Title VI Complaint filed against UI alleges inadequate anti-Semitism response, draws student reactions


Screenshot of Zoom

Students discuss the Title VI complaint through Zoom with panelists Martin Levine and Dima Khalidi. Jewish organizations have filed a Title VI federal complaint against the University.

By Mona Alrazzaq, Staff Writer

Students asked questions and shared their responses to a Title VI federal complaint filed by Jewish organizations against the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign with professionals through Zoom. 

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against any race, color and national origin by federally funded educational institutions. 

The Title VI complaint against the University was publicized by the Brandeis Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing Jewish rights and advocating for Israel. The complaint urges the University to “recognize the seriousness of this problem and devote the necessary resources to combat the scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on its campus.” 

This complaint includes instances of anti-Semitism, such as swastikas found on cars, walls of school buildings and dorm room doors. Other instances of anti-Semitism include a rock thrown through the window of a Jewish fraternity and the repeated vandalization of Chabad Center for Jewish Life menorah. 

It also lists forms of anti-Zionism, such as the introduction of a resolution that “called for the University to divest from three companies that supply defense technology to Israel” by Students for Justice in Palestine and a presentation given by a University multicultural advocate that “implied that the very existence of a Jewish state was a racist endeavor,” according to the complaint.

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    Dima Khalidi, lawyer and director of Palestine Legal, an organization that provides legal advice to advocates of Palestine, said that this Title VI complaint is “launched against Palestinian rights activists.” 

    Martin Levine, coordinating committee member of Chicago chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, said that Zionists frequently “weaponize anti-Semitism” and “particularly use it as a weapon for those advocating as a right to Palestinian people.”

    Jonah Messinger, senior in Engineering, grew up in a modern Orthodox-Jewish community with pro-Israel and Zionist sentiment. Although he wasn’t a pro-Israeli activist, Messinger said that Zionism was part of his worldview for a while. 

    After conversations with students on campus and research, Messinger began to change this worldview. Currently, he does not consider himself neither a Zionist nor an anti-Zionist. 

    “Meeting more Palestinians and listening just to some of the horrendous situations that them and their families have gone through … it’s sort of hard to ignore that,” Messinger said.

    In regards to the Title VI act, Messinger said that it is “one-hundred percent clear” that anti-Semitism is on this campus, noting the desecration of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life menorah as a clear anti-Semitic act. However, he did not agree with the allegations in the complaint that the University doesn’t handle it well. 

    “I think there’s plenty of room, and this is just in general across the country, for thinking about how to combat anti-Semitism,” Messinger said. “But I think it’s quite clear for me that this is not what it’s about.” 

    Khalidi said that the goal with filing the complaint wasn’t to win a lawsuit, but rather to silence Palestinian activists on campus, and Messinger agreed. The University created the Advisory Council on Jewish and Campus Life in response to the complaint. 

    Although Messinger believes this advisory will be used to have a quicker response to anti-Semitism on campus, he also believes it will “be a very convenient way for Jewish Zionist organizations on campus to go after Palestinian activist groups.”

    Levine said that this complaint insinuated “anyone who challenges the concept of Zionism as engaging in anti semitism.” Messinger stated that although there can be anti-Zionists who are anti-Semitic or engage in anti-Semitic behavior, the two terms aren’t the same.

    “There are plenty of folks that are anti-Zionists who are not anti-Semites and there are plenty of people who say anti-Zionist things, that is not the same as anti-Semitic things,” Messinger said.

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