Accountability, education keys to stemming campus antisemitism, say suburban undergraduates

College students from Illinois’ 10th congressional district met Friday with U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider to discuss campus antisemitism in the wake of nationwide protests on college campuses related to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s response in Gaza.

The Highland Park Democrat opened the forum defending a person’s right to speak freely “no matter how much I disagree … But when it crosses the line to intimidation, harassment, isolation, exclusion,” he said, the administration has an obligation to speak out.

University of Michigan student Hannah Dalinka agreed. “People have a right to free speech, but a lot of what’s happening on our college campuses is beyond free speech.”

She said a student leader posted a comment online wishing “death and more” to supporters of a Zionist state. She also noted that someone spray painted swastikas on the exterior of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization.

“That’s not free speech, that’s violence,” she said.

“It’s also vandalism,” added Schneider.

Protests have sprung up across the country as the death toll in Gaza continues to rise during the war between Israel and Hamas.

Some students were concerned with what they believe is a lack of accountability for protesters they say harassed and intimidated Jewish students and also defied university policies.

Highland Park resident Lily Cohen, a Northwestern University student, expressed frustration that students who displayed violent, antisemitic slogans and images in prominent places on campus faced no consequences and “got some of their demands met.”

“That’s extremely frustrating,” she said. “Rule breakers and perpetrators of hate are rewarded.”

“One of the biggest problems is the administration is all talk and no action,” added fellow NU student Sari Eisen, of Evanston. “The rules were not enforced.”

Not every student shared their experiences. Riverwoods resident Noah Srulovitz praised Vanderbilt University’s handling of on-campus protests, particularly how administrators de-escalated tense situations. Tim Mellman said Washington University administrators permitted protests but shut them down when participants violated university policies.

Srulovitz said a student group he belongs to set up a table with a sign that read “I’m a Zionist, ask me anything” to provide information to protesters and passersby.

One student told him “there’s a lot more people who support you than you think.” The statement encouraged him.

  Reese Liebman, left, a University of Michigan student from Deerfield, and Sari Eisen, a Northwestern University student from Evanston, were among U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider's 10th congressional district constituents who participated in a college antisemitism roundtable Friday in Northbrook. Barbara Vitello/

“Criticizing Israel is by no means antisemitic,” said Reese Liebman, a University of Michigan student from Deerfield. “But criticizing Zionism, taking away the right of Jewish people to self-determine, is antisemitic.”

Israel is a democracy, she said, and how it behaves is up to its population, which includes Jews and Arabs.

The students agreed education is the most effective means of combating rising antisemitism, dispelling ignorance and countering misinformation.

Isabel Strauss, a Tulane University student from Deerfield, was among several students pointing out that not all protesters understood the meaning behind their slogans.

“It’s important that people engage in meaningful and productive conversations,” said Strauss. “A lot of people are hesitant to do that.”

The key is to establish a relationship, advised Noa Friedland, a Deerfield resident who attends the University of Southern California

“Approach these conversations as a human being, as someone who wants to establish a relationship … as a person who wants to connect and start a civil conversation,” she said.

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