By Samantha (last name withheld)
Following the recent barbaric terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on Israeli civilians, UW-Madison’s response has been dismal at best.
On October 7, Israelis and Jews across the world were horrified by what has been one of the deadliest attacks against Jews in modern times. Yet, the university seemed to hesitate when it came to extending its support to the nearly 5,000 Jewish students on its campus.
The university broke its silence on October 10, with an Instagram story stating, “To our students affected by recent acts of violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we are here to support you.”
Israel had already declared war, and many students, including myself, were left scared about family and friends overseas and wondered if the university would offer a more substantive response.
The meager attempt was followed by a compelling Open letter to the Administration written by Chabad Rabbi, Mendel Matusof. In the letter, Rabbi Mendel articulated the shock and trauma the Jewish community on campus was experiencing as a result of the events in Israel and how UW had inadvertently exacerbated the situation.
He wrote, “Unfortunately, the UW has made it worse. By acknowledging the acts of terror under the guise of ‘violence in Israel and the Palestinian Territories’, the administration itself seems to lessen the abhorrence of the terrorism by giving it the guise of a political dispute.”
Rabbi Mendel ended the letter by saying he was hopeful the UW administration would understand what the Jewish community on campus was experiencing, and “provide the appropriate response and empathy.”
On October 11, Chancellor Mnookin did issue a more substantive statement, with a response still titled, “A message from Chancellor Mnookin on the tragic events in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”
In one part of the chancellor’s statement she wrote, “As a general matter, I am skeptical that those in roles like mine should frequently comment on global or world events.”
This is perplexing given the university’s recent past.
In May 2021, the Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) wrote a reflection on the anniversary of George Floyd’s Death.
In the spring of 2023, when a video of a UW student making a racist comment plagued the internet, both the Chancellor and the office of DEI offered multiple messages. On May 1, UW gave an initial response to the video which was then followed by messages from the Deputy Vice Chancellor for DEI, and Chancellor Mnookin’s direct response to the Blk Pwr Coalition.
On June 29, 2023, the Chancellor shared her thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard.
So why the hesitation now?
Just over a week ago, I walked back from class only to come across a protest in the center of campus, with students chanting and cheering on the slaughter of over 1,000 Jews with slogans such as “Glory to the martyrs” and “We will liberate the land by any means necessary.”
On October 17, the Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus held a “Free Gaza” event which prompted Hillel, a national Jewish organization on campus, to send an email stating, “We have been made aware of a ‘Free Palestine’ demonstration scheduled for this evening. In the interest of your safety and the well-being of our community, we, in consultation with our communal leaders and experts, encourage you to consider that the most effective response is to refrain from attending and engaging with the demonstration.”
This begs the question of why are outside organizations being left to bear the responsibility of asking the university to take action or to look out for the safety of Jewish students while the university sits idly by.
While I do not condone the chilling of free speech, the school’s inaction with ongoing protests that are glorifying the deaths of over 1,000 Jews, leaves me with two primary questions.
First, how sincere is the university’s commitment to “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” when it cannot give Jewish students the same treatment it offers others?
And second, where is the university’s overall concern for the safety of Jewish students on campus?
We have withheld Samantha’s last name at her request because of the tensions on campus.