Northwestern University’s ‘Not Cops’ Trigger Controversy on Campus

Was Northwestern University’s campus group “NU Community Not Cops” being antisemitic when it called Northwestern’s Jewish president a pig? Some say no, but there is a lot more to the story.

NU Community Not Cops protesters rebuffed claims that it was antisemitic to call President Morton Schapiro, “piggy Morty,” during a protest calling for the abolition of the university’s private police department. The arguably antisemitic slander was uttered after the president penned an open letter stating that although it wasn’t manifestly antisemitic, it was “dangerously close to a longstanding trope against observant Jews” like himself.

In response, NU Community Not Cops released a statement pushing back against the president and stated their opposition to “Zionist and settler-colonial violence” by proclaiming that:

“False claims of anti-Semitism have been used throughout Northwestern’s history to shut down student activists, especially Palestinian activists, and to divide coalitions by falsely claiming that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism…We continue to stand in solidarity with Palestinian liberation by our shared virtue of abolition.”

Although “piggy Morty” isn’t necessarily an antisemitic libel, NU Community Not Cops’ response to Schapiro still crosses the line. Instead of publicly apologizing and denying any antisemitic intentions, they alluded to Israel’s supposed treatment of Palestinians in a situation when neither Israel, Zionism nor Palestinians were mentioned prior. The most serious concern was their use of the common trope that “anti-Zionism is not antisemitism”, a statement that would not have been issued if the president of the university was not Jewish.

Regardless of whether the “piggy Morty” slur was antisemitic, the fallacy that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism is a reoccurring problem worth addressing. Anti-Zionism is the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and to establish a homeland in the geographical area of the historic Land of Israel. By identifying as anti-Zionist, NU Community Not Cops rejects Israel’s right to self-determination – a right given to all nations under Article I of the UN Charter –  and also violates the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism.

In support of the NU Community Not Cops, over 90 Jewish community members published a letter to the editor in The Daily, Northwestern’s student newspaper, which condemned Schapiro’s “weaponization” of his Jewish identity and “spurious, willfully ignorant accusations of antisemitism”. Additionally, Northwestern faculty and staff condemned the university’s president for denouncing the potential expressions of antisemitism against him. Claiming that anyone is “weaponizing” their religion, gender, or race, is not only insensitive but also dangerous.

In the case of Northwestern, an institution where both faculty and students see safety and respect as core values, every accusation against a religion, race, or people, must be properly investigated and never invalidated. The claims made by the staff and over 90 Jewish community members sets a precedent that allows claims of antisemitism on campus to be delegitimized. This is especially dangerous in the United States where, according to the FBI, 62 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes targeted Jews in 2019.

In response to the entire ordeal, the Northwestern Israel campus group, Wildcats For Israel, issued a statement lamenting that the discussion had moved away from abolishing the university’s private police department to antisemitism and that NU Community Not Cops “decided it was appropriate to inject matters well beyond the scope of the conversation, including mentions of Zionism and Palestinian Liberation.” They continued that while “there is a time and place for these discussions, this was neither the time nor the place”. Schapiro’s letter, which, by in large, gave words of encouragement to the black community, was taken out of context. Instead of focusing on the true issue and the grievances of the black community, protesters, students, and staff quickly shifted their focus to make unfounded assertions about the State of Israel. While critiquing Israeli laws or the Israeli government is valid, holding it to a double standard and denying its right to exist should not be tolerated on any occasion.

The bottom line is that invoking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a situation when neither Israel, Zionism nor Palestinians were ever mentioned, is wildly inappropriate. Likewise, declaring that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism also veers into dangerous territory. Nobody, especially college students, should ever feel ashamed about reporting something they believe is offensive.

Northwestern University should set an example to the rest of the nation: be respectful of others and engage in discussions within the appropriate setting; find common ground; allow others to be heard. And, most importantly, understand the repercussions of your accusations, and do not propagate the cycle of hate and distrust.

About the Author
Sandra is co-president of Israel Young Pugwash which teaches young professionals Track II negotiation techniques in order to reduce armed conflicts in the Middle East. She is pursuing a B.A. in Government, Strategy, and Diplomacy at the IDC Herzliya, where she is a fellow in the prestigious Argov Leadership Program, as well as a fellow with CAMERA on Campus. Sandra's main research interests are security dilemmas, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and international relations.
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