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Northwestern needs to do more to support Jewish students, campus Hillel leader says

ANALYSIS: Student says university has worked with Jewish groups before, but more can be done

EVANSTON, Ill. — A Jewish student leader at Northwestern University said the school can do more to support its students.

The College Fix interviewed Hillel chapter leader Sari Eisen in-person during the on-campus encampments that wrapped up last week. Eisen shared her thoughts during a May 2 interview on how the campus had reacted to the Israel-Hamas war since it began in October 2023.

Eisen said Jewish students have “felt pretty on edge” since the October 7 terrorist attacks, but now felt “unsafe” as things on campus escalated over the last few weeks.

At the encampment, which is only a short walking distance from the Northwestern Hillel building, Eisen said that while the protestors were peaceful, “there were endless antisemitic chants being chanted and shouted.”

There were also a variety of antisemitic signs, such as one with a star of David crossed out, which Eisen compared to a no pets symbol.

Another poster had Northwestern President Michael Schill, who is himself Jewish, with devil horns, which is a common antisemitic drawing. According to some, the “Demonstrators were ‘openly glorifying Hamas.’”

When The College Fix visited the encampment, there were many signs accusing Israel of genocide and demanding that the university divest from Israel.

One sign, which was right next to a sign encouraging students to join the Communist Party, instructed both the United States and Israel to keep their “hands off Jerusalem,” the capital of Israel.

Many signs demanded Gaza be freed as they also declared that area of the campus to be a “liberated zone,” occupying it for the protest.

Others appeared to spread the blood libel, claiming that American tax dollars that went to Israel were stained in blood. And there were signs that read: “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea,” an antisemitic phrase that demands the destruction of Israel. Others proclaimed that this would be accomplished in our lifetime.

Eisen said that the signs were “disheartening,” and that those signs along with things that were spray painted on buildings were “examples of why Jewish students definitely felt unsafe and unwelcomed” and that “our voices were not heard on this campus.”

Eisen did say that Hillel and Jewish leaders on campus have been in frequent contact with the university administration and that Hillel has a “pretty solid relationship” with Northwestern.

“I know the administration does care about students and wants to make all students feel safe on campus,” Eisen said.

However, she did not think that was “apparent the first few days of the protests.”

Beyond the protests and the encampment, Eisen discussed several other things that were causing problems for Jewish students. She spoke of professors who had either moved their class to the encampment or canceled class and encouraged their students to go to the encampment with them, making Jewish students uncomfortable.

This made Jewish students in the classes feel uncomfortable.

Eisen also shared some details of the antisemitism she witnessed personally when the Associated Student Government voted on a proposed “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” resolution that was “calling on the university to divest from any Israeli related institution and there was some language that I believe was pretty antisemitic.”

When she spoke on behalf of the Jewish students who were uncomfortable, another student, who was not Jewish, argued against her, trying to inform her of what he believed the distinction was between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The resolution passed by a 20-2 vote.

Concerning any possible distinction between an antisemitic protest and an anti-Zionist protest, Eisen said, “There are ways to be critical of the Israeli government, the Israeli military, of course, that’s acceptable. And there are ways to do that without being critical of the country as a whole and the existence of the country as the world’s only Jewish state, right.”

“So I think when you say, ‘Death to Israel,’ I believe that’s antisemitic because it’s the world’s only Jewish state and saying like, eradicate all of that is saying eradicate all Jews,” she said.

For the effort to divest from Israel, Eisen said, “When you are asking Jewish students who feel a connection to Israel to completely cut ties with it, I think that is…pretty targeted, and it creates a sense of discomfort among any student who has a connection to Israel that they feel like they have to shut down a party of their identity to do that.”

She thought “a lack of education” on the conflict was a reason for some of the anti-Israel stances, but was thankful for the education events put on by the university in collaboration with the Jewish Studies department and the Middle Eastern North African Studies department.

And she highlighted the importance of the university not only being supportive of the university’s Jewish students and organizations, but also its Muslim student associations, “and just making sure that each student feels welcome in their own community and campus as a whole.”

Eisen concluded by saying that non-Jewish students should endeavor to stay educated on the conflict, and that Jewish students could best support Jewish organizations by “showing Jewish pride” and being “outward about your Judaism.”

She highlighted times when the Jewish community at Northwestern has been able “to come together as a Jewish community” with music and Israeli flags and be “able to kind of support each other and come together as a community to know that even though some may be trying to take away our voices, that they’re not succeeding.”

MORE: This year’s Harvard commencement speaker compared Israel to Nazi Germany

IMAGES: Jack Shields for The College Fix

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Jack Shields is a student at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He is also an editor and columnist at Lone Conservative.