Algemeiner Article: Middlebury College Response To Antisemitism Allegations Slammed By Watchdog Group

BY: Dion J. Pierre | Algemeiner | February 21, 2024

Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.

As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SCLJ) Center for Legal Justice, a civil rights nonprofit that combats antisemitic bias, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.

A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SCLJ begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.

Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.

The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.

“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”

According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SCLJ alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”

Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.

In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SCLJ takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.

StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SCLJ also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.

“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”

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