When Northwestern University Professor Arthur Butz publicly declared his support for the Holocaust denial statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Louis and Saerree Fiedler Hillel Center immediately went into action.
Northwestern Hillel Executive Director Adam Simon contacted students, university officials, lay leaders and Jewish community officials to craft a proper response to statements that Northwestern University President Henry S. Bienen characterized as "a contemptible insult to all decent and feeling people."
"There are two ways to respond: ignore it or convert it into something positive," Simon told the Chicago Tribune.
Northwestern Hillel decided to focus campus attention on the lessons of the Holocaust and preventing genocide. Hillel placed a full-page ad in the campus newspaper denouncing Butz's remarks and announcing a community forum to discuss the issue.
The McCormick Tribune Center was packed with students, community members and media attending the forum. After brief remarks, the audience divided into smaller groups to discuss how to bring to life the lessons of the Holocaust. Among the recommendations, Hillel will encourage students to take a stand against the current genocide in Darfur, Sudan by getting involved in the NU Darfur Action Coalition and calling the White House to push for government action in Darfur.
Northwestern Hillel's response to Butz has been reported in local and international media, and Simon was a guest on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" program.
Butz, a tenured professor who has been at Northwestern for more than 30 years, has a long history of Holocaust denial. He has promoted his views through his university-affiliated Web site and his 1976 book, "The Hoax of the 20th Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry." Butz's remarks in support of the Iranian president were published in Iranian newspapers and reported in The Chicago Tribune.
In the Iranian newspaper, Butz said that the Holocaust didn't happen, that it is a "deliberately contrived falsehood" and that its promulgation was motivated by the desire to create a Jewish state in the Middle East. He congratulated the Iranian president "on becoming the first head of state to speak out clearly on these issues and [I] regret only that it was not a Western head of state."
Though the university distanced itself from Butz – President Bienen called him an "embarrassment" to Northwestern – it does not plan to take action against the professor since he has kept his views out of his classroom and curriculum. Northwestern's Associated Student Government also passed a resolution that expressed disgust for Butz's comments.
"I am furious that there are some who perceive his comments as being representative of Northwestern University," said ASG President Patrick Keenan-Devlin in the Daily Northwestern. "This is not Northwestern. This is not the Northwestern student body speaking. He is not representative of us."