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Will MIT President Sally Kornbluth survive the campus antisemitism reckoning?

(JTA) – Sally Kornbluth is different from the other university presidents with whom she has been thrust into the antisemitism spotlight.

For one thing, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology still has her job. This week, Harvard University President Claudine Gay joined University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill in resigning following their participation, alongside Kornbluth, in a disastrous congressional hearing in December.

But Kornbluth, who has headed MIT since last January, is different in other ways, too. She’s Jewish; she comes with high marks from the Jewish community at the last university where she worked; and her school was already participating in a Hillel program to fight antisemitism when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. This week, as the last of the three presidents standing, she sent a new email outlining additional steps she planned to take to address antisemitism on campus.

Now, with opposition growing in the wake of momentum from Harvard across town, the question is whether those differences will be enough to save her, and MIT’s, reputation among Jews.

“I want to be clear: Change does not necessarily mean the resignation of President Kornbluth,” Matt Handel, a 1991 MIT alum and biotech executive, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Handel co-founded a new group of Jewish alumni mobilizing around the school’s handling of the current crisis.

That group, MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance, was formed in the wake of the administration’s controversial handling of an anti-Israel campus protest in November. Kornbluth had announced that students who participated in the disruptive protest would be partially suspended, citing concerns that foreign students would have their visas revoked if they received full suspensions; Jewish critics of the decision said that punishment didn’t go far enough.

The Rogers Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., is shown on Aug. 12, 2017. (Beyond My Ken via Creative Commons)

At the Dec. 5 congressional hearing, Kornbluth, Gay and Magill all said that “calls for the genocide of Jews” did not necessarily violate university codes of conduct, depending on their “context.” Afterward, the MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance circulated an open letter criticizing the university’s handling of the issue. More than 800 people, including current MIT faculty, signed it.

Now, the group is making demands and ratcheting up pressure on the university. This week, it launched a $1 donation campaign — modeled after similar Jewish alumni campaigns at Harvard, Columbia, Penn and Stanford — to apply pressure to the school by asking donors to reduce their annual giving to that sum. And on Wednesday, Handel saw further momentum — and affirmation — when a popular MIT professor announced on social media that he was leaving the university over its handling of antisemitism.

“During a time when the Jewish and Israeli students, staff and faculty were particularly vulnerable, instead of offering the support they needed, the broader MIT community exhibited open hostility towards them,” Mauricio Karchmer, a computer scientist whose doctorate is from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, wrote on LinkedIn. “Like many other college campuses nationwide, the institute clearly failed this test.”

Karchmer continued, “Some areas of study at MIT seem to prioritize promoting a specific worldview over teaching critical thinking skills. This seems to have been institutionalized in many of MIT’s departments and programs.” (Karchmer did not return a JTA request for comment.)

Yet the MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance is not advocating for Kornbluth’s resignation, even as other influential figures have called for her head, such as Jewish activist investor Bill Ackman, who lobbied for Gay’s ouster, and Republican Rep. Elise Stafanik, who grilled Kornbluth and the other presidents at the congressional hearing,.

“While there are individuals in our group who would be very happy to see her resign and really would like that to happen, as a group we have decided that we want to focus on working with the administration,” Handel said.

He instead said that the group wants Kornbluth to formally apologize for her testimony; more forcefully discipline “calls for Jewish genocide on MIT’s campus”; and “be very clear that antisemitism stands alone in this right now.”

Unlike Magill and Gay, Kornbluth did not issue an apology after testifying in Congress — though she did later attend a screening at MIT’s Chabad center of a 47-minute reel of Hamas’ atrocities, rejecting what she said was pressure for it not to be shown. (Israel’s envoy to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, was a host of the screening and called for her resignation afterwards.)

This week, Kornbluth sent a new message to the campus community addressing antisemitism, in which she promised to improve the school’s handling of student misconduct allegations; make sure the school’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion director incorporates “antisemitism and Islamophobia” into their job; survey students with “targeted questions” about their experiences with antisemitism; and promote a new “shared understanding of the rights and responsibilities of free expression.”

The university’s speech conduct code was last revised in 2021 after a visiting professor compared university DEI programs to Nazi Germany in an op-ed, prompting campus outrage and the cancelation of his planned talk.

Even with her new plans, Kornbluth’s message failed, in Handel’s mind, because it also referenced Islamophobia on campus — which, he says, “hasn’t happened.” MIT’s communications department did not respond to JTA requests for comment.

Talia Khan, a current MIT student who is president of the MIT Israel Alliance and has been outspoken in her criticism of the university, also would not say whether she believes Kornbluth should resign.

Her group, she told JTA, is calling on the MIT Corporation — the school’s board of directors, which released a statement in support of Kornbluth days after her testimony — “to acknowledge the entrenched antisemitism” within MIT’s “senior administration and DEI infrastructure.” According to Khan, a newly initiated Department of Education Title VI civil rights investigation against MIT was also prompted by student antisemitism complaints. The probe had been shrouded in mystery, as neither the school nor the department would comment to JTA on its origins.

Animosity directed at Kornbluth from Jewish groups is an odd sight to Jews at Duke University, where Kornbluth worked from 1994 to 2022, including as provost. At Duke, Kornbluth was simply a beloved part of the Jewish community.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth laughs as she talks with her husband, Daniel Lew, at the conclusion of a press conference held to introduce her as MITs 18th president, Oct. 20, 2022. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

“She was very attuned to the community here. She saw that this was her community, and we were not a prop for her,” Laura Lieber, until recently the chair of Duke’s Center for Jewish Studies, told JTA.

Kornbluth regularly participated in Jewish holiday celebrations on campus, and she and her husband donated to the local Jewish federation. At Hillel services, Lieber recalled, “the students could never quite get over the fact that the provost could just show up in a sweatshirt and jeans and just hang out with them.”

She added, “That was the Sally that I think a lot of people really miss. That’s why it’s really, especially hard to hear her commitment to Judaism questioned.”

Lieber said that, in her estimation, Kornbluth shouldn’t be judged on her congressional testimony alone. “In the wake of October 7 there was a lot of time needed just to process and to grieve,” she said, adding that Kornbluth “was not in the position to have any of that. She didn’t have any of that luxury.”

Prior to Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, Kornbluth appeared willing to proactively engage with the problem of antisemitism at MIT. The university is one of 13 members of the current cohort of Hillel International’s Campus Climate Initiative, a four-year-old program that educates university administrators on antisemitism issues. Kornbluth referenced the program during her congressional testimony — shortly before making the same heavily criticized comments as the other two presidents.

MIT’s participation in the program still counts for something, Hillel general counsel Mark Rotenberg told JTA last month. But, he said, it doesn’t mean change will come overnight.

“The CCI program is not premised on a helicopter parent-type model where we just fly in and do something and expect the world to change that afternoon,” Rotenberg said shortly after the congressional hearing. “We’re premised on the idea that serious change takes time.”

He added, “While the CCI program does many wonderful things for Jewish students on campuses across the United States, it does not prepare presidents for testimony.”

The post Will MIT President Sally Kornbluth survive the campus antisemitism reckoning? appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Top IDF Brass Blindsided by UNRWA Fallout

View of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90.

i24 NewsSenior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) command was caught off guard by the speed with which the allegations implicating UNRWA staffers in the October 7 atrocities became public knowledge, according to a New York Times report published Saturday.

When, on January 18, UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini sat down with senior Israeli diplomat Amir Weissbrod in Tel Aviv for a routine meeting, the UN official was supplied with intelligence about the agency employees’ involvement in the massacre.

While the intelligence was provided by the IDF, the military establishment didn’t expect the explosive information to leak into the public domain. It emerged that Lazzarini relayed the allegations to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and began firing employees, eventually reporting the developments to U.S. officials.

Unnamed IDF officials cited in the NYT report were concerned that the allegations had been disseminated without Israel having devised a proper strategy for the fallout.

European countries, from the UK to Germany, as well as the United States, Canada and Australia all froze funding to UNRWA amid reviews in the aid agency and its employees.

While some have pushed for a complete shutdown of the agency, including U.S. lawmakers and Israeli ministers, others — including unnamed senior IDF officials — have said that it was inadvisable to do so during the war when UNRWA was providing needed humanitarian aid.

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Hamas Turns Down Hostage Deal, Demands Israel Release More Terrorists

Families of hostages and supporters protest to call for the release of hostages kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

i24 NewsHamas on Sunday said it rejected the proposed hostage deal formulated in Paris, demanding that Israel release more Palestinian terrorists locked up in Israeli jails, according to a Saudi outlet.

There are 136 hostages held in Gaza by Hamas and other Palestinian jihadists, abducted during the October 7 incursion and massacre.

The statement comes hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated Israel had “red lines” which could not be crossed.

Thus, the leader said, Israel will not end the war until all its goals are met, namely “the eradication of Hamas, the rescue of all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again pose a threat to Israel.”

“We will not agree to every deal, and not at any price,” he said, adding reports in the local media whereby Israel agreed to freeing large numbers of terrorists were not true.

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Dennis Ross Is Blaming Israel Again

Former Clinton adviser and US Mideast envoy Dennis Ross. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgFormer U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross just can’t stop blaming Israel.

Speaking via Zoom for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism & Policy on Jan. 31, Ross offered some expected, perfunctory criticism of Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah. But again and again, he managed to bring in one-sided and unfair criticism of Israel.

Referring to Israel’s counter-terrorism actions in Judea and Samaria, Ross said: “West Bank violence [by Arabs] is not disconnected from Israel’s policies in the West Bank.”

That’s just absurd. The terrorists are not responding to Israeli policies. They were murdering Jews long before there were any settlements or so-called occupied territories. They oppose Israel’s existence, not its borders. It’s these terrorists who are the aggressors, and Israelis must respond to them.

Regarding Gaza, Ross said: “The Israelis haven’t done everything they could to spare civilians in Gaza.” Is he kidding? The Israelis have refrained from striking terrorist targets where there are civilians. They have personally warned civilians to evacuate, again and again, through leaflets and phone calls and public announcements. They have risked the lives of their own soldiers by going house to house, instead of just bombing from the air. What else can they possibly do?

Ross also commented on the recent ruling by the International Court of Justice—the ruling that failed to condemn Hamas and demanded that Israel give more aid to Palestinians in Gaza. He said the ruling was “not irresponsible” and that it was provoked by “extreme statements by Israeli politicians.” That’s simply nonsense. The statement that the court cited most prominently was made by Israel’s left-leaning president, Isaac Herzog, who said that many ordinary Gazans supported the Hamas massacre, which was a perfectly reasonable statement of fact.

The practice of saying a few perfunctory crucial words about terrorists and then “balancing” it with criticism of Israel is typical of the grotesque “even-handedness” that Ross and his colleagues pushed during his many years at the U.S. State Department.

That approach was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. There can be no “balance” between good and evil. Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not on the same moral level. Israel is America’s loyal, reliable, democratic ally. The P.A. is a terror-sponsoring, hate-mongering dictatorship.

In recent months, Ross has been saying that Israel should allow the Hamas leadership to leave Gaza in exchange for the release of the remaining hostages. He points to Israel’s decision in 1982, under U.S. pressure, to allow PLO chief Yasser Arafat and thousands of PLO terrorists to leave besieged Beirut.

But Ross never mentions what happened after Arafat left. He didn’t retire. He set up PLO terrorist headquarters in Tunisia, and then 20 additional years of terrorism followed—suicide bombings, intifadas, mass shootings, stabbings. Ross’s new plan would have the same result.

This is the same Dennis Ross who has acknowledged—on the op-ed page of The Washington Post in 2014—that he pressured Israel to allow Hamas to import concrete. Ross wrote that the Israelis opposed his demand because they feared that Hamas would use the cement to build terror tunnels. Ross insisted the concrete would be used to build houses, and because of his pressure, the Israelis gave in. We all know the result.

In his Zoom talk this week, Ross had the chutzpah to mention that Hamas used imported cement to build tunnels instead of homes, though never mentioned that he was the one who helped them to get that cement into Gaza in the first place.

Ross is frequently quoted in The New York Times and invited to appear on television shows and webinars. He’s treated as if his past involvement in Mideast diplomacy makes him an expert on how to make peace today. Yet every one of those diplomatic efforts failed. He has never facilitated real peace because he continues to pretend that both sides are to blame for the absence of peace.

The Jewish world is full of talented speakers, thinkers and writers. Surely, our institutions should be able to find more thoughtful lecturers than those same tired, old critics of Israel with their familiar and disastrous proposals.

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