April 2024Vol.XXXVI No. 4

Is Antisemitism One of MIT’s Values?

David Etlin

President Sally Kornbluth’s testimony at the widely viewed congressional hearing on campus antisemitism prompted an outcry, including bipartisan condemnation. Responding to this, MIT’s Associate Chair of the Faculty was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education as saying: “We all understand that there are problems that have to be worked out, and I think everybody’s ready to roll up their sleeves and work them out [. . .] I don’t think we’re the kind of community where we will just hand responsibility off to the administration.” Unfortunately, the MIT faculty have not worked out the problem of antisemitism plaguing the MIT community, and too many of the faculty have rolled up their sleeves to perpetuate antisemitism.

Jewish and Israeli members of the MIT community have tried to help, but they and their efforts have largely been ignored. The anti-Zionist authors who dominate the MIT Faculty Newsletter have disregarded the articles published in its pages by Professor Yossi Sheffi and by the MIT Israel Alliance. They have averted their eyes from the resignation statement of Professor Mauricio Karchmer. They have discounted the multiple open letters signed by alumni. They have taken no notice of the material compiled by Professor Lionel Kimerling. They have not listened to the voice of graduate student Liyam Chitayat, or the testimony to Congress by graduate student Talia Khan. They have brushed aside the numerous social media posts by Professor Retsef Levi.

The October 7 attack on Israel was perpetrated by Hamas pursuant to their genocidal antisemitic ideology. Shani Louk’s mangled body was seen being hauled away in a pickup truck and paraded around to jubilant crowds in Gaza; her decapitated skull was later found. Captured terrorists, who confessed to necrophilia, said their Hamas commanders ordered decapitations and offered bounties for kidnapping. With this as context, the MIT Women’s and Gender Studies Program announced a reading group on the writings of a Palestinian who has said, “we will slaughter you and you will say that what Hitler did to you was a joke, we will drink your blood and eat your skulls.”

Professor Daniel Jackson has explained that “[a]ntisemitic attitudes have practical consequences.” MIT faculty and staff have, together with students, fostered a climate of Jew-hatred on campus that has led to the eruption of antisemitic activity on campus following the October 7 massacre in Israel. Starting with a statement blaming Israel for the attack against it by Hamas, and with photos glorifying Hamas’ attack used in social media posts against Israel, faculty have supported the rallies on October 13 and November 9; respectively, the “day of action” called for by Hamas, and the anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass).

Vandalism of a Holocaust memorial and the Hillel center at MIT are not only acts of hatred against Zionists, they are acts of hatred against all Jews. Given MIT’s Values Statement, it should be unacceptable to bully or intimidate anybody for their views on Zionism, however unfashionable they may presently be on campus; just as it should be unacceptable to discriminate against anybody for their religious beliefs, ethnicity, or ancestry. But it has been observed that MIT adopts a completely different standard for groups other than Jews, Israelis, and Zionists, when those other groups are treated in ways they deem hostile, or when their members are portrayed in a disparaging manner.

The MIT Faculty Newsletter Editorial Subcommittee ignore all the pro-Hamas and pro-Nazi messages and symbolism, and instead blame the victims for this antisemitic abuse. The same Editorial Subcommittee have inquired why MIT is not working toward peace. As Daniel Jackson and David Dolev have replied, the MIT MISTI program aims to promote peace through cross-cultural understanding. However, the office of the MIT MISTI program was targeted by a contingent of anti-Israel protestors, who rattled doors and accosted the program director.

The antisemitic disruptions of the MIT campus do not occur in a vacuum. At UC Berkeley, rioters broke through a glass door at an event with an Israeli speaker, physically assaulting students while shouting “Jew.” (Coincidentally, this happened on the same day that the Berkeley law school Dean was at MIT speaking on campus free expression in the Dialogue Across Difference program.) As argued by FIRE, a leading organization for campus free speech, rioters must be expelled in order for campuses to be environments where all may speak freely.

Although a group of faculty and staff are critical of the administration’s token efforts to address the campus disruptions, there is one point where they agree with MIT leadership and with the MIT Corporation: the antisemitic activity is protected free speech. Indeed, the recent Report of the MIT Ad Hoc Working Group on Free Expression (FEWG) paved the way for the current antisemitic climate, by highlighting Nazi marches in a Jewish community as an example of acceptable hate speech. But MIT is no Harvey Silverglate, as demonstrated by that same FEWG report giving priority to DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) over free speech, especially when it comes to requiring DEI loyalty oaths from administrators.

The Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce has exposed the hypocrisy of MIT’s “free speech” excuse for antisemitism, as revealed by the cancelled speeches by Professor Dorian Abbot and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Additionally, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has noted publicly the bias of the MIT leadership in its selection of invited speakers for Standing Together Against Hate. This double standard reflects institutional antisemitism.

How can MIT claim free speech for interruptions of multiple MIT classes, while forbidding the display of the Israeli flag and attempting to block the screening of video footage of the horrific October 7 attack on Israel? Even libertarians recognize that MIT staff cannot espouse antisemitic or anti-Zionist bias while engaging in their professional work as an interfaith chaplain. A fortiori, such biases should be forbidden for staff responding to complaints of discrimination and harassment; MIT DEI or IDHR staff who refuse to acknowledge that antisemitism is covered under Title VI have failed in their responsibilities under the law.

In order for MIT to clarify the murky understanding of antisemitism in its community, the Institute can avail itself of the working definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This definition is a simple one, whose interpretation is guided by a set of examples which “could, taking into account the overall context,” be antisemitic. As the standard employed by both the Federal government and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the IHRA definition of antisemitism could provide guidance to MIT for matters such as the Title VI Federal Civil Rights lawsuit the Institute now faces from some of its Jewish students.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism might even assist the Institute in incorporating Jews into MIT’s Strategic Action Plan for Belonging, Achievement, and Composition. MIT’s failure to grasp the problem of “Antisemitism and Jewish Inclusion on Campus” is exhibited in this blurb from a DEI event held during Independent Activities Period: “Jewish students, as a minority group, are encountering much of the same discomfort that other minorities face on campus and in the world, in that they don’t feel heard or acknowledged.”

No, the discomfort Jews are facing is unlike anything faced by anybody else on campus or in the world. Nobody but the Jews are facing regular calls for “intifada” and genocide “from the river to the sea”, whether on the streets, on the campus, or within the pages of the MIT Faculty Newsletter. MIT needs to do better if it wants to build a better world.

David Etlin is an MIT PhD 2008, Course XXIV, Philosophy (etlin@alum.mit.edu).