Northwestern negotiations

Jewish leaders slam Northwestern agreement with anti-Israel protesters

President Michael Schill agreed to allow students to weigh in on university investments and continue to protest if they end encampment

Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu via Getty Images

Students and residents camp outside Northwestern University during a pro-Palestinian protest, expressing solidarity with Palestinians with banners in Evanston, Illinois, United States on April 27, 2024.

After an anti-Israel encampment was erected at Northwestern University last week, the school’s president on Monday reached an agreement with protestors to end the encampment — acceding to several of their demands in the process, which drew strong condemnation from many in the Chicago and national Jewish communities. 

In a letter to university President Michael Schill, the Jewish United Fund — Chicago’s Jewish federation, which also oversees Northwestern Hillel — excoriated the administrator for embracing “those who flagrantly disrupted Northwestern academics and flouted those policies.”

“The overwhelming majority of your Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni feel betrayed. They trusted an institution you lead and considered it home. You have violated that trust,” the letter said. “You certainly heard and acted generously towards those with loud, at times hateful voices. The lack of any reassuring message to our community has also been heard loud and clear.”

The Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law joined together to call for Schill’s resignation after the agreement was announced. 

“For days, protestors openly mocked and violated Northwestern’s codes of conduct and policies by erecting an encampment in which they fanned the flames of antisemitism and wreaked havoc on the entire university community,” the groups said in a statement. “Rather than hold them accountable – as he pledged he would – President Schill gave them a seat at the table and normalized their hatred against Jewish students.”

In a document deemed “Agreement on Deering Meadow,” Schill agreed to allow students to protest until the end of classes on June 1 so long as tents are removed, and to encourage employers not to rescind job offers for student protestors. The school will also allow students to weigh in on university investments — a major concession for students who have been demanding the university to divest from Israeli corporations. 

A section titled “inclusivity” pledged extra funding to programs supporting Muslim students and Palestinian faculty, and to build a campus house for Muslim students. (A university spokesperson declined to say whether Northwestern will also offer funds for the campus Hillel house, an independent organization that funds its own operations.) The agreement earned the praise of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It mentioned Jewish students once, in a section committing to “additional support for Jewish and Muslim students.”

After criticism mounted from Jewish leaders and stakeholders, Schill released a video Tuesday evening defending the agreement while also condemning antisemitism. 

“I am proud of our community for achieving what has been a challenge across the country: a sustainable de-escalated path forward, one that prioritizes safety, safety for all of our students, for all of our Jewish students, for all of our Muslims students, all of our students,” Schill said. “This agreement reduces the risk of escalation which we have seen at so many of our peer institutions.”

Schill, who is Jewish, outlined his own connection to antisemitism — a great-grandfather was killed in a Russian pogrom, and several relatives were killed at Nazi concentration camps. 

“I recognize that some slogans and expressions are subject to interpretation, but when I see a star of David with an X on it, when I see a picture of me with horns, or when I hear that one of our students has been called a dirty Jew, there is no ambiguity. This needs to be condemned by all of us and that starts with me,” said Schill.

A university spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the negotiations with the anti-Israel protesters also included representation from the university’s antisemitism task force, or Jewish students. 

Northwestern’s deal with campus protesters comes on the heels of Columbia University’s failed negotiations with protestors, who had been in talks with Columbia administrators before they stormed an administrative building on Monday night. 

Brown University’s leadership also reached a deal with a similar group of activists who had set up an encampment on the Providence, R.I., campus. The agreement stated that no Brown affiliates who were involved in the encampment will face retaliation from the university, and that leaders of the encampment will not have suspension or higher. No student groups will lose their formal recognition over members’ role in the encampment. 

Perhaps most significantly, Brown President Christina Paxson agreed that the Brown Corporation, the university’s governing body, will vote in October on divestment from Israeli companies. The Corporation will also meet with representatives of the Brown Divest Coalition in May.  
The text of the agreement and a letter sent from Paxson to the university community did not mention anything about Jewish and Israeli students, or about antisemitism.

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