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State Jewish Caucus members visit University of Illinois during pro-Palestine encampment

Lawmakers with the Illinois Legislative Jewish Caucus (left) meet with an audience of roughly 40 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Monday, May 6, 2024.

URBANA — Three lawmakers in Illinois’ Jewish Caucus visited the University of Illinois Monday to support Jewish students.

Democrat Tracy Katz Muhl said she is happy with how university officials in Champaign-Urbana are handling campus protests. She represents the northern suburbs of Chicago in House District 57. 

“They’re doing a good job in real time adjusting and adapting. Student safety always has been and always will be their priority. So I want to thank them for that and give them the support and encouragement they need to follow through,” Katz Muhl said.

The visit fell on Holocaust Remembrance Day

A pro-Palestine encampment has been on campus since Friday, April 26. Two people were arrested during the first day of demonstrations.

There are Jewish students both in the encampment and among counter-protesters

Antisemitism was on the rise in Illinois before Oct. 7, and has only escalated since

From left: Democrats Dan Didech, Bob Morgan and Tracy Katz Muhl. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Katz Muhl and the two other state representatives at Monday’s news conference cheered Jewish students on to finish their semester during a difficult time. 

“This is a very difficult moment where the flames of hatred and anti Semitism are again raging on college campuses. And you are dealing with it every day,” said Democrat Bob Morgan of House District 58.

Morgan referenced a recent Anti-Defamation League report that says antisemitic incidents in Illinois increased 74 percent in 2023 over the previous year.

Morgan said the state has spent $40 million dollars to increase security for mosques, synagogues and other places of worship. 

The state set aside $20 million for the Illinois Nonprofit Security Grant Program two years in a row. Morgan said he hopes to do so again this year.

“We’re seeing an uptick in hate crimes. It’s not just antisemitism. But it is a significantly greater increase in Illinois, compared to any other group,” Morgan said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hate crime database shows that anti-Jewish hate crimes quadrupled between 2021 and 2022. The number of instances of bias-motivated intimidation, vandalism, assault, and other crimes increased from 10 to 42.

That increased faster than numerically more common hate crimes reported to police, like anti-Black hate crimes, which doubled from 40 to 89 in the same time period. 

The Anti-Defamation League 2023 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents expands on earlier data. ADL says it was tracking a nationwide increase in incidents before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s war in Gaza, and antisemitism has increased since then. 

ADL, which says it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, was founded in the 1910s to fight antisemitism. The organization revised its methodology after Oct. 7 to include certain expressions against Zionism, especially if it could be seen as supporting attacks on Jews, Israelis or Zionists. 

ADL says antisemitism at universities has increased 321 percent since 2022. Excluding the new Oct. 7 methodology, antisemitism increased 153 percent.

Pro-Palestinian students say anti-Zionism is not antisemitic

Jewish students and community members celebrate Passover Seder on Sunday, April 28 in the pro-Palestine encampment.

A few counter-protesters stood to the side of the press conference, carrying signs in support of Palestine. 

Izzy Grosof is a postdoctoral researcher with UIUC Jews for Palestine. She brought a statement from the group that opposes conflating anti-Zionism and antisemitism. 

“We believe that at the core of our tradition as Jews is the sacredness of life. We are grounded in the belief that the only way forward is by reaching for each other and ending the lie that Jewish safety requires Palestinian suffering,” the statement reads.

Grosof has been staying in the pro-Palestine encampment and celebrated Jewish holidays within the protest.

“We have access to kosher food, providing bread at the end of Passover, space to pray. We felt safe and welcomed within the encampment. And we hope that everybody feels safe and welcomed there,” Grosof said. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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