There is a long tradition of civil disobedience on campus, including what the late civil rights activist and Georgia congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.” But protected free speech “crosses a line” when “disruption leads to physical harm, or even threats of harm, as well as destruction of property,” according to Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.).
“That’s an easy line to draw, at least in my opinion,” the congressman told JNS. “More nuanced is when protest or civil disobedience crosses over to intimidation of individuals or groups. I think this is something we are frequently seeing in the protests on campuses and in our communities.”
It is less nuanced, he said, “when intimidation turns to demonization, delegitimization, exclusion and ultimately the denial of a person or group’s very existence.” That “should be easy to call this out and take action to protect those targeted,” including “Jewish students and facilities targeted,” he said.
Schneider told JNS that these views crystallized for him following a 90-minute conversation about antisemitism earlier this week with 13 undergraduates in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook.
Schneider, who is Jewish, told JNS he found “all the personal stories valuable.” Some students fear identifying as Jewish publicly and most appreciate the support they are getting from Hillel, Chabad and other organizations focused on Jewish students.
“Most students gave positive marks to their schools’ administrations. ‘A’ for effort,” he said. But there is a need to put words into action. “One big takeaway was that administrations can do more to reach out to Jewish students to ask what they need.” He noted that Jewish students at schools with smaller Jewish populations feel isolated.
Schneider appreciated that the students “echoed my view that it’s not a binary choice. You can be a Zionist and still recognize the legitimate aspirations and real burdens of Palestinians.”
The congressman said he’s still collecting his thoughts, but he thinks that university presidents, deans and other leaders “have to do a better job at articulating the acceptable boundaries of civil disobedience, define what actions cross those boundaries and sanction the groups and individuals that willfully and repeatedly are over the line.”
The students, who live in the area, attend University of Chicago, University of Michigan, George Washington University, University of Iowa, Lake Forest College and Loyola University of Chicago.