November 21, 2019
Suresh Garimella, Ph.D.
President University of Vermont
85 South Prospect Street
344-353 Waterman Building
Burlington, Vermont 05405
David Nestor, Ed.D.
Dean of Students
University of Vermont
41 South Prospect Street
Burlington, Vermont 05405
Dear President Garimella and Dean Nestor,
We write on behalf of StandWithUs and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, international, non-profit education organizations supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We are deeply concerned about a message posted recently on Twitter from an account associated with a University of Vermont (UVM) student organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). This post, which came from a university-sanctioned account, was blatantly antisemitic yet has received no condemnation recognizing this antisemitism from your administration.
On Thursday, November 14, 2019 at 3:46 PM, SJP posted a sexist, flagrantly antisemitic tweet from its UVM Twitter account (attached as Exhibit A) which states, “Zionist pussy smells like earring backs, sorry luv that’s science.” SJP posted the tweet exactly six minutes after a UVM student posted information in the University of Vermont Class of 2021 (official) Facebook group about a free trip to Israel over spring break for UVM students (attached as Exhibit B). In addition to the offensive vulgarity in SJP’s tweet, the tweet perpetuated a stereotypical antisemitic canard against Jewish and Israeli UVM students in violation of UVM’s Discrimination and Harassment policy.
We believe that free speech and academic freedom are paramount to any campus community. Similarly, we believe that meaningful dialogue and education are gateways to peace and understanding between student groups with diverging viewpoints. We thank your administration for condemning the offensiveness of the tweet’s vulgarity and encouraging respectful dialogue. However, your response did not strike at the heart of the issue here – which was the attempt by SJP to marginalize and stigmatize Jewish and Israeli students through traditional antisemitic stereotypes. There must be no place for this type of hate on your campus.
We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure that all UVM students, including Jewish and Israeli students, are treated as valuable members of the campus community, free from bigotry and discrimination and with the full support of the administration. This includes, at a minimum, investigating this matter and imposing appropriate sanctions against SJP for posting the antisemitic and offensive tweet, in violation of UVM policy.
Violation of UVM’s Harassment Policy
[a] form of discrimination…that encompasses an incident or incidents of verbal, written, visual, or physical communications and/or conduct based on or motivated by an individual’s membership in a legally protected category that is sufficiently severe, pervasive, persistent or patently offensive that it has the effect of unreasonably interfering with that individual’s work or academic performance, or that creates a hostile working, educational or living environment. Harassment may include the use of epithets, stereotypes, slurs, comments, insults, derogatory remarks, gestures, threats, graffiti, display or circulation of written or visual material, taunts, and negative references related to any of these protected categories.
SJP’s tweet discriminates against Jewish and Israeli members of the UVM campus community in violation of UVM policy. It employs a derogatory, antisemitic stereotype about Jews having distinctive, foul odors. This stereotype can be traced at least until the Middle Ages and was promulgated by Nazis and their sympathizers during World War II. As scholars on the subject have written:
Dirt and Disease Jews have long been described, literally or metaphorically, as carriers of a physical defect, deformity or disease, often associated with ugliness, weakness, dirt and excrement. In some cases, these defects were associated with Jewish masculinity or femininity. … Similarly, the phrase “dirty Jew” has long been common among anti-Semites, and stereotypes of “Jewish odor” were once commonplace. Jews were banned from German swimming pools and quarantined during the cholera and typhus epidemics of 1892. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, white racialists often perceived Jews as possessing inferior nonwhite racial characteristics. Since the mid-twentieth century, conversely, Jewishness has often been associated with a false sense of white racial superiority, sometimes associated with racism and colonialism. In Nazi Germany, Jewishness was often compared to a cancer. Contemporary anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli cartoons tend to emphasize physical traits associated with physical ugliness, such as the hooked nose and shallow forehead. The term “dirty Zionist” is now sometimes used in place of “dirty Jew.”
Rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue to express their counter views to the Israeli-Arab conflict, SJP elected to tweet a harassing, flagrantly offensive and antisemitic statement likely for the purpose of silencing and intimidating Jewish and Israeli students. There can be no serious dispute about the blatantly antisemitic nature of SJP’s tweet. Posted just six short minutes after the tweet of a Zionist Jewish student promoting a trip to Israel, SJP’s post conveys an unmistakable message to Jewish students who support the right of Israel to exist as the world’s only Jewish state: shed this core component of your Jewish identity or face humiliation, marginalization, indeed dehumanization. This is unmistakable, quintessential antisemitism and must be identified—and addressed by your administration—as such.
SJP: Nationally and at UVM
Nationally, SJP has a deeply disturbing record. The group receives funding and other forms of support from non-governmental organizations that are tied to multiple designated terror organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). National SJP conferences have featured lectures from terrorists like Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad leader who called for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. SJP also spearheaded a campaign to glorify and raise money for Rasmea Odeh, who helped carry out a PFLP terrorist attack that killed two Israeli civilians. The group frequently expresses support for an “Intifada” (a campaign of violence against Israelis), creating a hostile climate for Jewish and Israeli students—particularly those who lost friends and family during the brutal suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. SJP-affiliated activists have threatened violence against Jewish students and others who support Israel’s existence.
Moreover, SJP members frequently shout down speakers with whom they disagree, an illegal act resulting in numerous criminal and university investigations into violations of campus policies and state law. In the fall of 2018, UCLA sent National SJP a cease-and-desist letter for “unauthorized use” of the university logo, “in a manner that could imply endorsement of violence.” SJP spreads hate against Jews and Israelis on campus on a regular basis. Much of their rhetoric falls under the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted and applied by numerous countries and government bodies across the world, including the EU, the Government of Canada, the U.S. Department of State, and most recently the U.S. Department of Education. Such expression by SJP includes denying Israel’s right to exist, demonizing Israelis, and attacking Israel using classic anti-Semitic tropes. SJP’s political agenda—to eliminate the State of Israel and strip away Jewish rights to self-determination— is a prime example of how they manifest some of their antisemitism.
At UVM, SJP is no different. SJP’s mission is to endorse and support the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. SJP’s constitution (attached as Exhibit C) states that the SJP’s purpose is to build a BDS campaign at UVM and convince the university to divest from “occupation profiting companies.”
There is precedent for punishing SJP for similar campus policy violations. In 2014, Northeastern University suspended its SJP chapter for handing out mock eviction notices in residence halls. The eviction notices violated university dorm policies, and also made students feel targeted. The suspension came after Northeastern administration placed SJP on probation for disrupting a pro-Israel event in 2013 amid years of antisemitism and other disorderly conduct from SJP. Administrators at Loyola University-Chicago sanctioned SJP with probation for violating the school’s Free Expression and Demonstration policy. SJP students harassed Jewish students and protested an Israel display. Like these chapters, UVM’s SJP should face repercussions for its bigoted and discriminatory conduct.
In conclusion, we urge your administration to investigate this matter and, if violations of UVM policy are found, to discipline SJP accordingly. At a minimum, we urge your administration to publicly condemn the antisemitic nature of SJP’s action and place SJP and other student groups on notice that your administration has a zero-tolerance policy of such hatefulness.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter further and look forward to hearing from you by Friday, December 6, 2019.
Roz Rothstein CEO and Co-Founder
StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department
Director & Counsel for Litigation Strategy
StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism