Skip to main content

Announcing New Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate

Dear members of the Northwestern community,

In the weeks since the brutal terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas and the ensuing military action in Gaza, I have had the opportunity to meet with students, faculty, parents, alumni and staff across our campuses, many of whom have shared very personal stories of pain, anger, fear or disillusionment as we — individually and collectively — face the uncertainties and horrors of the terror attacks and war in the Middle East.

This conflict has created division and mistrust on our campuses, further stoked by events that have taken place at other universities and by the rhetoric of individuals both inside and outside of our community. I have heard from students and parents who feel unsafe. I want to assure you that the University is committed to providing a safe, welcoming environment for everyone in our community, through measures both visible and, in many cases, unseen.

As I have said before on multiple occasions and will reiterate again: Northwestern will not stand for antisemitism or discriminatory acts directed at any individual based upon their race, religion, national origin or other protected categories. They are against University policy and, in many instances, against the law. We will investigate any and all allegations of behavior targeting members of our community in violation of our policies. If an individual violates these policies, we will begin disciplinary proceedings against the perpetrator and, if the matter warrants, refer it to law enforcement.

A strong commitment to fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate, such as those targeting students, faculty or staff of Muslim or Arab heritage, is consistent with our value of protecting free expression. While words expressing political views and support for one group or another may not rise to a violation of our policies, they may still have no place in a community like ours, which is based upon mutual respect and dialogue. As I repeatedly say and write, “Just because one has the right to say something doesn’t mean that they should do so.” I call on all members of our community to use our collective voices to emphatically reject statements or banners that significant parts of our community interpret as promoting murder and genocide. This includes flying flags associated with Hamas and banners with the slogan “From the River to the Sea.” 

To support the University’s commitment to protecting our students, faculty and staff from antisemitism and other forms of discriminatory or threatening acts based upon religion or national origin and to promote our central mission of civil dialogue and learning, I will appoint the President’s Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate. This Advisory Committee will be co-chaired by Kellogg Professor Efraim Benmelech and SESP Dean Bryan Brayboy. Members will be selected to represent a diverse set of Northwestern perspectives and will include faculty, staff, students, alumni and trustees. 

The President’s Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate will examine the current landscape at the University, to help guide our response to the crisis in the Middle East and to ensure we have mechanisms in place to help prevent the type of violence and threatening behaviors we have seen at peer institutions. It will focus not just on stemming the growth of antisemitism, but also hate directed to other groups such as our students of Palestinian descent. It will work with me, the provost and our entire community to find ways to bring us together through engagement, learning and dialogue across difference. This could include suggestions related to future academic panels and filling gaps in our curriculum and research efforts. It also will help us understand whether our mechanisms to report antisemitic or other acts of bias are sufficient.

As the advisory committee gets up and running, I will continue to meet with individuals and groups in our community, because your feedback and experiences are vitally important to me and to our University. Our indefatigable Student Affairs team will continue its outreach to student groups and individuals, providing space, psychological and spiritual support and consultation. And our Department of Safety and Security will continue increased patrols and visibility.

In recent weeks, our faculty, staff and students have provided many opportunities to discuss and explore the issues that have shaped — and continue to shape — the Middle East, including a discussion last week at Northwestern Chabad with Michal Cotler-Wunsh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism, and a conversation with author Nathan Thrall, which was co-hosted by the Middle East & North African Studies Program (MENA) and Medill.

Tonight, starting at 5 p.m. in McCormick Auditorium in Norris Center, the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies and MENA will host a dialogue between professors Wendy Pearlman and David Shyovitz, in which they will share their perspectives on the current war and its larger context. And on Wednesday at 10 a.m., the Northwestern Israel Innovation Project and the Office of the Vice President for International Relations will host a webinar on “The Israel-Hamas War,” with discussion of its background and implications.

Such discussions are not easy, but they are essential. They showcase how our Northwestern community can come together to examine the world’s most pressing problems — a function of our University that is as important today as at any point in our history.

I am grateful for so many members of our community who have offered their scholarly expertise, who have provided care and support for our students, or who have contacted me to share their thoughts and advice as we all work together to better understand and navigate the crushing weight of a war that impacts so many of us.

I ask again that we resist the temptation to denigrate others and react before thinking — particularly on social media or email. Efforts to “dox” or shame members of our community because of their beliefs are simply beneath us and not worthy of Northwestern or any of its constituent groups. They also can be dangerous. Instead, our community stands for learning, civil discourse, informed dialogue and, through those core functions, making our world a better place.