If University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones thought he was going to pour reassuring rhetorical balm on the troubled waters of relations between Israel and Palestinians, and Jewish and Palestinian students, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Now he’s getting it from all sides.
That will teach him to take his mind off — however briefly — long-retired Chief Illiniwek. It also ought to remind him of the consequences of getting in the middle of heated political disputes he can’t resolve.
Jones jumped feet first into the controversy with an Oct. 9 email condemning allegedly anti-Semitic expressions that grew out of a presentation to residence hall advisers.
The presentation was one of those adventures in multiculturalism that is supposed to be inclusive — making people feel all warm and fuzzy — but ends up causing a pointless fuss.
Titled “Palestine & Great Return March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror,” it suggests an uncompromising point of view.
The student speaker may have thought the political point of view expressed was valid, but others disagreed, perceiving in it an anti-Semitic slant. Is that in any way surprising?
Word eventually bubbled up to Jones, who addressed the issue in an Oct. 9 email in which he asserted that “some things that were said were highly inappropriate and created an unsafe environment.”
Note in his comment the use of the word “unsafe.” It’s big under the campus bubble.
People on all sides of campus issues routinely claim that exposure to words or points of view they do not share make them “unsafe.”
One thing is clear — when everyone claims to be unsafe in a campus debate of this sort, it’s highly likely no one is in any danger. “Unsafe” is just another buzzword in the campus lexicon that one side invokes — in this case, all sides — to silence the other.
At any rate, complaints escalated at an Oct. 14 faculty meeting, where various speakers told Jones that he should send out a new email saying what they would have said.
Then members of a group called Students for Justice in Palestine protested at the homecoming parade. They chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Chancellor Jones has got to go.”
They complained that he misrepresented anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism. They issued a series of non-negotiable demands that include retraction of his email, opening a cultural center for Middle Eastern/North African students and hiring Palestinian faculty members. (Is Steven Salaita available?)
“Failure to comply with the above demands will result in students’ DEMAND for the resignation of Chancellor Jones from his office,” the group stated.
There should be more fireworks today.
That’s when members of Illinois Student Government are scheduled to vote on a resolution condemning Jones & Co. for their “ignorance of racism and equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.”
Authors of the student resolution almost surely know best. But Jones just might be more conversant with racism than they wish to acknowledge.
At any rate, authors of the resolution have taken a courageous stand of expressing their opposition to “acts of injustice,” and their criticism of the UI administration is withering.
They say administrators have “created space for Holocaust deniers, Nazis and other individuals,” and responded with “empty words to hateful events” and have a “history of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.”
As a consequence, the resolution states Jones must retract and apologize for his email.
There are, of course, two sides to the “Israeli terror” debate, and Jewish students and their supporters will be lobbying against passage of the resolution.
So what’s really on display here is politics, two sides slugging it out over issues on which they vehemently disagree.