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Northwestern U is facing a new federal antisemitism investigation — and criticism of its new antisemitism task force

(JTA) – On the same day the president of Northwestern University announced the new members of a task force formed to combat antisemitism on campus, the school became a target of a federal investigation into its handling of antisemitism.

The confluence on Tuesday would seem to be good timing for the private Big Ten school in Evanston, Illinois, as it tries to restore its Jewish community’s faith in the institution. Except the committee itself has already come under fire in some circles before it has even begun its work.

Some Jewish critics of higher education — including the conservative activist who filed the Title VI complaint that triggered Northwestern’s U.S. Department of Education investigation — have attacked the committee and its members in a pattern reminiscent of recent controversies at Stanford and Harvard. The critics have taken aim at the committee’s stated desire to combat Islamophobia as well as antisemitism, and at some members’ views on Israel and critical race theory.

“​​Northwestern President’s ‘Advisory Committee on Preventing Antisemitism and Hate’ launches with clear intent to block any recognition of antisemitism at the university,” posted Richard Goldberg, a Jewish former intelligence officer and Northwestern alum who worked in the Trump White House and, before that, for a Republican governor of Illinois. “The co-chair and membership make that clear. This is absurd.”

Goldberg cited committee co-chair Bryan Brayboy’s past work advocating for a “Tribal Critical Race Theory in Education” for Indigenous people. Goldberg also objected to another member’s work in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel; that member, Jessica Winegar, was a key voice pushing the American Anthropological Association’s vote last summer to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

Other committee members include the director of the campus Hillel, student representatives and members of the board of trustees; there are no rabbis on the committee.

Undeterred by the criticism, the committee’s co-chairs have said they aren’t going anywhere, and a spokesperson for Northwestern says the school stands behind them.

“Our committee will not weigh in on geopolitics. We will not be distracted by the outside noises that suggest we cannot work for whatever reasons,” Brayboy and co-chair Effi Benmelech, an Israeli-born finance professor, wrote in an open letter announcing their work on Tuesday.

They defined their committee’s chief responsibilities: “Listen to members of our community through a lens of curiosity and empathy”; create new “pedagogical opportunities for Northwestern’s community to learn about antisemitism, hate, and Islamophobia”; and make recommendations to leadership.

The committee did not return a Jewish Telegraphic Agency request for comment. A Northwestern spokesperson said the committee “represents Northwestern’s diverse perspectives,” adding, “We are confident in the work of this committee.”

The debate over the committee comes amid an ongoing parade of federal investigations into college campuses, many of them linked to the Israel-Hamas war. The Department of Education also announced new Title VI investigations this week into Yale University, Arizona State University, Ann Arbor Public Schools and a for-profit online law school. These join a list of more than 50 such investigations the department has opened since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The attack, and the war it sparked, triggered a wave of campus activism and antisemitism.

At least three of the latest investigations, including Northwestern’s, concern antisemitism complaints brought by conservative activists, while Ann Arbor’s concerns a complaint about anti-Muslim sentiment that was brought by a Muslim public affairs group. Some of the complaints are based on unclear incidents.

“Frankly, we don’t even know what the facts are,” Donald Daugherty, Jr., senior counsel at the Defense of Freedom Institute, told JTA about an antisemitism complaint his own organization filed, which triggered the investigation at Yale. “So I guess we need to know what the facts are before we can really decide on an appropriate, mutually acceptable resolution.”

Daugherty said his group, which was formed in 2021 by Trump- and Bush-era education officials, got involved in Title VI because of its focus on “federal education issues.” Its first civil rights complaint, filed against the Oak Park, Illinois, K-12 district in 2022, dealt with that district’s policy of implementing race-conscious grading.

The group switched gears to antisemitism complaints after Oct. 7. Several of the schools the institute has since filed antisemitism complaints about, including Drexel and Rutgers, have also seen investigations opened, though the institute said their complaints did not trigger them.

In his Yale complaint, Daugherty wrote that his institute filed it “as an interested third-party organization that strongly advocates for a republic where freedom, opportunity, creativity, and innovation flourish in our schools.” The complaint goes on to name two specific Jewish Yale students who reported having been blocked from attending a campus event on the war in Gaza. But, Daugherty told JTA, he’s never spoken to either of them.

“We were just observing, monitoring media accounts as to what’s going on,” he said. “And we thought, well, we’ve got to get involved and help push back against it because it’s, among other things, a civil rights violation.”

JTA has reached out to representatives of the two students and to Yale, which recently appointed its first-ever Jewish chaplain, for comment.

Daugherty noted that groups like his are legally entitled to file complaints without working with any affected parties. Indeed, it’s a practice that has grown in recent weeks as Title VI antisemitism complaints have picked up steam among Jews and activist groups.

Zachary Marschall, the Jewish editor-in-chief of the conservative higher education website Campus Reform, said he’s personally responsible for filing 20 complaints, including the ones that prompted new investigations this week into Northwestern and ASU. His complaints have also been responsible for recent investigations at Brown and Temple.

Marschall told JTA he files his complaints as a concerned citizen who has less to fear than Jewish students at these schools. “Since I’m in a position to speak out, I feel morally obligated to do what I can to fight antisemitism on college campuses,” he said.

Marschall said his complaint at Northwestern involves two allegations. The first concerns reports of a pro-Palestinian rally on campus at which the colors of the Palestinian flag were projected onto a building. The second involves an Oct. 17 open letter from the university’s Asian American Studies program that described Hamas as “a political group” and described posters comparing the group to ISIS as “Islamophobic messaging” and “anti-Palestinian war propaganda.”

The program director did not reply to a JTA request for comment. A Northwestern spokesperson said the school “does not tolerate antisemitism” and added, “The complaint against Northwestern was not filed by a member of our community but instead by an outside organization.”

Marschall said he wasn’t impressed by the language Northwestern used to introduce its new antisemitism committee.

“Higher education manipulates ‘empathy’ and ‘inclusivity’ to ignore, erase, and whitewash Jewish suffering,” he wrote to JTA. “Northwestern’s rhetoric contains the same manipulative ‘empathy’ language that has enabled university administrations to ignore Jew hate and anti-Jewish discrimination.”

He said his other newly opened Title VI complaint, against ASU, cites events and rallies put on by the Tempe, Arizona, state school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine in the days after Oct. 7. In response, an ASU spokesperson took a swipe at Marschall’s organization.

“Campus Reform, which says it ‘holds itself to rigorous journalism standards and strives to present each story with accuracy, objectivity, and public accountability,’ first learned about the letter to the Department of Education – because they sent the letter to the Department of Education,” the spokesperson wrote to JTA.

The spokesperson added that the university condemns “antisemitism and other hateful rhetoric in all its forms,” but emphasized, “ASU also is responsible for upholding free speech, as granted by the U.S. Constitution. The university neither endorses nor restricts opinions voiced at campus demonstrations. People on our campuses have the right to peacefully express their opinions as long as they comply with the law and the student Code of Conduct.”

Members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board wordsmithed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, Jan. 18, 2023. (Andrew Lapin)

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into Ann Arbor Public Schools in Michigan concerns a complaint focused on anti-Palestinian sentiment that was filed by the state’s chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. The complaint alleges that a middle school counselor told a Palestinian student, “I don’t negotiate with terrorists,” and that the school board did not respond properly when the incident was brought to its attention.

“CAIR-MI welcomes the Office of Civil Rights opening a formal investigation into whether Ann Arbor Public Schools adequately addressed the alleged comments made by the counselor at Tappan Middle School,” Dawud Walid, CAIR Michigan’s executive director, said in a statement.

Walid continued, “Calling a Palestinian Muslim student a ‘terrorist’ is a very offensive and hurtful comment that was compounded by the school board’s seeming lack of concern for the student when it was brought to their attention.”

A spokesperson for the school district did not return a JTA request for comment, but the former board president, who is Palestinian, previously issued a statement saying the board is “deeply concerned and dismayed” over the incident and promised to address it properly. The school board recently made headlines for becoming one of the only school districts to call for a bilateral ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.

Finally, Abraham Lincoln University, a private, for-profit online law school based in California, is also the target of a new federal shared ancestry investigation. The school did not return JTA requests for comment.

The post Northwestern U is facing a new federal antisemitism investigation — and criticism of its new antisemitism task force appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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