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An Open Letter From MIT Jewish Alumni and Allies on Campus Antisemitism

The MIT campus. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Dear President Kornbluth, Provost Barnhart, Chancellor Nobles, and members of the MIT Corporation:

We are a growing group of MIT Jewish alumni and MIT allies writing to express our alarm over the Congressional testimony of President Kornbluth of December 5, 2023; the subsequent public relations fallout; and the continued failure of the MIT administration to address the growing antisemitism on MIT’s campus.

Calls for genocide of any group of people, including Jews, constitute bullying and harassment. Such calls originating from MIT’s campus should never be tolerated by the MIT administration and should instead be met with swift disciplinary consequences.

Yet, during the Congressional testimony of December 5, 2023, President Kornbluth implied that calls for genocide of Jews may not constitute bullying and harassment under MIT’s code of conduct, depending on context. Protecting violent antisemitic rhetoric on MIT’s campus, rather than Jewish victims of such rhetoric, sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that violent words of hate are acceptable, at least as they relate to the Jewish people. Understandably, President Kornbluth’s testimony was met with a public uproar.

However, even in view of the disastrous Congressional testimony by President Kornbluth, the executive board of the MIT Corporation chose to extend its full support to the President in its public statement made on December 7, 2023. This is in contrast to the decision by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, who, in their efforts to limit reputational damage from the Congressional hearings, accepted the resignation of President Elizabeth Magill and the Chair of the Board of Trustees Scott Bok on December 9, 2023. Notably, President Kornbluth was the only university president that did not issue any apology or clarification in response to the intense backlash to her Congressional testimony.

Further, President Kornbluth’s testimony was initially met with shock and subsequently widespread public criticism from across the entire spectrum of American opinion including the Biden administration, Professor Laurence Tribe, Governor Kathy Hochul (D-NY), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, William Kristol, Representative Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) (MIT MBA ‘16), Representative Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY). We defy the MIT Corporation to find any other point of common agreement amongst these diverse public figures, or indeed any prominent public figure who found President Kornbluth’s testimony from December 5, 2023, to be acceptable.

We are therefore perplexed as to why, at the very same moment that other public figures were distancing themselves from President Kornbluth’s testimony before Congress, the MIT Corporation declared its “full and unreserved support” for President Kornbluth. Exactly what kind of message was the MIT Corporation trying to send to the MIT community, and especially its Jewish members, with such a statement so at odds with the overwhelming majority of the public?

Growing antisemitism on MIT’s campus, and the resulting publicity; President Kornbluth’s Cngressional testimony; and the resulting backlash and Congress-ordered investigation, have been damaging to MIT’s reputation worldwide. President Kornbluth’s failure to control antisemitism on MIT’s campus has distracted MIT’s students and administration from MIT’s core mission. We are alarmed to observe MIT earning a national reputation for antisemitism on President Kornbluth’s watch, rather than for academic excellence, and joining a group of ignominious universities currently struggling with antisemitism on their campuses. MIT’s public reputation affects its ability to attract the best students, faculty candidates, and corporate research partners for its scientific work.

We call for immediate and concrete actions by the MIT administration to combat antisemitism on campus and to demonstrate zero tolerance for calls for genocide of Jews irrespective of the “context”:

Enforce meaningful consequences for the individuals who violate MIT’s rules

Students have disrupted classes, protested in areas that MIT has explicitly said were off-limits for protests (such as 77 Mass Ave steps), and occupied Lobby 7 for an entire day after being repeatedly warned that this does violate MIT policy. These events happened over one month ago with no meaningful consequences to date. We call on the MIT administration to discipline those responsible for violating MIT’s rules.

Create an antisemitism-specific task force on campus

We call on the MIT administration to implement concrete solutions to address the rise of antisemitic rhetoric and harassment in the immediate term through an antisemitism-focused task force to work on ensuring the physical safety of Jewish students and combating the root causes of antisemitism’s spread on campus. MIT has a responsibility to clarify that public calls for violence against civilians are grounds for expulsion, and amend the MIT Code of Conduct to include this if necessary.

Publicly announce that calls for violence against civilians is grounds for expulsion and amend the MIT Code of Conduct to include this if necessary

The MIT code of conduct cannot allow for the calls for murder of any minority group. It does not. It is not asking for that much courage or moral clarity to announce this publicly without comments about “context,” “public statements vs. individuals,” or other such equivocation.

We look forward to hearing about concrete actions that the MIT administration is taking to right this flailing ship and create a protected, supported, and safe environment for the entire MIT community without exception, and to reassure Jewish students that calls for their genocide are considered harassment at MIT and will be met with swift and meaningful disciplinary action.

A full list of signatories can be found here. 

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Low Expectations Ahead of Palestinian ‘Unity’ Talks in Moscow Convened by Russian Regime

Posters on a wall in Tel Aviv highlighting the plight of Israeli hostages seized by Hamas. Photo: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

Representatives of Palestinian factions are traveling to Moscow this week for talks aimed at forging a greater degree of unity, but analysts remained skeptical that the Russian initiative is likely to register progress.

The talks, which are scheduled to begin on Wednesday, will bring together officials of the Islamist terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) with representatives of PLO factions including Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Announcing the talks last week, Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told pro-regime media outlets that “all Palestinian representatives who are located in different countries, in particular in Syria and Lebanon, other countries in the region,” would be invited to the Moscow parley, emphasizing at the same time that Russia’s rulers continue to regard the PLO — the main power in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) — as “the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people.”

Several regional policy analysts argued that expectations from the talks should be necessarily limited, especially as Russia has failed in past efforts to bring rival Palestinian factions closer together.

“Russia does not have any road map for the Palestinian file, especially for the Gaza Strip as it would be necessary to have mediation functions and maintain good contacts with both Israel and the paramilitary wing of Hamas in Gaza,” Ruslan Suleymanov — an independent Middle East expert based in Baku, Azerbaijan — told the German broadcaster DW on Monday.

Suleymanov said that the talks were primarily an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to showcase Russia’s geopolitical clout amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and with elections — which Putin is expected to win easily — on the calendar in March.

“It’s really just dialogue for dialogue’s sake,” Suleymanov remarked.

Hugh Lovatt — senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations — offered a similar perspective.

“This Russian summit is a way to show that Russia has the diplomatic capacity to play a hands-on role in supporting Palestinian national unity,” he told DW. However, previous reconciliation talks that were hosted in Moscow, Algiers and Cairo have “also not succeeded in brokering a lasting reconciliation deal between the rivals,” he said.

A potential obstacle to the talks emerged on Monday with the resignation of the PA’s Prime Minister, Muhammad Shtayyeh, who had enthusiastically backed the Moscow talks in a speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier this month. The PA has been under increasing pressure from the US to form a more representative government that would be in a position to manage the Gaza Strip once hostilities end.

“The decision to resign came in light of the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem and the war, genocide and starvation in the Gaza Strip,” Shtayyeh told PA President Mahmoud Abbas in a formal letter.

“I see that the next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in Gaza and the need for a Palestinian-Palestinian consensus based on Palestinian unity and the extension of unity of authority over the land of Palestine,” he added.

A Hamas spokesman told the Saudi channel Al Arabiya on Sunday that the terrorist group wants to form “an impartial national government based on the consensus of the Palestinian factions,” adding that the talks in Moscow would focus only on “a certain period and clear tasks.”

Separately, Hamas politburo member Muhammad Nazzal told the pro-Hamas website Middle East Monitor that the Moscow meeting was necessary because there had been “no official communication” with the PA on the subject of post-war planning.

Nazal claimed in the same interview that Hamas remained a powerful force in the Gaza Strip, where it continues to hold hostage more than 100 of the 240 people seized during its pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7. “Rumours of Rafah in the south of being the last stronghold of Hamas are false; the resistance exists across the entire Gaza Strip,” Nazzal said. “Moreover, the movement is fighting a fierce political negotiating battle, no less than the battle it is waging on the ground.”

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Harvard Professor Resigns From Antisemitism Task Force

Demonstrators take their “Emergency Rally: Stand with Palestinians Under Siege in Gaza” out of Harvard University and onto the streets of Harvard Square, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., October 14, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Internal tension and disagreement have caused a member of Harvard University’s Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism to resign as co-chair, The Harvard Crimson reported on Monday.

Raffaella Sadun, a Harvard Business School professor, reportedly left the group —which was formed to issue recommendations for addressing anti-Jewish hatred on the campus — because the university would not guarantee that the task force’s guidance would be implemented as official school policy. Her aggravation has been mounting for “some time,” the paper added, but she declined to cite conflict as the reason for her departure.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help advance the vital work to combat antisemitism and believe that [interim Harvard University] President Garber has assembled an excellent task force,” Sadun said. “I will continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism at Harvard in any way I can from my faculty position.”

In a statement, interim president Garber told The Harvard Crimson that Sadun had “expressed her desire” to get back to “research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities.”

“I am extremely appreciative of Professor Sadun’s participating in the task over the past few weeks,” Garber said. “Her insights and passion for this work have helped shape the mandate for the task force and how it can best productively advance the important work ahead.”

Announced in January, the Presidential Task Force on Antisemitism is Harvard University’s response to years of antisemitic incidents that earned the school the distinction of being labeled the most antisemitic campus in American higher education by education watchdog AMCHA Initiative. A now defunct group had been created by former president Claudine Gay, the Antisemitism Advisory Group, amid an explosion of antisemitic activity on campus following Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Gay eventually resigned from her position after providing controversial answers to a congressional committee about her efforts to manage the problem and being outed as a serial plagiarist. In her absence, Garber pushed ahead with forming task forces for addressing both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Since then, the antisemitism group’s membership have stirred controversy and speculation. In January, Jewish community activists and nonprofit leaders criticized its naming history professor Derek Penslar as a co-chair because, in his writings and public remarks, he had described concerns about rising antisemitism at Harvard as “exaggerated” and blamed Israel for fostering anti-Zionism. According to the Crimson, Penslar considered resigning but decided against doing so. In Jan., Rabbi David J. Wolpe stepped down from the group, saying in a statement on X that “both events on campus” and Gay’s congressional testimony “reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped.”

Last week, the school issued a statement denouncing another antisemitic outrage, a faculty anti-Zionist group’s posting on social media an antisemitic cartoon which showed a left-hand tattooed with a Star of David containing a dollar sign at its center dangling a Black man and an Arab man from a noose. The group’s leader, professor Walter Johnson, has since resigned as a member.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Antisemitism in Norway At Highest Levels Since WWII, Says Local Rabbi

Norwegian student Marie Andersen carries an antisemitic sign at an Oct. 21 pro-Hamas demonstration in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: Screenshot

Antisemitism in Norway is at its highest level since World War II, the rabbi of the country’s capital city of Oslo told Israeli television on Monday.

“There is a wave of antisemitism that we have not seen before,” said Rabbi Joav Melchior, who was born in Oslo but raised in Israel and currently leads the roughly 2,000 strong community of Oslo. “We haven’t seen such a wave since World War II, such an aggressive wave of antisemitism, even at the level of what is said in the media.”

“This is expressed in the things that people say both against Israel, both against Zionists and against Jews, which they did not say in the past,” he continued. “It’s something that would not have been accepted in the public discourse without a very harsh reaction,” he continued.

The comments by the rabbi follow actions by the Norwegian government that have been explicitly anti-Israel. Speaking at conference two weeks after the October 7 massacre, when Hamas terrorists stormed southern Israel, murdering over 1,200 and taking hostage more than 250, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide condemned Israel and not Hamas. Additionally, he compared Israel’s defensive response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, as well as refused the King of Norway from sending a letter of support and condolences to Israel following the attack.

In late October, a young Norwegian woman caused outrage around the world by carrying a viciously antisemitic placard at a pro-Hamas demonstration in Warsaw. The woman defended her behavior in an interview with a Norwegian broadcaster, characterizing the State of Israel as “dirty” and underlining that her main regret was that the furor she generated had “undermined the pro-Palestinian movement.”

Melchior continued in the interview, saying “There were certain cases of violence against Jews, both in their homes and on the street. Those people claim that they are not against Jews, because there are Jews who condemn Israel. It is as if the alibi of the anti-Jewish movement is to say that they are not antisemitic.” Despite this, the rabbi says it is still safe to walk around the street.

Due to the rise is antisemitism and the general anti-Israel sentiment in the country, Melchior said many Jews are debating whether they want to continue living in Norway.

“I think the reason for immigrating to Israel should not be because of antisemitism, but out of Zionism and out of a connection to the people of Israel and the desire to live in the Land of Israel, and that is what we educate,” he added.

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