final exams and graduation procedures. They asked the university to make it clear that faculty cannot cancel exams or assignments for students participating in protest and to ensure commencement goes as planned, “free of disruption by banning flags, banners and bullhorns” and with disciplinary action for any students that disrupt graduation, up to the denial of a diploma. 

The coalition of Jewish students also requested UW-Madison administration either “wave Chapter 18 or enforce the law,” as Mnookin has the power as chief administrative authority to grant an exception. They also request all decisions regarding protests and the occupation in Gaza be approved by the Board of Regents. 

“It is unjust to ignore the law for pro-Palestinian protesters while making it unclear that the same terms would apply for protests with different content,” student leaders said in the statement. “By providing amnesty, you have emboldened leaders of the encampment to believe that they have a right to appropriate the space for their interests only.”

Non-protesting students also requested protesters in breach of university policies or law be prevented from concealing their identities in public places as to ensure accountability.  

To improve communication on this issue, students requested administration “listen carefully to the voices of Jewish, Israeli and unaligned students,” encourage dialogue on activism in the classroom and institute a first-year civics requirement.

They requested the university take a moral stand against boycotts that discriminate against Israeli students or seek to cut ties, as “such discrimination is not only unlawful but also deprives the community of the unique academic strengths and perspectives of Israeli individuals and institutions that are by far the most diverse and inclusive in the Middle East.”

Newman said the requests come back to embodying the tenets of the Wisconsin Idea, “true change comes from civil dialogue, democratic engagement, and respect for law.”

“We should be using our tools of democracy, of civil dialogue and encouraging that on our campus,” Newman said. “I think there can be a broad coalition who supports a claim of reinvestment in the Wisconsin Idea of how we might use protests in productive ways and use discussions and dialogue.”

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Rachel Hale

Rachel Hale is a senior staff writer who covers state politics and campus events. Before getting involved with The Daily Cardinal, she was a culture editor at Moda Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @rachelleighhale.


Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the photo editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year journalism student. She has covered multiple stories about university sustainability efforts, and has written for state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6


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