Open Letter to University of Illinois President: Homophobia, Crypto-Racism and Jew-Hatred

Dear President Mr. Timothy L. Killeen,

My name is Hen Mazzig. I’m a minority within a minority, within a minority, within a minority. I have had the unfortunate experience of discovering that the University of Illinois is a hotbed of homophobia, anti- Semitism and crypto-racism.

My experience at the University of Illinois was terrifying and emotionally damaging as I was harassed to the point that I was afraid that I would be harmed physically. Not only did the students harass me, but they also denied me my right for free speech. These students are members of the group (SJP), and their actions of denying freedom of speech are well known, planned and deliberate. Moreover, based on their track record, they are known for their crypto-racism and anti-semitism and have added homophobia to their list of issues they overtly attack. During my military service I have worked with gay Palestinians, and have seen the terrible treatment they receive from their communities and leadership. The attitudes of the SJP students reflect the same hatred and abuse that I have witnessed in the Palestinian community.

The university was one of my destinations in a three-week speaking tour in North America. In my talks I share my personal story – how my family came to Israel in the early 50s as Jewish refugees, having been forced by the local Arab population, to leave both Iraq and North Africa. I speak of their great struggle in a new country. I speak of how, as a 12 year old, I survived a Palestinian terrorist attack which killed innocent people. This event, and my desire for peace, lead me to join the humanitarian unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). There I worked to build bridges with Palestinians, promoting peace. I also share my personal journey of coming out as a gay commander to my peers in the IDF, and to my family members. As a “minority within a minority”, I tell students that they can face any challenge in their lives, when they believe in themselves and have hope.

Part of my audience at U of I, was a group of SJP students, wearing “Free Palestine” t-shirts. I didn’t think much of it, until things took a shocking turn.

As I shared the story of my Iraqi grandmother finding the dead body of her father, slain for being a Jew-these students laughed, and played music on their phones.

Just a few moments later, I heard music in Arabic that was played deliberately from the classroom next door. I tried to ignore it and continued my story.

As I spoke about how scary it was for me to face a terror attack, an SJP student bolted out of his seat with a Palestinian flag and shouted at me that I shouldn’t be sharing my story and asking for anybody’s pity.

When I spoke about how difficult it was to be accepted as an openly gay officer, several SJP students laughed. Their mockery and disdain were undeniable homophobic behaviors.

I tried to continue, but every word I said was matched with deliberate, disruptive noise and laughter. Their intent was clear and consistent- to interrupt my speech and to intimidate me.

I addressed them, and asked for their respect, as I was speaking about sensitive and personal issues.They then stood up and started yelling, putting up signs, and calling for the destruction of my country. Over and over they chanted, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”

What this chant is calling for is the removal by any means, genocide or ethnic cleansing of the Jews from Israel. You can see this incident in the following video:

It is clearly a crypto fascist, anti-Semitic call – the call for the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people.

They left the room and continued shouting in the hall, until campus police arrived. By that point I was already in a state of physical and emotional shock, and asked to cut the event short as I was so viciously attacked I could not continue.

After this incident, I researched further about the university and discovered that such attacks are common. To name a few incidents:

  • September 7th, 2017: SJP threatened to use “any means necessary,” including “full-scale armed conflict,” to oppose the “unholy union of American fascists, white supremacists, and Zionists.” Read more
  • September 6th, 2017: Anti semitic sentences carved into bathroom door on campus Read more
  • July 2017: SJP celebrates Palestinian violence against Jewish state Read more
  • April 2017 – Anti-Israel events planned on dates of Jewish holidays Read more
  • March 2017- “Divest from Israel resolution at U of I” Read more

I cannot believe that this bigotry is allowed on campus where all students have the rights of equal protection. I cannot believe that Jewish, pro-Israel and LGBTQ+ students cannot feel protected because of who they are and that they are under constant attack by members of SJP and those aligned with them. Furthermore, given the aforementioned history of incidents, I cannot believe that no actions were taken to ensure our safety, and no disciplinary actions were taken against the group that initiates and actively promotes these attacks. If we connect the dots it is clear that this hate group, SJP, consistently violates the rules of the university and violates American values and laws.

I urge students, and faculty to speak up. I urge President Killeen to ensure the safety of ALL minorities on campus and to treat SJP and its members in the same way hew would treat any hate groups such as Neo-Nazis, or the KKK. LGBTQ+, Jewish and Israeli students need you, and need equal protection to other minorities.

About the Author
Hen Mazzig is a Senior Fellow at The Tel Aviv Institute (TLVi). He is a writer, digital communications expert, international speaker and LGBTQ+ advocate. His work focuses, among other topics, on the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
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