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Northwestern University president calls on students to condemn antisemitic phrases; school group claps back

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Illinois-based Northwestern University’s president, Michael Schill, in a statement on Monday called on students to reject statements or banners that can be interpreted as promoting murder or genocide, and in response, the school’s pro-Palestinian group rushed to post a picture that read, “From the River to the Sea.”

Schill announced the establishment of a new committee focused on preventing antisemitism and hate, in a letter addressed to members of the university’s community, as well as what led to the committee’s establishment.

“In the weeks since the brutal terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas and the ensuing military action in Gaza, I have had the opportunity to meet with students, faculty, parents, alumni and staff across our campuses, many of whom have shared very personal stories of pain, anger, fear or disillusionment as we…face the uncertainties and horrors of the terror attacks and war in the Middle East,” he wrote. “This conflict has created division and mistrust on our campuses, further stoked by events that have taken place at other universities and by the rhetoric of individuals both inside and outside our community.”

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Pro Palestinian protests

An anti-Israel sign with the phrase “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” at a protest at Tulane University in New Orleans. The phrase has been criticized as calling for the destruction of Israel.  (Credit: Ryan Zamos)

Schill also said the school “will not” allow antisemitism or any acts against people based on their race, religion, national origin or any other protected categories, as it is against university policy, and most times, against the law.

The school, he said, will investigate any allegations of such behavior and implement disciplinary proceedings against anyone who commits such acts.

“A strong commitment to fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate, such as those targeting students, faculty or staff of Muslim or Arab heritage, is consistent with our value of protecting free expression,” Schill said. “I call on all members of our community to use our collective voices to emphatically reject statements or banners that significant parts of our community interpret as promoting murder and genocide. This includes flying flags associated with Hamas and banners with the slogan ‘From the River to the Sea.’”

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Northwestern University

Students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management gather Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at the school’s campus in Evanston. Administrators across the nation increasingly fear their schools may not reopen for the fall semester.  (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Many say the phrase, which refers to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea on which Israel exists, is a call for the extermination of the Jewish state and is often seen on banners at pro-Palestinian protests.

Northwestern University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) quickly turned to social media in response to Schill’s statement, posting a picture of an archway at Northwestern University with a Palestinian flag, and big red letters that read, “From the River to the Sea.” The post is also directed to Northwestern University and the Northwestern University president.

A group of anti-Israel individuals also allegedly posted a drawing of Schill with devil horns added to his head.

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Northwestern University

Northwestern University campus in Evanston.  (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The university’s SJP organization did not immediately respond to inquiries from Fox News Digital seeking comment regarding the posts.

Schill’s statement on antisemitism continued by announcing the President’s Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate, along with who will co-chair the group.

He said the committee will examine the landscape at Northwestern University to help with its response to the crisis in the Middle East while also ensuring mechanisms are in place to prevent violent and threatening behavior seen at other higher learning institutions across the country.

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“It will focus not just on stemming the growth of antisemitism, but also hate directed to other groups such as our students of Palestinian descent,” Schiller wrote. “As the advisory committee gets up and running, I will continue to meet with individuals and groups in our community, because your feedback and experiences are vitally important to me and to our University.”

Schill said he was grateful to members of the community who have offered expertise on the matter and provided care and support to students. 

But he also reiterated that students resist any temptation to denigrate others, especially on social media or email.

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“Efforts to ‘dox’ or shame members of our community because of their beliefs are simply beneath us and not worthy of Northwestern or any of its constituent groups,” the university president wrote. “They also can be dangerous. Instead, our community stands for learning, civil discourse, informed dialogue and, through those core functions, making our world a better place.”


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