UW Madison faculty claim being anti-Israel is not anti-Semitism as school faces Title VI investigation

‘[W]e affirm that criticism of the state of Israel or the political ideology of Zionism is not in and of itself antisemitic,’ the statement read.

UW Madison is currently facing a DOE investigation over its alleged failure to act against anti-Semitism on campus.

Professors and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison issued a letter this December claiming that criticizing Israel does not constitute anti-Semitism, before the Department of Education began investigating the school for allegations related to anti-Semitism this January. 

More than 240 staff, faculty, and graduate students co-signed the statement, critiquing what they claimed was a “growing trend to treat criticism of the policies and practices of the state of Israel or of the ideology of Zionism as evidence of antisemitism.” The statement came from faculty and staff, but graduate students were allowed to co-sign it, as mentioned in the letter. 

The letter was published Dec. 21 and was sent to Jennifer Mnookin, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and other university leaders, according to a press release regarding the statement. 

The group claimed that “[t]o do our jobs, colleges and universities must be able to see the difference between condemnation of a people (or race, ethnicity, or religion) and condemnation of a state or a political ideology.” They continued: “[W]ithout separating anti-Israel speech from anti-Jewish speech, we are all stuck in an impossible paradox in which fighting against antisemitism increases anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Muslim bigotry. We must find a way out of this box, and soon.”

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The statement concluded: “[W]e affirm that criticism of the state of Israel or the political ideology of Zionism is not in and of itself antisemitic.”

This January, the Department of Education launched an investigation into the University of Wisconsin-Madison “over its alleged failure to respond to harassment of Jewish students,” Campus Reform previously reported

Campus Reform Editor-in-Chief Dr. Zachary Marschall filed a complaint “alleg[ing] that the University of Wisconsin-Madison has taken ‘no action to protect’ Jewish students following the terrorist attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas,” considering that pro-Palestinian protestors on campus called out anti-Semitic chants following the Hamas attack, as written on Campus Reform

Mnookin issued a statement in 2022 addressing “antisemitic chalkings on our campus [found] on the first day of classes,” writing: “These statements went beyond political views about Israel and Zionism and included antisemitic statements that wrongly and unfairly ascribed actions and beliefs to our Jewish students based on their participation in Jewish student organizations.”

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Samer Alatout, a Palestinian professor at the university and a co-signer of the faculty letter, told The Daily Cardinal: “We want to work with the university in order to figure out how to appropriately make the environment peaceful to protect the students, whether they are, of course, pro-Palestine or pro-Israel, or whoever it is, just to have a civil discourse.”

Earlier this January, Campus Reform reported on a Brandeis University study showing that “85% of Jewish students polled in certain schools reported facing an antisemitic environment.”

Campus Reform has reached out to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Professor Alatout for comment. The article will be updated accordingly.