Reporter's notebookJewish student: 'This anti-Zionism feels like antisemitism'

Gaza campus protests spread to Chicago high schools, alarming Jewish students

Half a dozen high schools allow hundreds of students to briefly skip class for sit-ins, with many then marching to encampments at nearby universities where they are embraced

Jacob Magid

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Students at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza on May 1, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube, WGN News)
Students at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza on May 1, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube, WGN News)

CHICAGO — Hundreds of students held sit-ins at Chicago public high schools in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday, as anti-Israel protests trickled down from the college campuses that they’ve upended in recent weeks.

Several dozen students were seen participating in the demonstrations at each of half a dozen high schools, where some Jewish students said the demonstrations — and the schools’ decisions to allow them — left them feeling unsafe.

“I learned in the early months of high school that if you don’t fit with the majority ideology, people will only see you as one aspect and won’t like you. I’ve lost many lifelong friends this year for being a proud Jew,” said Jones College Prep senior Mira Rosenblum during a press conference with local Jewish leaders in Chicago.

Rosenblum accused her school’s administration of ignoring antisemitism. While her request to hold a vigil after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught was denied, Jones allowed hundreds of students to participate in a January walk-out along with other Chicago public schools calling for a ceasefire, the teen claimed. Rosenblum said that she was subsequently “doxxed and called anti-black and Islamophobic for filing a complaint against the student leaders who compared themselves to Jewish rebels fighting against Nazi Germany.”

Jones College Prep did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“When I see all of this anti-Zionism, it really feels like antisemitism,” Jones freshman Max Rubenstein told ABC 7. “At least all the Jewish students are a little uneasy when they see this large-scale protest.”

Students at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago hold a sit-in in support of Palestinians in Gaza on May 1, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube, Max Rubenstein ABC 7)

“Anyone who is antisemitic and calls themselves pro-Palestinian is not pro-Palestinian,” a Jones protest organizer, who was identified only as Atticus, told the network.

“While we support students’ constitutional right to free expression, harassment, discrimination, and bias-based harm have no place in our school community and will not be tolerated,” Chicago Public Schools said in a statement.

Explaining the impetus for the day’s sit-ins, Atticus said, “We wanted to show our support to growing encampments around the country, including Northwestern, Columbia and general protest for Palestinian genocide.”

While the sit-ins took place without any reported incidents, the university campus protests Atticus cited have led to hundreds of arrests, including some 300 anti-Israel radicals who violently took over a building at Columbia University. At the University of California Los Angeles, dueling groups of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters squared off in ugly fistfights that led to several injuries on Wednesday.

The university protests have mushroomed across the country, with organizers pledging to remain in tents on campus quads until their schools sever all academic and financial links to Israel. Administrators have been forced to decide between calling in police to rein in violators, which risks calling more attention to the cause, and cutting deals with them, infuriating US lawmakers and Jewish organizations.

Until this week, though, the encampments were limited to college campuses. Chicago has seen the largest number of high schoolers joining their older peers, but similar sit-ins were reported in Austin, Texas, and Seattle, Washington. A New Jersey sit-in scheduled for last week was reportedly canceled after a pair of county commissioners demanded that the district’s superintendent intervene.

Jewish United Fund’s Jane Charney speaks at a press conference in Chicago On May 1, 2024; Mira Rosenblum looks on to Charney’s right (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, media was not allowed inside as the sit-in took place, but participants could be seen through the building’s windows.

The group was seated on the floor facing a student leader who read off information regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, provided tips on how to demonstrate and taught pro-Palestinian chants they should expect to hear and echo.

Chicago Public Schools issued a guidance for the day’s protests that allowed them to extend for 30 minutes, but the sit-in at Jones lasted twice as long, according to one parent of a student there. The rallies were organized by Chicago Youth For Justice.

After the sit-ins, many of the participating students proceeded to march to nearby “Gaza solidarity encampments” that were established earlier this week at DePaul University and the University of Chicago.

High schoolers were embraced upon their arrival, with one of the Jones students given the opportunity to lead hundreds at the University of Chicago in a chant of “Joe Biden’s sending bombs killing children and their moms!”

At DePaul, Lincoln Park High School students joined college students in a traditional Native American circle dance in the middle of the quad, which was filled with tents and Palestinian flags.

“That was to remind us that as indigenous people, we are united in liberation,” one of the college protest organizers declared at the end of the song, to applause from the high school visitors.

Another organizer took the mic to report that he had just come from a meeting with DePaul stakeholders who refused to accept the protesters’ demands.

“Everyone here on this squad right now is staying here and is not moving until this disgusting university divests from these genocidal corporations,” he shouted to cheers from the hundreds present.

“Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest!” they chanted repeatedly.

High schoolers then joined their college-aged peers in making signs that were hung on the fence surrounding the DePaul quad.

“Netanyahu is a modern-day Hitler and Biden is his b****,” read one.

Signs outside the anti-Israel encampment at DePaul University in Chicago on May 1, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Another featured a Marvel cartoon captioned “Magneto hates Zionists!”

One student was seen putting up a sign she made that read “No pride in genocide.”

Approached by a passerby who asked her if she knew that queer people are marginalized and targeted in the West Bank and Gaza, the masked student replied that she was not aware of this but added, “No one is free until everyone is free” before finishing zip-tying the sign and scurrying away.

At the press conference held by Jewish community leaders several miles away, the Jewish United Fund’s Jane Charney demanded that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) clamp down on the sit-ins.

Palestinian flags in the quad alongside the anti-Israel encampment at DePaul University in Chicago on May 1, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

“How are CPS leaders going to ensure that Jews are not harassed and are able to be present in their schools in the fullness of their identities? What consequences will be meted out to those who use antisemitic language? How will teachers and students be trained to understand the American Jewish experience and our deep connection to Israel? CPS has been silent on all of these questions,” Charney lamented.

“So far, we have seen not much beyond available ‘processing spaces’ for Jewish students and repeated appeals that students abide by the norms of the Student Code of Conduct — the very same student code of conduct that prohibits sit-ins,” she said, adding that Jewish clubs have been urged not to campaign for the release of hostages, while the January ceasefire walk-out was tolerated.

“This hypocritical and selective enforcement of campus rules and capitulation to mob rule sends a clear message to Jewish students and their families that our safety and our ability to be present at our schools in the fullness of our identity is not important.”

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