CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — A Jewish leader at the University of Illinois is speaking out after a swastika was discovered in a public Champaign park Wednesday morning.
The hate symbol was found in Mattis Park fixed to a tree. Champaign Police are investigating; officials said they searched the park for evidence but didn’t say if they found anything that could tell them who put the swastika there or why.
Erez Cohen, Executive Director of Illini Hillel, said this comes at a particularly sensitive time for the Jewish community in Central Illinois, with war raging across the world in Israel and Gaza.
“As a result of the Hamas terror attack against Israel, this is unnecessary to provide us more stress and more grief right now.”
Cohen said he has been seeing more instances of antisemitic hate speech around campus since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Since hearing of a swastika found at Mattis Park, he said some people in the Jewish community are feeling increasingly unwelcome.
“It’s a direct symbol that says the Jews are not welcome here,” Cohen said. “And it’s deeply concerning that these symbols are still found in our community, even today in the 21st century.”
Cohen said it emphasizes the need for people to come together and learn from each other instead of holding on to blanket hatred.
“The act is horrible and should never happen.”
He said that since the attacks in Israel, the Hillel has doubled their support services for the Jewish community and students, or anyone else who is feeling the impact of both the war in the Middle East and hate symbols.
“They feel unwelcome, they feel that someone here is promoting hate against them,” Cohen said. “None of us are here to be hateful towards another person.”
Cohen added this is an anxious and scary time for many people and there is one simple thing people can do to combat hatred.
“Just genuinely show some acts of random kindness to just show people that they’re not alone and that other people have their backs as well.”
Police said they are still investigating the circumstances behind the swastika found in Mattis Park. Anyone who may have seen something or has any information is asked to call police.