There are a number of mistaken assumptions about the Open Forum for Jewish Students in the editorial “A Many-Sided Debate” by Gaster, Smith, and Mohiuddin in the March 6 issue of the Maroon.
First, as has been past practice, the Office of Student Life called an open forum for Jewish students to talk about issues of concern to them at the University. The directors of the Newberger Hillel Center and Chabad Jewish Center were invited as co-hosts mainly as a courtesy. Neither director had a speaking role at the forum nor has taken a public stance on the Israeli-Palestinian debate or the January 6 “Crisis in Gaza” panel. Chicago Friends of Israel did not organize the event and the views of Jewish students who disagreed with them were welcomed, too.
The truth is that the University called this forum because students had vocalized concerns about their safety and the quality of their academic experience, not politics. For example, a pro-Palestinian activist struck a first-year Jewish student in the face at the “Crisis in Gaza” event. Some students shared classroom experiences where their pro-Israel views led to repercussions from biased professors. The forum was not a political conspiracy.
The discussion mainly focused on the University’s role in building a more efficient and fair marketplace for contrasting ideas to be debated, a cause which I believe Gaster, Smith, and Mohiuddin support. Issues discussed included when it is appropriate for the University to make an official statement or for an academic division to sponsor an event, all legitimate issues brought to light by the “Crisis in Gaza” panel and other events. Faculty, alumni, and community members also weighed in during this very constructive conversation. Other topics discussed included kosher dining in the new dining hall.
It is the University’s responsibility to make sure students can live and learn in a climate free of fear or persecution. Hosting the forum was the right thing to do for a University that is often accused of being tone-deaf to student life issues.
Lee Solomon, AB’08
Newberger Hillel Center