Intersectionality or Parody? The end point of trendy progressive campus theory looks like classic antisemitism.
Several weeks ago a series of fliers appeared on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Most of the hateful fliers disparaged American Jews as privileged whites and connected this alleged ‘Jewish privilege’ to social injustice in the U.S. Others drew on classic antisemitic tropes of Holocaust denial and the new form of Jew-hatred in which Israel is compared to Nazi Germany.
In a statement, university administrators condemned the antisemitic fliers that “defame, insult and negatively portray Jewish members of our campus community.” They’re reportedly conducting a full investigation, but as of this writing those responsible for creating and distributing the fliers are still unknown.
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) March 16, 2017
Some members of the UIC campus community though aren’t waiting for an investigation to conclude, and are already assigning responsibility.
As discussed further below, the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released a statement on Facebook denouncing the fliers and blaming the “current political climate in the U.S.” for emboldening right-wing bigots who they insist are the culprits.
A wide range of UIC departments and centers have also been quick to suggest that the fliers were a false flag campaign intended to discredit progressive movements on the campus, like Black Lives Matter and Muslim and Palestinian rights groups. In a statement published on March 21 (see below), more than a dozen programs and campus offices exonerated these groups from any wrongdoing, insisting that they had “nothing to do” with the fliers and are being unjustly smeared.
An investigation could reveal that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax designed to make progressive faculty and student groups look bad. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened. In fact, there are many instances where progressive causes or products appear so outlandish that it’s hard to tell whether they’re real, or if someone is just trying to pull their leg. It’s so common we have a tag for it: Progressive or Parody?
Still, if an investigation reveals that the fliers are a hoax, it’s a hoax that’s believable precisely because the UIC is a campus hotspot of virulently anti-Israel activity and the fliers closely parody intersectional theory.
We’ve posted about the place before in the context of an acrimonious and prolonged anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaign last winter. At the time, the university’s chapters of SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) cooperated on a divestment resolution which got obnoxious as they managed to also array multiple minority activist student groups against Israel and the pro-Zionist student organization.
So in this aggressively anti-Israel climate, the dissemination of vile fliers targeting Jews should surprise no one.
It’s just the latest example of what we’ve been highlighting in dozens of posts in recent years: antisemitic verbal, and even physical, assaults on Jews and Zionists happen on campuses with a hostile anti-Israel culture—typically due to the presence of active BDS campaigns, a strong and visible SJP group, and a coterie of pro-BDS faculty committed to advancing the theory of intersectionality.
Intersectionality—a radical perspective that dominates in the humanities and the soft social sciences—creates a ‘safe space’ for the indoctrination of a biased and false view of Israel and the Middle East conflict. Intersectional analysis asserts that Israel is a colonial, apartheid state complicit in perpetuating, along with its U.S. ally, a global white power structure that oppresses people of color.
Given such an ideology, it’s not such a stretch to go from depicting Israel as a racist state and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as racially-constructed to casting American Jewish supporters of Israel as privileged whites.
So the distribution of these screeds of Jew-hatred is the logical end result of allowing anti-Israel intersectionality theory to take root across the UIC campus. In other words, it really doesn’t matter whether someone or some group of people on the hard-left or the hard-right created and distributed the fliers. Either way, this incident should compel a sober assessment of why antisemitism is being mobilized by the UIC campus culture.
Below I provide an overview of this latest assault on Jewish identity on an American college campus. The remainder of the post is divided into five parts:
- The First Flier: “Ending White Privilege Starts with Ending Jewish Privilege”
- A Student Posts the Flier on Social Media, Alerts Campus Officials
- UIC Administrators Act Swiftly, Issue Statement
- Four More Fliers Appear on the Campus
- Multiple Programs and Departments Publish a Joint Statement
The First Flier: “Ending White Privilege Starts with Ending Jewish Privilege”
Two weeks ago on March 15, a flier distributed on the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois (UIC) declared that “ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege”:
Hundreds of copies of the flier were found in several buildings, including on each floor of the multistory Richard J. Daley library and the campus student center.
The flier uses data from the Pew Research Center (hyperlinks to 2009 and 2013 Pew studies are cited at the bottom of the flier) in an effort to validate the claim that Jews hold special economic privilege in the U.S and are thus responsible for inequality in contemporary America.
But the numbers actually don’t match the Pew data.
The reality is that 44% of Jewish Americans aren’t in the top 1% of earners. Instead, the Pew studies shows that 44% of Jews earn $100,000+. It’s a bracket that 18% of the U.S. population falls into.
While it is true that Jews are roughly 2% of the population and that 44% of U.S. Jews report a household income of $100,000 or more, the poster’s claim about income distribution among American Jews are groundless and should not be attributed to the Pew Research Center. We do not know what share of Jews are in the top 1% of individual income earners and have never reported such a figure.”
The IRS reports that the top 1% in the US have an adjusted gross income of some $466,000+ for the 2014 tax year. So Cooperman further clarified that “it stands to reason” that the number of Jews who are in the top 1% of individual income earners is “considerably less that the share who have household income of $100,000 or more.”
It’s shameful to insinuate that the economic success of Jewish Americans is something to disparage. Abraham H. Miller, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati remarks:
Rather than commend Jewish success as something to aspire to, the authors of the flier view it with contempt because in their demented Marxist view of the world, all gain is ill-gotten and a function of privilege, not a combination of gray matter, hard work, and a willingness to take risks.”
It’s also demented to suggest that Jewish Americans have some sort of special privilege in American society.
Saying so plays on traditional antisemitism linked to conspiracies about Jews dominating the financial and political worlds, and attributing this alleged disproportionate economic wealth to a variety of social ills and national ruin.
They’re canards that feature in the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax, Nazi propaganda, and in antisemitic rhetoric across the millennia.
Circa 1930s. Chilling. https://t.co/d4VaqF7BVZ
— Rachel Yadin רחל ידין???راشيل يادين (@27kislev5719) March 16, 2017
— Tzippy Yarom-Diskind ? صِپورة (@zpyarom) March 16, 2017
A Student Posts the Flier on Social Media, Alerts Campus Officials
Eva Zeltser, a student and president of Rohr Chabad House on campus, collected as many of the disgusting ‘Jewish Privilege’ fliers as she could and alerted campus authorities. Then, she posted the flier on her Facebook along with a heartfelt lament that went viral:In a letter, Zeltser also notified the Dean of Students.
In interviews, she reported receiving death threats after posting the flier on Facebook. According to Zeltser, individuals on Facebook told her that
they are going to put me on a list for extermination and that the Holocaust never happened, but it will this time.”
Zeltser also remarked that the recent episode with the fliers wasn’t the first time that Jews have been harassed on the UIC campus. Speaking with the Algemeiner, she claimed that she no longer wears her Star of David necklace because “I get such nasty looks from everyone.”
UIC Administrators Act Swiftly, Issue Statement
To their credit, UIC administrators responded quickly, issuing a campus-wide condemnation of the flier.
Much of the statement is boilerplate language about the importance of free speech and tolerance, but it also specifically calls out the antisemitic content:
The statement was also made public on university social media:
In response to anti-Semetic posters found on campus, university leaders write: "acts that invoke hatred or violence" will not be tolerated pic.twitter.com/VthS5JoYfg
— UIC News (@UICnews) March 16, 2017
There have been no official comments from the UIC administration beyond this March 15 statement. However, the Dean of Students did reportedly meet with concerned Jewish students in person.
Four More Fliers Appear on the Campus
Despite the campus-wide statement, three days later more antisemitic fliers were again found in the university library.
Zeltser shared these fliers too in an updated Facebook post, but this time they garnered no response from the campus administration and less media attention.
One flier again noted ‘Jewish privilege’, but this time focused on alleged special privilege in university admission:
Another criticized punishments for those who engage in Holocaust denial. Seeking to deflect a racist accusation, this flier suggests that such a charge would be groundless because Holocaust denial is ‘free speech and a human right’:
A third flier attributed the decision by administrators at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UI-UC) to rescind the hiring contract of professor Steven Salaita back in 2014 to the intervention of ‘wealthy Jewish donors.’ Salaita is a controversial activist whose criticism of Israel (while he was being considered for a UI-UC job) many said crossed the line into antisemitism (see our posts on Salaita’s case here).
Basically, these fliers are all classically antisemitic.
But the last one is a prime example of the ‘new antisemitism’ where Israel is demonized and delegitimized as the “Jew among the nations.” In it, the situation facing Palestinians in Gaza is equated with that suffered by the Jews in Auschwitz. Gaza is depicted as the “largest concentration camp in the world today” that is “owned and operated by Zionists”:
The fliers don’t identify the organization or students responsible for producing them. But various hashtags were included: #BlackLivesMatter, #WeAreAllMuslim, #WhitePrivilege, and #StandWithPalestine.
UIC Levine Hillel Center’s Executive Director Rabbi Seth Winberg condemned the posters reportedly noting that they had caused “anger and sadness.” He has asked for a full investigation to address the campus culture that would allow such a hateful targeting of the university’s Jewish community.
Multiple Programs and Departments Publish a Joint Statement
On its Facebook page, UIC’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine wrote against the fliers, blaming the “current political climate” in the U.S. for emboldening bigots and referencing the “Muslim ban” along with undocumented immigrants facing “disgusting hatred.”
SJP-UIC is clearly pinning the blame on “white supremacists” and has pledged to mobilize against their racism “in all their manifestations, including anti-Semitism.”
The SJP statement mirrors a joint statement signed on March 21 by a wide range of UIC centers and departments.
The faculty joint statement also denounced the fliers as antisemitic, but attributed the responsibility for them solely to the far-right, before any internal investigation is completed.
The statement doesn’t address what can be done to combat anti-Jewish prejudice on campus. Instead, the document focuses on denying the insinuation that “Palestinian solidarity”, Muslim organizations, or Black Lives Matter authored the fliers.
Here’s the statement in full. A list of the signatories follows:
On March 16, a series of flyers were posted on University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) campus that exploit social justice issues to spread anti-Semitic views. First and foremost, as units on campus that work at the forefront of UIC’s commitment to diversity and social justice, we condemn all forms of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Blackness or any forms of hatred, phobia, or dehumanization.
Secondly, the damaging and hurtful nature of these posters is that they seek to malign and divide some of the very groups that are fighting injustice and xenophobia in the first place. They erroneously depict the groups “Black Lives Matter” and “We are Muslims” as authors of the anti-Semitic hateful flyers. No specific group takes credit but hashtags are added to suggest authorship of the incendiary flyers by Black and Muslim/Arab organizations. If real groups authored these flyers, why not take credit? If they did not want to be associated, why incriminate their movements? It makes no sense. Moreover, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag is not even the # most commonly used by either the national or Chicago chapter, neither of which know anything about the origin of these flyers.
Many of us either work with or have students involved with Chicago’s Black Lives Matter, Palestine solidarity and Muslim organizations on campus and in the city. These groups would never circulate anti-semitic or hateful literature like this. It is antithetical to their mission and work. These fake posters are consistent with a long history whereby hate groups have cited marginalized communities as authors of hate speech to smear them and incite mistrust between them. They serve the goals of both provoking anti-Semitic hatred and justifying the targeting of Palestine solidarity and Black Lives Matter movements, wrongly indicting them as purveyors of hate.
We stand united against hatred and discrimination against all communities.
We condemn these anti-Semitic assaults as well as the divisive suggestion that Black and Muslim students are the source of this racism.
We disavow any attempt to use the painful realities of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Holocaust as fodder for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Blackness.
We will not allow this or any incident to pit one of our communities against the other.”
- Chair of the Department of Philosophy
- Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Asian Americans (CCSAA)
- Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Blacks
- Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of Latinos
- Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of LGBTQ People and Allies
- Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education, College of Education
- Disability Resource Center
- Gender and Sexuality Center
- Gender and Women’s Studies Program
- Germanic Studies Department
- Global Asian Studies Program
- Great Cities Institute
- Hispanic and Italian Studies Department
- Head of the Department of English
- Honors College
- Institute for the Humanities
- Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement (IPCE)
- Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy
- International Studies Program
- Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
- Jewish Studies Program
- Latin American and Latino Studies Program
- Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services (LARES) Program
- Middle East and Muslim Societies Cluster
- Moving Image Arts Minor
- Museum and Exhibition Studies Program
- Native American Support Program
- Office of the Dean of Students
- Office of Undergraduate Research
- Rafael Cintrón Ortiz Latino Cultural Center
- Religious Studies Program
- School of Art & Art History
- School of Literatures, Cultural Studies & Linguistics
- School of Theatre and Music
- Social Foundations of Education Program
- Social Justice Initiative
- UIC United Faculty (UICUF)
- Women’s Leadership and Resource Center
As noted above, the signatories may end up being correct–somebody or some group seeking to discredit progressivism on this campus could be the source of the fliers. But that hasn’t been determined yet. The statement reflects an unwillingness to even consider that bigotry can originate on the left as well as from the right, and that individuals affiliated with leftist groups (that is, operating from within their own ranks) may be the culprits here, the sponsors of the fliers, or in some way connected to the incident.
But what’s truly astonishing about this statement isn’t the content—it’s the venue where it’s posted: on the virulently anti-Israel website Mondoweiss (the UIC campus community has a ‘page’ at Mondoweiss where they’ve posted a couple of other open letters in the last few years).
But beyond that, Mondoweiss is also well-known for continually crossing the line between criticism of Israel and antisemitic hate speech. In particular, in his many posts founder Philip Weiss routinely depicts American Jews as controlling a disproportionate amount of global wealth, and using that wealth to purchase political and media power and to skew American foreign policy in ways inimical to the U.S. national interest.
In other words, depictions that aren’t all that different from those that appear on the UIC fliers.
Jewish and Zionist students on America’s university and college campuses put up with a lot of ugly speech.
On some campuses, they’ve been accosted with anti-Israel fliers that have been shoved under their dorm room doors—an invasion of privacy and personal space. On others, they’ve had to endure antisemitic crackpottery from fanatically anti-Israel guest speakers and even from their own unhinged professors in class.
To make matters worse, in many cases when the students are confronted with this blatant bigotry, administrators have remained shamefully silent.
The fresh outage last month at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois is different from these other incidents because:
- the administration exercised its own free speech rights to swiftly condemn the fliers and bigotry in all its forms; and
- the fliers were distributed in public spaces where students weren’t compelled to view their content.
As renowned legal scholar Alan M. Dershowitz notes in an important new essay on campus free speech, in the grand scheme of things it’s far worse when “provable lies” are presented as acceptable facts in the classroom than when they’re disseminated in public campus spaces:
the classroom, with its captive audience of students being graded by professors, is never an appropriate place to espouse [false facts]…The classroom is not a free and open marketplace of ideas.”
So UIC administrators should be focusing on what’s being taught in the classrooms and across the curriculum to make sure that the fliers aren’t the lunatic product of students brainwashed by some of their hard-left professors into believing that Israel is an illegitimate state and the ultimate source of evil in the world. Even if in this instance a thorough investigation reveals the fliers to be a hoax–created and disseminated by those seeking to parody progressive causes and approaches–that finding shouldn’t let virulently anti-Israel, intersectionality-espousing faculty and activists on the UIC campus off the hook.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElmanDONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.