‘Climate of intolerance’: U of I Chancellor Jones warns anti-Semitism ‘is growing exponentially’

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — Illinois leaders are tackling a recent surge in hate after a new spike in anti-Semitism.

At a press conference held by Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) on Wednesday, lawmakers condemned recent flyers distributed in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The flyers compare Jewish politicians in Illinois to leaders of the Soviet Union.

“I am saddened that this hate is delivered to my doorstep and angry that it is happening in my backyard.” Fine, who is Jewish, said. “We need to speak up when we see this deplorable behavior. Silence does nothing to stop hate.

Lawmakers also announced they were working to create a task force to combat anti-Semitism in the state. Governor JB Pritzker earmarked $20 million for religious organizations to strengthen security against terrorism and hate in his budget proposal last month.

“Those who unleash anti-Semitic propaganda in an effort to divide neighbor against neighbor will come up against the most powerful resource in the world: the ability of Illinois people to be brave and kind,” Pritzker, who is also Jewish, said in a statement.

The Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents increased 84% in the Midwest between 2016 and 2020.

The northwest suburbs aren’t the only place where bigotry against Jews is on the rise. Anti-Semitic flyers were left on the University of Illinois campus last month, prompting University of Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones to send out a mass email criticizing the flyers .

“Urbana-Champaign is for all students,” Jones said. “They have the right to have a college experience that is free from any kind of targeting because of their race, ethnicity or religion.”

According to Hillel, a campus-based Jewish cultural center, about 3,000 U of I students are Jewish.

Anti-Semitism is a problem at more universities than just UIUC, says Chancellor Jones.

“What you see playing out in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago is kind of a microcosm of what’s happening in our country in this climate of intolerance where it just seems to be growing exponentially,” Jones said.

The Anti-Defamation League notes that college campuses are hotbeds of anti-Semitism because hate mongers are adept at using academic language to express bigoted ideas to intellectually curious students.

Jones said university staff are working with Hillel, the Council on Jewish and Campus Life and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international organization fighting anti-Semitism, to make the campus safer for its Jewish students.

Alison Pure-Slovin, Midwest Regional Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says ignorance, as well as bigoted messages on social media, are some of the main reasons for anti-Semitism.

“When it comes to anti-Semitism, people don’t know what a Jew is, who a Jew is,” Pure-Slovin said. “On top of that, no one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I hate Jews today.’ It is a learned behavior.

According to Pure-Slovin, the best weapon in the fight against anti-Semitism is education and the destruction of narratives.

“It is very important that we educate students, children and young people against the ramifications of hate,” Pure-Slovin said. “Hate and propaganda have no place in this world.”

If you witness anti-Semitism, you should report it to your local police department, as well as to the Illinois Attorney General’s Civil Rights Office. Additionally, the University of Illinois has a website for reporting hate crimes anonymously.