April 2024Vol.XXXVI No. 4

A Statement on Jewish Activism, Safety, and Recent Events at MIT

MIT Jews for Ceasefire

We, the MIT Jews for Ceasefire, a group of Jewish students, staff, and faculty, are writing to ask you, members of the faculty, to challenge the widely reported claim that pro-Palestinian activism on campus constitutes an antisemitism problem. We urge you to avoid falling prey to bad faith arguments by pro-Israel students and faculty who publicly align and collaborate with rightwing politicians and organizations whose stated goals are the dismantling of DEI programs, the degradation of education, and the undermining of the labor movement.

Two Jewish groups have formed on campus recently: MIT Jews for Ceasefire (J4C) and the MIT Israel Alliance (MIT IA). Members of the MIT Jews for Ceasefire took part in the November 9th protest with the MIT Coalition Against Apartheid and other anti-war groups because we believe in the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and with dignity and we urge MIT to divest from Israel’s occupation, apartheid, and genocidal war in Gaza. Instead of the peaceful sit-in that we were expecting (protest organizers instructed attendees to bring our homework, and so we did), we were accosted by counterprotesters who projected violent imagery on a screen, yelled, pushed us, stepped on us, insulted us, and much more. We were harassed by other Jewish and Israeli students, staff, and faculty that either could not fathom our Jewishness or were outright derisive of it (calling us self-hating Jews, not real Jews, G_d’s mistake, etc). You can read what we have written about that day. One counterprotester spread a since-debunked lie that the anti-war protestors prevented MIT’s Jewish students from attending classes (“It’s been falsely rumored,” page 2). This lie has grown so virulently – boosted by MIT IA’s appearance on CNN and Fox News – that it has now captured national and congressional attention as an example of the “big problem of antisemitism in academia.” 

The consequences of the MIT Israel Alliance’s behavior, enabled and abetted by MIT faculty supporters, are numerous. MIT faculty and students have doxxed students expressing support for Palestine. The administration suspended the Coalition Against Apartheid, a group that had formed in the 80s to push for divestment from South African apartheid and has lobbied for similar divestment from Israel. Anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic incidents on campus have spiked. Led by the Chair of the House Republican Conference Representative Elise Stefanik, Congress has requested emails and targeted individuals for investigation. And MIT police have increased both their presence and their surveillance on campus significantly. Following the protest, we learned that a number of the violent and verbally abusive counterprotesters – whose lies that day and since have put students at risk, and put MIT under national political fire – are members of the MIT Israel Alliance. 

Pro-Israel activists on campus have a crybullyism problem: faced with opposition to their nationalism and militarism, they respond violently then turn around and claim “oppression of Jewish voices.” 

A false binary

There are many accounts of attempted or outright targeting and silencing of pro-Palestinian protesters and/or Muslim-presenting people on campus. These incidents have been perpetrated by students, faculty, and the MIT administration (some of them are recorded here). But the MIT Israel Alliance has successfully leveraged a moral panic around campus antisemitism, with the mainstream media irresponsibly platforming MIT IA while erasing Palestinian pain and ignoring the global anti-war movement that has a growing presence on the MIT campus. At the same time, the MIT administration has, to date, largely ignored Islamophobic and anti-Jewish acts committed by pro-Israel individuals. Instead, it is focusing intently on claims of antisemitism made by pro-Israel students and faculty. 

That public narrative perpetuates an imaginary binary: the Israeli nationalist Jewish students on one side versus Muslim/Arab/Palestinian students on another. As a pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish community, J4C challenges this false dichotomy. While MIT IA members are rewarded with invitations to hold congressional press conferences with GOP operatives, J4C is focused on our community at MIT. With dozens of active organizers and an audience of hundreds on campus, J4C has protested, written letters, hosted speakers, and held events. We are creating a pluralistic, progressive Jewish space on campus while challenging MIT’s complicity in the acute crisis in Gaza.

But in our quest to create a reprieve to the monopolistic hold that Israeli nationalist politics and institutions have on MIT Jewish life (this includes Hillel with its many resources, like the use of physical spaces and even data – did you know that Hillel automatically receives Jewish student information upon matriculation without their consent?), we have been met with bureaucratic delays and lack of any tangible support. You can read more about our experiences with administration in our recent open letter. Our commitment to building a diaspora-centered, tolerant, and progressive Jewish community at MIT has only been strengthened in the face of oppositional efforts from student groups and a non-committal administration.

Whose safety?

The Israeli nationalist faction has hitched their wagon to racist and antisemitic politicians. As Jews, we are beyond alarmed that MIT Israel Alliance members don’t seem to care about the harm that they are unleashing on the institution and the country by actively collaborating with far-right Congresspeople Elise Stefanik and Mike Johnson. These politicians have both employed the highly antisemitic “Great Replacement Theory” in their arguments against immigrants and immigrant rights – a fact that, by itself, should have been immediately disqualifying. Moreover, both Representatives are two of the most ardent supporters of ex-President Trump, whose antisemitic rhetoric is louder than a bullhorn. Stefanik and Johnson refused to condemn Trump when he called the Charlottesville Unite the Right Rally Nazis “very fine people.” And they have both refused to certify President Biden’s election, displaying their outright disdain for the democratic process. 

MIT Israel Alliance and their faculty supporters are either unwitting enablers or co-conspirators in the conservative lawmakers’ transparent plot to dismantle the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs. Under the guise of keeping Jewish students safe, these lawmakers are destroying the very programs and initiatives that are making campuses more safe for all people, including Jews. In the face of threatened legal action from these politicians, the MIT administration continues to suppress and punish brown and black students who have called out the Institute’s culpability in the ongoing genocide.

Likewise, in filing federal charges against our graduate workers’ national union for its endorsement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), MIT IA members have entered into a collaboration with the National Right to Work Committee, a highly litigious anti-labor organization known for “directly [contributing] to the erosion of high-paying middle class jobs and to growing inequality.” 

We urge those who engage with MIT IA to consider whether this group truly protects the community it claims to represent: how can MIT IA fight for all Jews while collaborating with racist and antisemitic politicians? Immigrant Jews while siding with anti-immigration politicians? Queer Jews while allying with homophobic and transphobic politicians? Poor, working-class, disabled Jews while leaning on anti-labor, anti-Medicare, anti-healthcare politicians? 

MIT Israel Alliance commits real harm on campus and beyond through physical violence, intimidation, doxxing, harassment, and collaboration with dangerous individuals and organizations seeking to dismantle the very institutions that keep all of us safe. Yet MIT IA and their faculty supporters continue to broadcast that they are scared and unsafe – all because MIT community members speak up against a genocide and our institution’s complicity in it. For us, Jewish safety cannot come at the expense of the safety of others. Over 32,000 Palestinians have been murdered in Gaza by Israeli forces and their US-supplied weapons. More than 13,000 of those who have been killed are children. There are no universities left in Gaza. With each passing day, as the threat of famine swells, our advocacy against the genocide becomes increasingly urgent. 

Every McCarthyist movement seems dire in the moment, only to later be recognized to be an embarrassment and a disgrace. This moment should be seen for what it is: a weaponization of antisemitism to undermine pro-Palestine organizing, suppress free speech, delegitimize diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and gut labor rights. We urge you to challenge the false narratives surrounding antisemitism and Jewish safety on campus, to finally attend to anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic incidents at MIT, and to join us in envisioning a better university for all. We welcome any students, staff, or faculty at MIT who may be questioning how to interpret or respond to events on campus, to reach out to us to start a conversation.

MIT Jews for Ceasefire can be reached at: mitjews4ceasefire@gmail.com

Editor’s Note: This statement is being cross-published with The Tech.