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StandWithUs to Middlebury College: Take Action Against Rising Antisemitism

May 6, 2021


Dr. Laurie L. Patton, Ph.D.

President

Middlebury College

9 Old Chapel Road

Middlebury, Vermont 05753


VIA EMAIL: president@middlebury.edu


RE: Concerns About Rising Campus Antisemitism at Middlebury College


Dear President Patton,


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 concerned by what appears to be a growing trend of antisemitic activity at Middlebury. We urge your administration to take necessary steps to lessen what is becoming an increasingly hostile campus environment for Jewish students.


The below incidents are by no means a complete list, but highlight incidents brought to our recent attention by Middlebury students and concerned community members with ties to the college. For each person who contacted us with concerns about being identifiably Jewish at Middlebury, we believe there are countless more silently suffering. One of these students transferred out precisely because of the hostile environment they experienced as a Jew at Middlebury. The following are just a few examples.


Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Middlebury Administration’s Double Standard


SJP has played a predominant role in many of the recent allegations at Middlebury, so it is important to provide pertinent background information regarding the organization. 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 calling for violence against Israelis, and have threatened violence against Jewish students and others who support Israel’s existence.


SJP spreads hate against Jews and Israelis on campus on a regular basis. Much of their rhetoric meets the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted and applied by numerous countries and government bodies across the world, including the U.S. Department of State and Department of Education. For instance, SJP denies Israel’s right to exist, calls for the elimination of Israel, demonizes Israelis, and attacks Israel using classic antisemitic tropes.


So divisive and hate-infused is SJP’s presence on campus that administrators at Fordham University used their authority to refuse to recognize SJP as an official student group. They determined that SJP’s longstanding history of antisemitism and illegal activity did not comport with their mission of diversity and inclusiveness. At Tufts University, the administration released a statement condemning SJP’s policy positions. New York University reached a Title VI settlement because the administration refused to take concrete action against SJP when the group repeatedly violated campus policies as well as various local and state laws.


At Middlebury, SJP recently unveiled a new website by promoting a go-link, an online shortcut accessible to those on Middlebury’s campus Wi-Fi. The link, “go/apartheid,” redirects users to SJP’s website. This tactic of accusing Israel of apartheid is a rhetorical device used by anti-Israel activists to falsely label Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, as an apartheid state. SJP also posted flyers[1] throughout campus featuring the “go/apartheid” language, some of which were taken down.


While the language associated with SJP’s campaign was protected political free speech, it was also divisive and false. To our knowledge, the university made no statement about the hateful intent behind this go-link campaign and how it alienated Jewish and Israeli students.


In contrast, a Jewish student responded to SJP’s website campaign by creating his own set of three go-links: “go/palestine;” “go/palestinian;” and “go/sjp.” These links redirected users to an Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, “Palestinian Terror and Incitement.” Like SJP’s go-link and campaign, this student exercised his right to express his own political free speech and thereby fortify the voices of Jews on campus.


In response, SJP filed a complaint with Middlebury’s Community Bias Response Team (CBRT). On March 17, 2021, CBRT released a statement noting the Jewish student’s go-links, the removal of SJP flyers, and SJP accusations about feeling unsafe. CBRT’s statement did not identify directly SJP’s “go/apartheid” posters and the hateful effect that this messaging had on the Jewish community. Furthermore, the Jewish student was subsequently suspended from his positions with Middlebury Consulting Group (MCG) and Middlebury’s Student Investment Committee (SIC) by student leaders within both groups.


To our knowledge, no repercussions by the administration or student leaders were taken against any SJP members, and the administration did not step in to help the Jewish student after these retaliatory actions. By all appearances, the administration and CBRT have conveyed that they do not take seriously attacks on Middlebury’s Jewish community nor that they will intervene when Jewish students experience double standard, discriminatory treatment by Middlebury student leaders.


A second Jewish student then created a “go/jewish” link that directed users to a webpage describing how he felt “saddened and unsafe [on campus] due to the events [described above] and said that other Jewish students on campus felt similarly.” This student met with representatives from Middlebury’s CBRT to discuss his concerns on March 29, 2021. To date, this student has received no response from CBRT despite being promised a response by April 6, 2021.


Additionally, this student was threatened with suspension[2] from the MCG by the MCG president due to what we believe are retaliatory actions against the student for standing up for his Jewish identity. In this case, the student notified his team leader[3] that he had to miss a meeting in order to meet with his rabbi on a matter that was timely and in which the rabbi’s availability was limited. The student received permission from the team leader not to attend that particular MCG meeting. Afterward, the MCG president threatened the Jewish student with suspension for missing the meeting. This student has identified at least six examples of other students missing SIC meetings without threat of consequence.[4] In the end, the Jewish student took a leave of absence from the MCG to avoid any other retaliatory measures being taken against him.


In sum, two Jewish students were both punished by MCG and SIC student leaders for identifying as and defending themselves as Jews, with the administration turning a blind eye. To our knowledge, no one from SJP was suspended from MCG or SIC for creating the “go/apartheid” link. The administration appears to be treating Jewish students with a double standard, meeting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Other Incidents Creating a Hostile Environment for Jewish Students


· A Jewish student tried to gain formal student club recognition for Chabad at Middlebury in the academic year 2018-2019. On March 11, 2019, as part of standard protocol for newly recognized organizations, the student was emailed, asking to schedule a meeting with Ellen McKay, Program Coordinator, Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life.[5] Ms. McKay subsequently informed this student that Mark Orten, Middlebury’s Chaplain and Director and Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, would also be participating in the meeting. It took several weeks and various delays to schedule and hold this meeting, which finally took place on April 10, 2019.


What should have been mere formality turned into a lengthy ordeal with minimal transparency from Middlebury administrators overseeing this process. Between April 23, 2019 and May 2, 2019, both the student and faculty advisor, Professor Oz Aloni, sent at least six emails inquiring about the status of Chabad as a recognized organization.[6] After the third such email, more than two weeks after the initial meeting, Amanda Reinhardt, the Interim Associate Dean of Student Activities and Organizations, emailed confirming a lack of internal transparency to the Jewish student and explaining the need to look “at this proposal from many different angles.”[7] Professor Aloni responded by saying that the student had fulfilled all requirements for this club and therefore should receive formal approval.[8] In at least two of these emails, Professor Aloni indicated his belief that the proposed Chabad club was not getting equal treatment to other new student organization applicants.[9]


Finally, on May 2, 2019, more than three weeks after the meeting to grant Chabad formal student organizational approval, Dean Reinhardt emailed the student informing her that there was “insufficient reason to grant the request for a new student organization.” She cited in part that Middlebury’s Hillel—a hub for Jewish life that is adequate for some, but not all Jewish students on university campuses—was similar enough to Chabad and therefore not necessary to Jewish students on campus as a student group.[10] On May 3, 2019, Dean Orten followed up with an email commenting that the “request comes in the light of a larger context that is our particular campus and community.”


We find Dean Reinhardt and Dean Orten’s claims here deeply suspect. Hillel is the only Jewish organization in Middlebury’s list of recognized religious student organizations. There are at least six different student organizations for Christian students on campus: Gather; Middlebury Intervarsity Christian Fellowship; Newman Catholic Club; Christian Orthodox Association; Christian Science Organization; and Joyful Noise. Permitting one religion to have access to multiple student organizations while simultaneously deeming one organization sufficient for the Jewish religion is a flagrant double standard.


· Students who wish to learn Hebrew find that it has become all but impossible. An Israeli, Oz Aloni, used to teach Hebrew language at Middlebury. It is our understanding that Professor Aloni’s teaching contract was not renewed; he now teaches only during the summer. His replacement is Faisal Alasiri, a teaching fellow who we are told teaches Hebrew as part of his doctorate studies and is neither a native Israeli nor fluent in Hebrew. Students have mentioned that Mr. Alasiri—while well-liked by the students—apparently uses class time to work on his dissertation instead of teaching, does not begin class at regularly scheduled times, and treats the class as unimportant.


In this vein, according to students, Middlebury does not renew Hebrew professors’ contracts, meaning new Hebrew professors are brought into Middlebury every few years. This lack of consistency has been detrimental to students’ continuation of Hebrew language study and a flourishing Hebrew language program. Since Professor Aloni’s departure, Jewish students do not believe they have access to a rigorous Hebrew language education at Middlebury. We find this concerning for a school that prides itself on creating “one of the most effective language learning environments.”


· During the fall 2020 semester, students gave the Heil Hitler salute to a Jewish student. This incident was reported to the CBRT by the student during the above-mentioned March 29, 2021 meeting.


· Students have conveyed that it is virtually impossible to obtain Kosher food at Middlebury. None of the food made in any dining hall is made in a Kosher kitchen, nor is the Hillel kitchen strictly Kosher. While we have been told that Middlebury’s school cafeteria offers Kosher food during the summer Hebrew program, it is our understanding that Kosher food is not offered during the rest of the year for Jewish students and faculty who observe Kosher dietary laws.


Title VI


As you are likely aware, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. The Department of Education has made clear that this includes protection against discrimination based on “a person’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit such characteristics (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh individuals).” In furtherance of this, former President Trump signed an Executive Order on Combating Antisemitism (“Executive Order”) in 2019, formally recognizing that Jewish students facing antisemitic discrimination on campuses enjoy protection under Title VI.


If discrimination based on race, color, or national origin occurs in a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance, the institution receiving the funds has an obligation to take proactive, corrective measures to protect its constituents or else risk losing its federal funding altogether. Because nearly all U.S. universities receive some form of federal financial assistance, it is vital that university administrators understand the implications of Title VI and take the necessary measures to protect their Jewish students, thereby minimizing the risk of losing federal funding.


Recommendations to Curtail the Spread of Antisemitism at Middlebury


We are concerned about the climate for Jewish students at Middlebury. We therefore urge you to take the following steps to ensure that all students, including Jewish students, are treated as valuable members of your campus community, with the full support and protection of the administration:


(1) Adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism—which has been adopted by administrators at Florida State University, New York University and Georgia Institute of Technology, and has also been adopted by the U.S. Department of State, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education—and utilize this definition as a guide to identifying antisemitism on campus;

(2) Use your own free speech rights to unequivocally condemn each instance of antisemitism that may occur on campus;

(3) Speak with representatives of the Middlebury Jewish community about your offering Kosher food made from a Kosher kitchen year-round in a campus cafeteria, ensuring that Jewish students and faculty who observe Kosher dietary laws have a dedicated place to eat on campus.

In conclusion, with antisemitism on the rise, this is a critical opportunity for your administration to show leadership, provide moral clarity, and convey to your students, faculty, and alumni that antisemitism has no place at Middlebury. We ask that you address the specific instances outlined above and explain to students—especially student leaders—that Jewish students must receive the same protections and treatment as all other students. We are concerned that you may not be ensuring a safe and equitable campus climate for your Jewish students, raising possible Title VI questions. The pivotal role you play supporting students of all races, religions, colors, and nationalities includes enforcing equal treatment when others refuse and ensuring no double standards in treatment of Jewish students and faculty.


On behalf of StandWithUs, we thank you for your time and consideration of this important matter. We are available to discuss this further with you and would appreciate a response to this letter by May 20, 2021.


Sincerely,



Roz Rothstein

CEO and Co-Founder

StandWithUs

Yael Lerman

Director

StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department


Carly Gammill

Director

StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism


Cc:


Hannah S. Ross

gc@middlebury.edu

[1] Attached, as Exhibit A. [2] Attached, as Exhibit B, Pages 3-6. [3] Attached, as Exhibit C. [4] Attached, as Exhibit D. SIC and MCG are run by the same student leaders and have the same meeting rules and requirements. [5] Attached, as Exhibit E. [6] Attached, as Exhibit F, Pages 15-18. [7] Attached, as Exhibit F, Page 17. [8] Attached, as Exhibit F, Page 16. [9] Attached, as Exhibit F, Pages 15, 17. [10] Attached, as Exhibit G.

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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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