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StandWithUs Responds to UMBC Administrative Departments Antisemitic Instagram Posts

June 2, 2021


Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, PhD

President

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

1000 Hilltop Circle

Baltimore, Maryland 21250


Nancy D. Young, PhD

Vice President for Student Affairs

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

1000 Hilltop Circle

Baltimore, Maryland 21250


VIA EMAIL: (hrabowski@umbc.edu; nyoung@umbc.edu)


Dear President Hrabowski and Vice President Young,


We write on behalf of the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department and the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, divisions of StandWithUs, an international, non-profit education organization supporting Israel and combating antisemitism. We are appalled by a series of biased, antisemitic, politically-charged, university-affiliated Instagram posts on two University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) official Instagram accounts: the Initiatives for Identity, Inclusion & Belonging (“i3b”) and The Women’s Center.


Both posts contain classic antisemitic stereotypes often used by anti-Israel activists. Specifically, the i3b post contains a series of ten slides with a cover slide, “What You Can Do to Support Palestinians,” alongside a statement that the department joins those “grieving the loss of life and continued oppression of Palestinians at the hands of state-sanctioned violence, imperialism, and apartheid.” This dehumanizing and misleading rhetoric not only slanders Israel, but implicitly denies 3,000 years of Jewish history, identity, and rights in their ancestral homeland.


Likewise, The Woman’s Center’s post contains a quote comparing a black person’s struggle with that of a Palestinian’s with the tagline, “[i]t is time to make our way home,” and a statement that “[i]t is impossible for many of us to know the reality of being a Palestinian living in an occupied state maintained through the (often internationally sanctioned) violence of imperialism and white supremacy.” Again, “imperialism” and “white supremacy” are slanderous and dehumanizing terms which harm not only Israelis, but Jewish communities in the United States as well. Jews are not colonizers or imperialists in their own homeland. Nor are they “white supremacists” – an especially offensive slur considering that white supremacist ideology is built on genocidal antisemitism.


While campus administrative departments should never take sides in political disagreements that could ultimately marginalize their students based on components of identity, such as religion or national origin, the timing of these posts is especially concerning given the sharp rise in antisemitic incidents throughout the country: Jews are being attacked for wearing a yarmulke; synagogues, campus Hillels and kosher restaurants are being vandalized and Jewish restaurant patrons assaulted; and social media posts—such as the ones at issue here—proliferate. Permitting campus administrative departments to post such biased and divisive statements with no condemnation by upper-level administrators amounts to a tacit university seal of approval of such sentiments. In fact, because this was sent through two university departments’ official accounts, readers may even view the posts as a university statement and endorsement, not realizing that the respective departments do not speak for the university as a whole. This leaves Jewish and Israeli students within those departments and the university at large feeling threatened, marginalized, and targeted by the university administration.


Furthermore, while the content in these posts may be protected free speech, it is biased, misleading and caters solely to the perspectives of anti-Israel voices on campus. This seems at odds with the ostensible purpose of the i3b, which is a department within UMBC’s Division of Student Affairs tasked with creating “opportunities for students to build their awareness and knowledge of diverse people, cultures and belief systems.” It is difficult to imagine language less accepting of diversity and open to differing belief systems than the language contained in i3b’s posts.


We recognize and appreciate the campus environment as a place for diverging viewpoints and discourse. However, administrative departments should not be leading a political debate that ostracizes your Jewish and Israeli students. As a result, we ask:


1. That your administration condemns these official administrative posts as nonreflective of your administration’s official viewpoints and have them immediately removed. We note that you recently issued such statements for UMBC’s Indian Community and UMBC’s Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities. Failure to treat your Jewish and Israeli students equally is wholly unacceptable and discriminatory.


2. That your administration issue a statement acknowledging that for many individuals, Zionism is an integral part of their Jewish identity. This statement has been adopted already at many other campuses faced with such hateful activity, including recently at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. This will go a long way toward making Jewish students feel protected and valued by their university.

3. That your entire faculty receive diversity and equity training this summer specifically on what constitutes antisemitism and how best to protect against a hostile campus climate for Jewish students. We suggest that such training incorporate an understanding of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (“IHRA”) Working Definition of Antisemitism, the consensus international definition of antisemitism. We are also happy to recommend education providers who can conduct these trainings.

4. That your administration issues a public statement condemning and rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. Student governments have a right to espouse hatred; you have a right—and an obligation—to condemn it. Other universities have done so, demonstrating moral clarity and leadership on this issue.

If you remain silent, your administration will become complicit in bias, discrimination, and divisiveness, sending a message that it is permissible, and perhaps even fashionable, to attack and stigmatize UMBC’s Jewish and Israeli students.


Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. Given the urgency of this matter, we look forward to your response by June 16, 2021.


Sincerely,


Roz Rothstein

CEO and Co-Founder

StandWithUs


Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism

StandWithUs

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StandWithUs (SWU) is an international and non-partisan Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation and fights antisemitism.

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