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Kill it or reform it? Jewish critics of DEI debate the future of campus diversity programs

(JTA) — As director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota, Natan Paradise says he leads a research institution, not an advocacy organization. Yet since Oct. 7, he says his research has been put on pause while he spends his time “just dealing with this.” 

 “This” refers to fallout from the deadly Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza. 

“A lot of conversations have had to be had, educating both inside and outside the Jewish community,” Paradise said in an interview thismonth. “That happens daily. People want to know, should we respond and should we respond in an uproar? The donors are in an uproar. Administrators need context.”

At Minnesota, various academic departments issued statements on the conflict that Paradise calls “dismaying,” and others called actionable. 

The university chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine plastered the doors of academic buildings with flyers bearing anti-Israel messages. A prominent Republican on the law faculty filed a civil rights complaint that this week resulted in a federal investigation. And the campus was roiled when a candidate for a senior position at the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion office gave a speech accusing Israel of genocide and denying reports that Hamas had committed sexual crimes in the Oct. 7 attacks. 

The candidate is no longer being considered for the position, but the incident still ramped up concerns about DEI at Minnesota and beyond. When Paradise joined fellow scholars for a panel discussion about “Jews, Antisemitism and DEI: Campus Experiences” at the Association for Jewish Studies conference in San Francisco last month, emotions ran high.

“We have problems” with the campus DEI office, said Amy Simon, an assistant professor of Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History at Michigan State University, where officials recently backed away from a project that would have addressed concerns about antisemitism. The office is known as the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, or IDI. “Sometimes they’re listening, but there’s never a real hearing from the top of the administration [or] the IDI either.”

DEI is a shorthand for a framework that says employers and institutions should be welcoming to diverse applicants, especially people of color, women and the LGBTQ community. Campus DEI offices offer training to students and faculty in how to be welcoming to marginalized groups, provide support groups for women, people of color and LGBTQ students, and work with the administration in promoting and identifying diverse candidates for faculty and administration jobs. 

Members of the Association for Jewish Studies gathered for the organization’s 55th annual conference, held in San Francisco, Dec. 17-19, 2023. (JTA photo)

College campuses have had minority and multicultural affairs offices since the late 1960s and 1970s, focused largely on hiring more diverse faculty and staff and enrolling and retaining more students of color. In the mid-2000s, diversity officers who had been working in isolation formed the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. The organization’s membership has tripled to over 2,000 since July 2020, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as universities reacted to the police murder of George Floyd and calls to address systemic racism.

As the offices have grown — more than two-thirds of all major universities have chief diversity officers — and as a backlash to the 2020 reckoning on race has deepened, criticism has mounted against DEI. In recent years, it has become a prime target of a group of activists — mostly conservative, and some of them Jewish — who blame DEI for an antipathy toward what they see as traditional American values and a misguided focus on identity over merit in academia.

One leader of the anti-DEI movement is Chris Rufo, a conservative activist who has argued that diversity initiatives undercut the values of the liberal arts. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the board of the New College of Florida as part of an effort to remake it according to conservative values — and one of the first moves was to ax the DEI office. But it’s not just Florida: In 2023, Republican lawmakers in at least a dozen states proposed more than 30 bills targeting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in higher education.

Since Oct. 7, some Jews who would not normally feel at home on the right have found themselves joining the ranks of DEI’s critics. At the Jewish studies conference, many scholars said their schools’ DEI offices ignored Jewish concerns — either not recognizing Jews as a minority or seeing them as white and privileged, and therefore not subject to marginalization. 

The seeming failure of many DEI programs to take Jews’ concerns seriously has led some Jewish leaders and conservative politicians to call for their dismantling. But others, particularly on the left, say the core values at the root of DEI initiatives are positive and the programs should be widened to include Jews.

No major Jewish group has called for abolishing the programs.

“We think it is an absolute mistake for anyone to say that DEI is the single cause of the explosion of anti-Jewish intolerance we are seeing,” Adam Neufeld, a senior vice president and chief impact officer at the Anti-Defamation League, said in an interview. “It is a part of it, we’re sure, but it’s not the sole force. Antisemitism has existed for millennia.”

The ADL is working to improve rather than abolish DEI programs, he said, from privately consulting with campus administrators, to publicly calling out universities that don’t protect Jewish students and faculty, to supporting litigation in cases alleging schools have mishandled antisemitic incidents.

That approach is a mistake in the eyes of DEI’s most vociferous Jewish critics — many of whom view the campus convulsions after Oct. 7 as proof that they are right. Some of them pointed to the pivotal congressional hearing in December featuring three university presidents, who stumbled when asked whether calls for “the genocide of Jews” would violate their campuses’ speech codes. Two of the presidents, Liz McGill of the University of Pennsylvania and Claudine Gay of Harvard, later stepped down. DEI is “the root cause of antisemitism at Harvard,” Bill Ackman, a Jewish hedge fund manager and Harvard donor who led the charge against Gay, said in a lengthy tweet cheering her ouster.

“For Jews, there are obvious and glaring dangers in a worldview that measures fairness by equality of outcome rather than opportunity,” Bari Weiss wrote in a Tablet essay about how Jews should respond to Oct. 7. Weiss, who runs the news startup The Free Press, argued that under DEI, “equity” has come to mean that people are judged deserving according to their group identities. “If underrepresentation is the inevitable outcome of systemic bias, then overrepresentation — and Jews are 2% of the American population — suggests not talent or hard work, but unearned privilege.”

A protester carries a sign at a “Shut It Down for Palestine” rally outside the Foggy Bottom George Washington University Metro Station in Washington, D.C., Nov. 24, 2023. (Elvert Barnes Photography/Wikimedia Commons)

Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Jewish Insider that DEI “cannot be fixed,” saying that “efforts by communal Jewish organizations to include the Jewish community or soften its impact on antisemitism have failed.” 

David Harris, the former CEO of the American Jewish Committee, also told Jewish Insider that he doesn’t believe that “outside efforts, however well-intentioned, that nibble around the edges or simply seek to add Jews to the DEI agenda, address the heart of the problem. DEI today poses a major challenge to liberal understanding of American societal aims.”

Other prominent Jews calling for the demise of DEI are Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer and pro-Israel activist; Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, and David L. Bernstein, a Jewish communal professional whose opposition to “wokism” led him to form the Jew­ish Insti­tute for Lib­er­al Val­ues.

“It’s not that we don’t want to make campuses comfortable places for people of color and gays and lesbians. God forbid,” Bernstein said in an interview. “Unfortunately DEI quickly evolved into an ideological framework that tells people in no uncertain terms who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors. It tends to divide people into racial affinity groups, which can be very divisive. It often imposes political litmus tests with DEI statements that applicants must submit for getting a job or getting promoted.”

Bernstein agrees with Weiss that DEI turns the relative academic and financial success of Jews against them by suggesting they are “riding on the backs of deprived minority groups.”

 Bernstein and others also cite a 2021 report from the Heritage Foundation on the “public communications” of DEI professionals, saying they showed a disproportionate tendency to “attack Israel.” 

“Against this backdrop, it’s not hard to see why so many DEI programs are loath to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of anti-Zionist behavior that so often leads to the harassment of Jewish students,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of the pro-Israel AMCHA Initiative, wrote in a piece for Sapir, a journal of the Maimonides Fund.

At many campuses, DEI offices have staff who are trained in investigating and resolving complaints about discrimination, and are the main address for such complaints. However, in a college survey the ADL conducted before Oct. 7, more than half of all students surveyed said they had completed DEI training, but only 18% of those said those trainings included topics specific to anti-Jewish prejudice. 

“That is a terrible and unacceptable situation,” said the ADL’s Neufeld. “It is dangerous, both in the sense that it excludes a historically persecuted people who are incredibly vulnerable and actually sends the signal that the exclusion is acceptable.”

Jewish critics of DEI frequently say this exclusion is the result of an “oppressor/oppressed” framework that considers Jews as white and privileged, but tend to provide little evidence. Instead, campus insiders say, there are other structural reasons for the exclusion of Jews and antisemitism from DEI offices.

“Judaism is seen as a religion, and DEI offices don’t touch religion in the sort of structural ecosystem of how the university works,” explained Samira Mehta, the director of Jewish Studies and an associate professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, during a session at the AJS conference. “The university chaplains’ office is in charge of religion and religious diversity. DEI is in charge of racial and gender diversity. DEI is also not so welcome to Islamophobia, except to the degree that they keep their eye on what’s happening to brown students.

“And the people who come up through these offices do not have training in religious diversity and don’t know how to do it,” she continued. “Also the people who come up in those offices sometimes are coming up from queer and gender diversity standpoints.” Mehta referred to these as “all of those structural ways that antisemitism, while real, is not something they handle.”

Lauren Strauss, a professor of modern Jewish history at American University, said that was the experience of Jewish students on her campus who faced antisemitism in their dorms and classes after Oct. 7. They were told that “they should go see a chaplain because this is a religious matter, not racial, ethnic or social prejudice, and outside the DEI office’s mandate,” she said at the AJS panel on DEI. (This week, an activist law firm filed suit against A.U. over its handling of incidents affecting Jewish students on campus.)

Jewish faculty at A.U. have also pushed, with little success, for discussion of antisemitism, alongside sexism, homophobia and transphobia, in a core curriculum course for first-year students and transfers known as the American University Experience. Even after agreeing to one session on the Holocaust, the university’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion said it was optional. 

“The one bright spot in all this,” Strauss said, is the support she’s gotten from “a small group of Jewish studies and general studies scholars” and the campus Hillel director. 

Yet Strauss and the other scholars did not say they favored abolishing the programs. While it may be satisfying to condemn the ideology underpinning DEI, they said, campuses need departments whose task it is to increase diversity and make the marginalized feel welcome. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs three higher education bills, including one prohibiting institutions from spending federal or state dollars on “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)” programs, May 15, 2023. (Florida Governor’s Office)

Stacy Burdett, a consultant who helps corporations, colleges and nonprofits enhance DEI programming to address Jewish concerns, said calls to dismantle DEI offices also ignore the ways they in fact advance diversity.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a discussion of DEI that isn’t cognizant of the role that gender equity plays in the DEI movement,” she said, offering one example. “And also that the Jewish community itself is a place where there is a paucity of women leaders.”

Burdett said the current debate over DEI lacks the kind of nuance that Jewish groups brought to debates over a previous era’s civil rights issues, including quotas and affirmative action. 

“There’s no question that some of the ideological underpinnings of DEI in some institutions are flawed, and sort people in categories that Jews don’t neatly fit into. I think everyone in the Jewish community wants the American public square to be a safer place for Jews, and there are just different ways of getting at that,” she said. “But we’re in a very polarized debate between two groups of people, one of whom sees diversity as a threat, and the other that sees it as the strength of a pluralistic society.” 

At the University of Minnesota, Natan Paradise shares many of the critics’ views of DEI’s shortcomings. But he is wary of joining in attacks that he sees either as politically motivated or hostile to the very idea of racial or gender inclusion. 

“Those who want to dismantle DEI are acting in bad faith,” he said. “DEI does a lot of good. It does make a difference for students on campus. It could make more of a difference. It could make a better, more nuanced difference. But I think DEI plays a critical role on campuses.” 

He prefers forming relationships with administrators at the university’s Office for Equity and Diversity, and said there have been successes, including a freshman orientation course that now includes discussion of antisemitism, and a change in how the campus Office for Equity and Diversity classifies antisemitism on its website.

“We are just not on their radar and we ought to be, and I have been working very hard at my institution to change that, and we’ve made quite a bit of progress,” he said about Jews on campus. “We have to be present in all the social justice initiatives, in order for us to be present when we need it. And when I mean relationships, that means being in the spaces with the people who are doing the work, so that they see you as an ally, and you can count on them as an ally. In too many instances, we just haven’t done it.”


The post Kill it or reform it? Jewish critics of DEI debate the future of campus diversity programs appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 7, 2023. Photo: Sputnik/Sergei Bobylev/Pool via REUTERS

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.

Iran‘s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran‘s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran‘s ballistic missile program – declined to comment. Russia‘s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.

“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”

U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran‘s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran‘s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.

US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE’S DEFENCES

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.

DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW

Iran‘s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia‘s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran‘s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia‘s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran‘s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”

The stakes are high for Iran‘s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and US targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia‘s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.

The post Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group

Signage for the U.S. Department of Education – Federal Student Aid Office at 830 First Street NE Washington, D.C., USA, on November 28, 2023. Photo: Gen Namer via REUTERS CONNECT

Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.

As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.

Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.

The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.

“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”

According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SWU alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SWU takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.

StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SWU also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.

“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel

How a campus initiative was revived following Oct. 7.

The post Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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