In March, I detailed Students for Justice in Palestine’s campaign against academic freedom at the University of Chicago. Since then, the situation has only deteriorated.
SJP’s initial anti-Israel boycott targeted courses about Israel that “legitimize” the Jewish state through so-called propaganda. Later, SJP expanded their boycott by demanding that the student newspaper removes pro-Israel op-eds and apologize for publishing them. Unfortunately, it succeeded.
On April 2, the University of Chicago newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, capitulated to SJP’s anti-free speech demands and removed an op-ed titled “We Must Condemn the SJP’s Online Anti-Semitism.” They apologized for publishing it because it enabled the support of “Zionist and racist sentiments.” This is especially alarming as the student newspaper’s apology characterizes Zionism, the self-determination of the Jewish people, as socially unacceptable, although the majority of the Jewish community identify as Zionists. By succumbing to SJP’s witch-hunt against Zionist students and free speech, the Chicago Maroon is responsible for effectively silencing the Jewish community and enabling authoritarian tendencies to flourish on campus.
Though newspapers are not always politically neutral, the Chicago Maroon is the independent student newspaper at the University of Chicago. This gives the editors monopolistic power in restricting journalistic free speech as there is no comparable alternative to the Maroon on campus.
In their piece, the authors of the since-removed pro-Israel op-ed noted that “UChicago prides itself on its free speech policy” and argued that SJP’s boycott discouraged educational freedom. Ironically, SJP’s demand to have the op-ed removed proved pro-Israel authors Melody Dias and Benjamin ZeBrack, right about SJP’s anti-free speech agenda. However, the Maroon’s latest actions signify that UChicago is no longer a free speech environment.
In their apology, Head Opinions Editors Kelly Hui and Elizabeth Winkler claim the pro-Israel op-ed harmed the UChicago community because it was “used to delegitimize and undermine SJP UChicago’s campaign.” This is an overtly political stand on a contentious issue on campus and implies that it is immoral to criticize SJP’s dangerous crusade against academic freedom.
The editors argue that the Dias-ZeBrack op-ed was responsible for harm to Palestinian students. They even admit that removing the op-ed “may affect Jewish students on campus” as their actions “could be seen as stifling Jewish voices” but justified their actions in the name of “diligent fact-checking.”
However, Hui and Winkler evidently do not believe that Jewish students deserve the same protections as other minorities: The Maroon recently published a hateful and factually inaccurate op-ed titled “We Should Join SJP’s Boycott of Zionist Classes” and clearly holds Jewish students to a biased double standard.
The piece, authored by Rawan Abbas, peddles anti-Israel propaganda and attacks a fundamental element of Jewish identity when it twists the definition of Zionism into something unrecognizable and detached from reality. Abbas claims “Zionism is an imperialist ideology based on settler colonialism” without factual evidence supporting this serious accusation. The Maroon furthers this antisemitic sentiment in their apology, in which they group Zionism with racism.
Contrary to these accusations, Zionism means the self-determination of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and is a deeply held belief among the Jewish community, with approximately 80% of American Jews classifying themselves as pro-Israel in a Ruderman Family Foundation poll. Zionism is not expansionist in nature, nor is it defined as harming Palestinians. By definition, anti-Zionism is an ideology that seeks the destruction of the Jewish state.
In reality, the Jewish people are indigenous to the state of Israel and have sought their ancestral homeland after enduring centuries of antisemitic violence and genocide. Not only is the Maroon silencing pro-Israel students, but the paper lent itself to anti-Israel activists that routinely attack a core aspect of Jewish identity. The decision to publish Abbas’s op-ed and silence Dias and ZeBrack speak to the paper’s double standard against Jewish students. The Abbas op-ed contained categorically false statements and hateful rhetoric but still remains published.
Instead of equally supporting pro-Israel and anti-Israel students, the Maroon has shamefully taken a stand against Zionism without defining it, silenced pro-Israel, often Jewish students, and has given a platform to anti-Zionist narratives. By their admission, the editors are aware that this may harm Jewish students, but it is clear that it was not an important factor in their decision.
The Maroon has now damaged its credibility and demonstrated that it has forsaken journalistic values in favor of spewing anti-Israel rhetoric and de-platforming Jewish students, leaving them defenseless against these vicious attacks.
The paper’s attacks on free-speech principles further endanger Jewish students and make it clear that The Maroon is complicit in fostering antisemitism in a climate that is already hostile to Jewish students.
The Maroon has yet to respond to a request for comment nor correct their inaccurate definition of Zionism.
A slightly edited version of this article appeared in The Algemeiner.