Jewish residents in Evanston denounce antisemitic comments made at recent City Council meeting

Last week, several people made antisemitic comments during the public comments portion of a City Council meeting. The speakers are affiliated with the Goyim Defense League, which the Anti-Defamation League calls a white supremacist hate group.

Residents and community members pack the Evanston City Council chamber Monday evening. Last week, speakers affiliated with a group identified as an antisemitic hate group spoke at a council meeting via Zoom and in person.
Residents and community members pack the Evanston City Council chamber Monday evening. Last week, speakers affiliated with a group identified as an antisemitic hate group spoke at a council meeting via Zoom and in person. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times
Residents and community members pack the Evanston City Council chamber Monday evening. Last week, speakers affiliated with a group identified as an antisemitic hate group spoke at a council meeting via Zoom and in person.
Residents and community members pack the Evanston City Council chamber Monday evening. Last week, speakers affiliated with a group identified as an antisemitic hate group spoke at a council meeting via Zoom and in person. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

Jewish residents in Evanston denounce antisemitic comments made at recent City Council meeting

Last week, several people made antisemitic comments during the public comments portion of a City Council meeting. The speakers are affiliated with the Goyim Defense League, which the Anti-Defamation League calls a white supremacist hate group.

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Members of Evanston’s Jewish community spoke out against hate during a City Council meeting Monday after a white supremacist group made antisemitic statements during a council meeting last week.

Susan Wishnick, a 30-year Evanston resident who said members of her family in Israel were attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, said she felt compelled to attend Monday’s meeting in person to support her community.

“The spectacle of white nationalists spewing hatred and vitriol in our city government was a shocking and painful affront,” Wishnick said. “I come tonight in person to stand against them, to stand with you, our elected officials, and all Evanstonians.”

Mayor Daniel Biss, who is Jewish, told the dozens gathered at the Lorraine Morton Civic Center how Thursday’s incident affected him personally and made him think about his grandmother, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss told Monday’s City Council meeting that the antisemitic comments made by people at last week’s council meeting made him think of his grandmother, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss told Monday’s City Council meeting that the antisemitic comments made by people at last week’s council meeting made him think of his grandmother, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

“My first reaction was don’t give them the attention they want, they are a bunch of kooks and provocateurs, and don’t indulge that. But then I thought a lot about what my grandmother taught me when she was still alive,” Biss said. “The folks who participated in the public comment Thursday were kooks, they were provocateurs and trolls, but they were also vectors for the most damaging virus that we have experienced as a people.”

The City Council invoked its 45-minute limit on public comment Thursday after a number of speakers delivered antisemitic remarks. Most of them spoke over Zoom, but one man addressed the council in person, wearing a baseball cap with a logo of the GoyimTV website — a platform that streams antisemitic content — operated by the Goyim Defense League.

The man in the baseball cap told the meeting that hate speech was as protected as any speech under the Constitution and claimed the media and government were controlled by Jews.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Goyim Defense League is “a loose network of individuals connected by their virulent antisemitism” that “engages in antisemitic stunts and schemes to troll or otherwise harass Jews” and props up white supremacy.

David Goldenberg, Midwest regional director with the ADL, said the man who appeared before the council last week is an active participant in the Goyim Defense League and is not an Evanston resident. Goldenberg said the GDL organized the Thursday incident, and the group has also been linked to antisemitic flyers found recently in Bucktown and Lincoln Park.

“What we have seen here in Evanston in recent months — including during the public comment period in this council — is a representation of hate and antisemitism that members of the Jewish community are experiencing across the country,” Goldenberg said.

Biss, City Council members and other elected officials released a joint statement ahead of the meeting Monday, calling the situation “extremely disturbing.”

Officials said they would explore legal options to protect the community from abuse but added “the First Amendment, as well as the Open Meetings Act, impose serious constraints on what we can do about this.”

They also said they had no reason to believe any of the individuals who made the comments were Evanston residents.

“All of us were deeply troubled and shaken by this display, which has been particularly traumatic for our Jewish community,” officials said. “There is no place in Evanston for this type of behavior or hate of any kind.”

The public comment portion of Monday’s meeting went on as normal for more than 45 minutes, as in-person speakers stood before the panel to make statements. But as online speakers were given the floor two individuals who did not show their faces on screen had to be cut off for making antisemitic remarks.

The City Council again chose to invoke its 45-minute limit on public comments after the two outbursts and voted in favor of discussing rule changes for future meetings the next time it meets.

Several longtime residents at Monday’s meeting said they were no longer sure if they were welcome in Evanston after Thursday’s incident coupled with the heated rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.

“I always felt safe as a Latin Jew in Evanston and its welcoming environment, but that changed drastically after October 7 last year,” said Perla Albo, who is from Venezuela but has lived in the suburb for more than 10 years. “What we saw on Thursday was horrific and yet very predictable.”

Evanston resident Paul Epner didn’t go as far as saying he felt unsafe in the city, but he said, “I certainly feel less safe.

“Hate may start with one group, but we would be foolish to think it has boundaries,” Epner said. “Whether initially driven by race, ethnicity or any other factor, those who live by hate will eventually get to all minorities. It is important that local government and our residents not buy into the hate game.”