Talia Khan, an MIT graduate student, had a detailed and powerful statement about what she sees as anti-Semitism on campus (apparently written in response to an invitation from Reps. Fox and Stefanek). https://twitter.com/i/status/1732304339689967693 And I think it well reflects how many different things are being mixed together here. For instance, the statement refers to “a…
Talia Khan, an MIT graduate student, had a detailed and powerful statement about what she sees as anti-Semitism on campus (apparently written in response to an invitation from Reps. Fox and Stefanek).
— Ed Leon Klinger (@edleonklinger) December 6, 2023
And I think it well reflects how many different things are being mixed together here. For instance, the statement refers to “a radical anti-Israel group at MIT called the CAA” whose members have “stormed the offices of Jewish faculty and staff in the MIT Israel internship office. Staff reported fearing for their lives, as students went door to door trying to unlock the offices.” If this is accurate, then it should certainly be punished. Likewise as to “Jewish students being physically blocked from moving through the anti-Israel crowd through the main MIT lobby.”
Similarly, this allegation, if accurate, would show serious and improper viewpoint-discriminatory enforcement of MIT’s rules:
I was forced to take down my Israeli flags and a poster that said “No Excuse for Hate” and “We Stand With Israel” in my office window after a new banner rule was created 6 days after I put my flags up. Other banners, such as those for “Black Lives Matter” are still hanging proudly in office windows today. A rule was created by the MIT administration to appease bigoted students who can’t bear to see that Israel exists.
On the other hand, here is another part of the statement:
I will share a few examples of antisemitism on campus and let you all decide if all is well on MIT’s campus. First, I was forced to leave my study group for my doctoral exams halfway through the semester because my group members told me that the people at the Nova massacre deserved to die because they were partying on stolen land. This negatively impacted me both emotionally and academically.
Her classmates in her study group sound like awful people, and she should certainly not want to study with them. But is MIT really supposed to discipline students for conversations with classmates in which they make morally repugnant statements? And, if MIT is encouraged to do this, what do you think MIT will do to a Jewish student says something to a few classmates that says he has no sympathy for the deaths of Palestinians in the Israeli response in Gaza, when an Arab or Muslim student complains that “this negatively impacted [her] both emotionally and academically”? Even if you think the two are morally different, as I do, how confident are you that MIT authorities will draw the same moral distinction, and punish the first but not the second?
I appreciate that many universities have indeed tried to police a wide range of comments by their students. That was wrong in those cases, and it would be wrong in cases such as the one Khan describes. It’s unpleasant when students hear offensive things from classmates, and to have to find a new study group with more decent classmates. It’s much worse when students have to live in fear of university punishment for the views they express to each other.
Again, there is plenty of misconduct that should be punished, whether because it breaks content-neutral rules preventing trespassing or blocking pathways, or because it involves unprotected speech such as threats. Universities shouldn’t discriminate against pro-Israel messages.
University administrators and faculty shouldn’t single out Jewish or Israeli students, and I don’t think they should condemn Israel when doing their jobs, either. Khan alleges, for instance, “the interfaith chaplain at MIT”—apparently a position in the MIT administration—”interrupted an event four times to call out Israel as an oppressive white supremacist colonizer state and then asked all students who keep kosher to raise their hands to receive their meals, reportedly examining these students to an extent that non-Jewish students felt uncomfortable and compelled to report the event.” That’s not what an interfaith chaplain ought to be doing.
The problem is that calls for restricting such misbehavior also often seem to target students’ mere expression of their own views—restrictions that, if enforced, would create a police-state-like “police campus” where any conversation on a controversial topic could lead to threat of suspension or expulsion. And of course such a police campus is likely to end up punishing pro-Israel students as much as any other students (especially if it is correct that many in the MIT administration are personally anti-Israel).
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