The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Students React to Israeli Consul General’s Meeting With Alivisatos, Chabad, and Hillel

Responses to Cohen’s visit included a public letter from UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine denouncing the meeting, while some students at the meeting said it was constructive in addressing the antisemitism they faced.
The+exterior+of+the+Hillel+building.
Eric Fang
The exterior of the Hillel building.

University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos met with Consul General of Israel to the Midwest Yinam Cohen on January 23. According to Cohen’s X and LinkedIn, the purpose of the meeting was “to further enhance the partnership between UChicago and Israeli research institutions and to make sure that every Jewish or Israeli student feels safe on campus.”

Cohen also met with students from Hillel and Chabad, two Jewish organizations that aim to promote “a diverse and pluralistic Jewish community” and to create “a space on campus where [Jewish students] can feel comfortable, without labels or judgment,” according to their respective websites. The Hillel chapter at UChicago is part of the larger organization Hillel International.

The Maroon reached out to students who had attended the Cohen meeting for comment. One of these students responded under conditions of anonymity with a written statement.

“We spoke about our feelings during this time of increased global antisemitism, and more specifically about antisemitic experiences on campus that we’ve had to deal with,” the student wrote about the meeting. “Despite our long history of persecution, Jews have historically been excluded from our national conversation on discrimination. This unfortunately continues today when the same groups that advocate for equity and inclusion are putting out statements that claim that Jews’ experiences and trauma are not real. Why is it so unfathomable to them that antisemitism exists on this campus when Jews are the number one target of religious hate crimes in the U.S. by a landslide? The simple answer is that because of their stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the existence of antisemitism in the conversation doesn’t align with their narrative or agenda, so they shamefully fail to acknowledge it.” 

According to FBI statistics, anti-Jewish incidents comprised 54.9 percent of religion-related hate crimes in the U.S. in 2022. The next largest category was anti-Sikh incidents, which made up 8.9 percent of the total. Axios reported that 2023 saw a rise in both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S.’s largest cities.

The student’s statement continued, “What I want people to know is that no one in our meeting was considering legitimate criticisms of Israeli policies as antisemitic, despite how a few students are trying to frame it.”

The student also criticized the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement. According to the BDS website, the Palestinian-led effort calls on participants to boycott “companies that play a clear and direct role in Israel’s crimes and where we think we can have an impact.” As part of these boycotts, UChicago students involved in UChicago United for Palestine (UCUP) recently staged a die-in at Pret A Manger to protest its alleged expansion in Israel. 

“It’s only with Israel that a select group of students become enraged and are encouraged to protest and boycott everything pertaining to it,” the student wrote. “Can anyone imagine this occurring to any other nationality?… This dehumanizing behavior is not helping anybody, and in my opinion, does damage to the Palestinian cause.”

Other boycott movements surrounding recent conflicts include Boycott Russia. Numerous companies also withdrew operations from Russia following the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.

In response to the meeting, UChicago Jews for a Free Palestine (UJFP) released a letter sent to UChicago administrators. In the letter, UJFP denounced the Cohen meeting and requested that Alivisatos heed pro-Palestinian students’ calls to publicly meet about UChicago’s investments and partnerships related to Israel. 

“We are writing as Jewish students, alumni, faculty, and staff to denounce President Paul Alivisatos’ recent meeting with Yinam Cohen, the Israeli Consul General to the Midwest, and to request that President Alivisatos grant UChicago United for Palestine and [UChicago] Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)’s demand for a public meeting,” read UJFP’s public statement. “By meeting with Cohen and entertaining his aims, the UChicago administration has taken a stand in support of genocide.”

In response to Cohen’s X post stating that the meeting aimed to make Jewish students feel safer on campus, UJFP wrote, “The administration’s purported focus on the safety of ‘every Jewish and Israeli student’ suggests a false threat in order to distract from the ongoing genocide in Palestine. There is no reason to believe that we as Jews on the UChicago campus are under threat.”

The Maroon spoke to a member of UJFP, a student at the Law School who requested to be identified by her first name Katja. In response to the University’s stance that the meeting was a neutral, routine event that did not represent political endorsement, Katja said, “I don’t think you can be neutral about genocide, apartheid, or colonialism. I don’t think that’s a real thing.”

The University’s view regarding the meeting was expressed in a University spokesperson’s recent statement to The Maroon.

“The University has developed a consensus against taking social or political stances on issues outside its core mission,” the statement read. “University leaders routinely meet with international leaders from the public and private sector to discuss a range of subjects in research and education, and such meetings do not represent political endorsement.”

Katja said she did not believe that the University was truly practicing neutrality, but rather selectively using the notion of neutrality as a cover to defend its actions. 

“According to the University, investment is neutral, but divestment is not neutral. According to the University, partnering with Israeli institutions that create arms and surveillance for the Israeli occupation, partnering on projects that greenwash the actions of Israel to ethnically cleanse Palestinian Bedouins…, meeting with a state envoy who supports Israel’s genocide and who is representing the state in the midst of this genocide, and everything else, is neutral. But meeting with pro-Palestine students—that’s not something the University will do,” Katja said. “The Board of Trustees, the President, and the administration more broadly like to claim neutrality whenever it suits their purposes. But it seems very clear that this photo op was a convenient way to satisfy donor pressures.”

Despite the University administration declining so far to meet with pro-Palestine students, Katja expressed that UCUP, of which UJFP is a member, would continue to demand such a meeting.

“We’re not going to back down. These requests have never been more urgent, and our views are not the minority here,” Katja said. “They are the majority on this campus, but they’re being repressed and denied. So we won’t stop.”

Katja also referenced a recent Chicago City Council vote approving a ceasefire resolution to the conflict in Gaza, as well as a preliminary ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) finding that a genocide was plausible.

“The City of Chicago, as well as international bodies, almost every nation in the world, the UN, and the ICJ all should make it quite clear that the University’s actions… are just not neutral. [The University is] not just complicit, it’s culpable,” she said.

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About the Contributors
Tiffany Li, Associate Developer
Tiffany Li is a member of the Class of 2026 after transferring from Middlebury College. She studies political science and economics and is interested in housing policy, international relations, and music. She reports for the News section of The Maroon and is on the Video and Data teams.
Eric Fang, News Editor, Photo Editor, Design Associate
Eric Fang is a third-year in the College majoring in economics and public policy. He is a news and photo editor for The Maroon with an interest in local housing, campus security, and politics. In his free time, he enjoys biking, listening to music, and exploring Chicago food.
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