Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Tuesday condemned a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Benedictine University for asking a Holocaust survivor last week to denounce the Israeli government’s “ethnic cleansing.”

“To demand this elderly Holocaust survivor condemn Israel is outrageous & deeply offensive. Yet another example of SJP’s anti-Semitic practice of marginalizing Jews and reducing their identity to their connection to Israel,” he wrote on Twitter.

The SJP member, Ayah Ali, asked Grinnell College religious-studies professor Harold Kasimow during his speech on campus on Thursday: “Do you support or do you condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state, and whether it’s OK to exile and completely … the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, the way that the Jewish people were exiled and ethnically cleansed?”

Kasimow answered that while he was displeased with the current Israeli government, he believes that both sides need to work together to achieve peace. He then added, “Yes, I think Israel should exist.”

“Do you support or condemn the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people?” Ali then asked. “Because the establishment of the Israeli state and the idea of Zionism ties back to the right of the Israeli state at any cost, and that cost is the Palestinian people.”

Adding that she was a “survivor of the intifada,” Ali said she was “disappointed” that Kasimow was “remaining neutral” on the matter.

Kasimow replied that he doesn’t “have enough knowledge” to give her a straight answer, but said that there was blame on both sides of the conflict, and that he hopes that there will be a two-state solution.

Ali responded that she was “very hurt” by Kasimow’s answer and walked out of the speech.

‘Respectful and tolerant?’

Other Jewish groups weighed in on the incident.

“Not that we needed it but here’s the latest proof that the anti-Israelism plaguing universities is anti-Semitism, plain and simple,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted. “ Can @NationalSJP explain how demanding that an American Holocaust survivor answer for the actions of Israel’s [government] does a damn thing for Palestinians?”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted, “Fed a steady diet of Jew-hatred, these young Palestinian students enjoy harassing a Nazi Holocaust survivor—who politely retorted the hate.”

StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said in a statement to the Jewish Journal, “SJP has a long record of hijacking and exploiting the narratives of various marginalized communities. Now they’ve taken it a step further by disrespecting and harassing a Holocaust survivor, and derailing an event that had nothing to do with them. Universities should call out SJP for what it is: a hate group that tries to use every platform as an opportunity to dehumanize Israelis, and spread misinformation and anti-Semitism.”

A university spokesperson said in a statement to the Journal, “Benedictine University does not support nor tolerate speech that is hateful to any group. As an inclusive, Catholic and Benedictine institution of higher learning, we provide a values-based education that revolves around developing the whole person. This includes learning that being respectful and tolerant of groups and individuals is a core value each world citizen must support.”

The statement added that they “expect students, faculty, staff and guests to adhere to the Benedictine values upon which we were founded—including hospitality, community, and love of Christ and neighbor. We thank Dr. Kasimow for joining us at Benedictine and sharing his experiences with our community.”

SJP Bendictine defended Ali in a Twitter thread. “If we are against oppression, we need to be against ALL oppression, and if Mr. Kasimow stands against ethnic cleansing, then it is expected that he be against ALL ethnic cleansing, and he has failed to apply his same principles to the victims of the Palestinian Occupation,” they tweeted.

Kasimow and his family hid from the Nazis in Lithuania from 1942 to 1949 until the family successfully escaped to New York. He was 3 years old when the Nazis took control of Lithuania in 1941.

This article first appeared in the Jewish Journal.

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