Jewish Northwestern Students Shocked by Glorification of Antisemitic Terrorism

In early March, students at Northwestern University painted the Rock — a boulder on which campus organizations advertise their groups' events — in honor of Aaron Bushnell, the United States Air Force technician who self-immolated outside the Israeli embassy, with the words "Rest in Resistance" accompanied by his name.

The glorification of a man whom Hamas praised as "immortal" offers a glimpse at the simmering anti-Israel hatred and antisemitism that has taken root on campus in the wake of the October 7 massacre of Israelis, Jewish students tell National Review.

As NR has previously reported, multiple officially recognized Northwestern student organizations issued statements in the wake of October 7 in which their members justified and celebrated Hamas’s attack on Israel. The campus Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter said immediately after news of the brutality came to light that “the occupied and oppressed have the undeniable right to resist and seek their freedom without stigmatization as instigators and terrorists” and that the attack was “a testament to the indomitable human spirit.”

The Northwestern University Community for Human Rights organization wrote in its post–October 7 statement that it “stands in solidarity with Palestinian freedom fighters” and accused Jews of controlling the media through “Zionist propaganda.”

Members of the Middle Eastern and North African Student Association at Northwestern said they “resoundingly support Palestinian resistance,” arguing that the October 7 “moment in history is integral to rightfully earning back what has been lost.” The events of that day, the organization professed, “display a fight we all resonate with.”

It is not only student organizations that issued statements in support of the October 7 attack. The university’s Asian-American studies department, in an “open letter to NU leadership on Islamophobia,” characterized Hamas as a “political group,” not a terrorist organization, and claimed comparisons to ISIS are “Islamophobic.”

These chartered university organizations — one made up of faculty and staff members — have celebrated Hamas terrorism without a response from the university, save for a November 13 letter from president Michael Schill asking members of the Northwestern community to avoid use of the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” given its connotations of ethnic cleansing. Schill also asked students to refrain from flying the Hamas flag after photos of a demonstrator at an anti-Israel rally in downtown Evanston brandishing a Hamas flag appeared online. At that same rally, student protesters held signs emblazoned with slogans like “Resistance is justified.”

In late October, students arrived in class to find fake versions of the Daily Northwestern campus newspaper on their desks — as well as in buildings around campus — that, among other things, included the lie that Israel bombed the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza. The university issued a statement clarifying that “someone or some group distributed fake copies of the University’s independent, student-run newspaper” that included “images and language about Israel that many in our community found offensive.” There is no indication that the university sought to determine who was involved in the distribution of the fake newspapers, and though the Daily Northwestern‘s publishing company did engage law enforcement on the issue, it ultimately asked for charges to be dropped following student outcry over the potential prosecution of black students.

Bewildered by the administration's lack of response to surging antisemitism, two Jewish Northwestern students felt the need to appeal to an outside authority. They sent a letter to the House Education and Workforce Committee asking Congress to investigate the school administration’s response to antisemitism on campus, the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier in March.

The students — J.D. candidate Michael Rutsky and undergraduate Max Strozenberg — alleged in their letter that Northwestern has, through inaction and double standards in how the university applies its policies, created a campus environment in which hatred of Jews is allowed to flourish.

"Northwestern unequivocally denounces antisemitism in all of its forms and is working across its campuses to support protect our Jewish students, faculty and staff," a university spokesman said in a statement to NR. "There are numerous inaccuracies and exaggerations in the letter submitted to Congress, which we believe does not reflect the University’s climate, minimizes our efforts to combat antisemitism, and serves to divide our community as we work to unite it."

The spokesman also cited a committee assembled by President Schill to combat antisemitism on campus.

Yates did not respond to a follow-up email asking which allegations, exactly, the university would characterize as inaccurate.

The two students wrote that they “have spoken with alumni representatives and understand that thousands of Jewish alumni are also outraged at Northwestern University’s deliberate indifference to antisemitism and discrimination against Jewish and Israeli students.” They believe that their school has not acted sufficiently to create a nondiscriminatory environment for Jewish members of the Northwestern community.

“Issues at Northwestern include not only traditional antisemitic tropes, blatantly false blood libels and incitement,” Rutsky and Strozenberg wrote, “but also antisemitic discrimination masked as ‘anti-Zionism’ that targets Jews on the basis of their shared religious, ethnic and ancestral connection to the Land of Israel.”

Rutsky told National Review that he and Strozenberg felt that outside action was needed to counter a disturbing trend.

“We felt that, if the university was left to its own devices, there would be no accountability and no structures to enforce rules and discipline antisemitic behavior on campus," Rutsky said. "We want outside pressure on the university to enforce rules or at least give a definition of what antisemitism is. A lot of Jewish students are upset and don't really feel safe on the campus.”

While disagreements over a university’s role in shaping the nature of discourse on its campus abound, this particular issue appears to be a rare case in which Northwestern as an institution has refrained from acting to protect students who say they feel threatened.

Rutsky and Strozenberg point to an incident in 2023 when the university’s College Republicans chapter hosted an event on identity politics. The organization created flyers for the event that featured an image of a skull and crossbones over sunglasses with pride-flag lenses, which members of the university’s student government believed violated school policies on discrimination and harassment. Almost immediately, Northwestern’s student government froze funds allocated for the College Republicans organization. Rutsky and Strozenberg argue that the discrepancy between reactions to that flyer and the myriad pro-terrorism statements presents a double standard in the way the university operates.

The reported offenses detailed in the letter rise past the level of flyers: During a November protest at the university's law school, a Jewish student reported having been accosted and subsequently shoved by an activist. During the demonstration, pro-Palestinian protesters chanted slogans like “We are fighting human animals,” according to the letter.

As Rutsky and Strozenberg noted, while President Schill repeatedly cited his desire to abide by a general policy of institutional neutrality — despite offering many statements on political events in his previous role as president of the University of Oregon — that does not seem to have stopped faculty members from using their positions for anti-Israel activism.

One instructor, Keira Leneman, sent a note to her class saying she would excuse absences for students who wanted to attend a walk-out protest — at which, according to Northwestern community members who have spoken with NR, demonstrators chanted calls for “intifada” — and asked students to provide her with information about other protests so she could “physically stand in solidarity with students against Israeli oppression and apartheid.”

A Jewish Northwestern student who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of harassment said the university's attempt to sweep antisemitic incidents under the rug is perhaps more worrying than the outbursts themselves.

“The fact that they won’t take accountability for the antisemitism has been more troubling for me than the antisemitism itself,” she said. “Northwestern keeps allowing these small incidents to keep getting bigger and bigger, and we’re wondering when they’re going to put their foot down.”

As Wendy Khabie, the co-chair of Coalition Against Antisemitism at Northwestern and the parent of a Jewish Northwestern student, told NR, it is important to understand that, to be sure, Northwestern has not had the same level of vitriolic antisemitism on its campus as had occurred at, for instance, Berkeley, Columbia, or Harvard. However, she said, the concerns the students outline in the letter deserve to be taken seriously.

“On behalf of the Coalition Against Antisemitism at Northwestern, I can say that we applaud the courage of any student coming forward to share information about what has happened, whether it was a physical or emotional form of harassment,” Khabie said. “And our feeling is, if the government is investigating this nationwide, why wouldn’t Northwestern be a part of that investigation?”

Rutsky, addressing Yates’s claims that the allegations in the letter are untrue, told NR that the university is simply trying to protect its reputation by refusing to acknowledge the scale of the problem.

“I understand that a university might not want to admit that it has an antisemitism problem, but I think the first step toward fixing it is admitting what's happening. I think that saying there are numerous inaccuracies and exaggerations in the letter is a sort of victim-blaming tactic in itself — saying Jewish students' complaints aren't valid when, if it were another group in this position, they wouldn't say the same thing,” he said. “We have 136 footnotes in this 33-page letter. We sourced everything we stated in the letter. And if the university thinks there are inaccuracies, I'd love to talk to them about that, and we can go from there. . . . It may not be as bad as at Harvard or Yale, but there is a problem that needs to be fixed.”

The university’s “committee to examine how to prevent antisemitism and hate on our campuses” that Yates mentioned has not been without criticism. As Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior adviser and Northwestern alumnus Rich Goldberg wrote on X when the university announced the committee’s membership, one participant is an anti-Israel activist who has accused Zionists of censoring anti-Israel books and preventing them from being published.

Three members signed an open letter published in the Daily Northwestern criticizing the formation of the committee and calling on the university to establish an Islamophobia task force instead. One student member is an officer of the aforementioned Middle Eastern and North African Student Association that said its members “resoundingly support Palestinian resistance” immediately after October 7.

Northwestern's response to the Rutsky and Strozenberg letter to Congress is not the first time the university has contended that criticism of its handling of antisemitism on its campus has been exaggerated. In advance of the university football team's NCAA bowl game in December, a Jewish advocacy group called Alums for Campus Fairness announced its intention to air an advertising campaign during a commercial break focusing on Northwestern's handling of the issue.

Avi D. Gordon, the organization's executive director, said his group wanted to shed light on a situation on campus where "faculty and student groups are openly supporting Hamas terrorism and calling for the genocide of Jews." In response, Northwestern issued a statement saying the ad campaign included false accusations.

"These are outlandish claims not based on facts, including the claim that "student and faculty groups 'resoundingly support' Hamas Terrorism," the statement read.

Northwestern students and faculty have, in fact, endorsed Hamas, as NR previously reported.

Northwestern community members readily admit that the climate on campus has not reached the level of antisemitism on display at schools like Berkeley, Columbia, or Harvard, but they believe that's where their school is headed if the administration does not take decisive action.

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Jewish Northwestern Students Shocked by Glorification of Antisemitic Terrorism

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