Jewish alumni say MIT must engage with all members of its Jewish community

We write this statement as Jewish alumni who have been disappointed by the administration’s handling of the Scientists Against Genocide Encampment (SAGE) and related protests on campus. There have been numerous statements in support of SAGE participants already, yet we felt the need to add the perspective of Jewish alumni who see great harm being done to MIT’s Jewish community. We are proud of our Jewish heritage. A heritage encompassing a beautiful diversity of religious practices, other intersecting identities, and yes: a diversity of views on the State of Israel. We are frustrated and concerned by the way the MIT administration has ignored and erased this diversity, weighing some Jewish perspectives far more heavily than others. 

This is in part due to institutional bias—much of the infrastructure for the MIT Jewish community, such as MIT Hillel and the MIT Israel Alliance, has mobilized in support of the State of Israel. We demand the MIT administration think critically about systemic power imbalances and recognize that the perspectives of MIT Jews for Ceasefire (J4C) are no less valid because they lack this infrastructure.  We have heard directly from J4C students how their input has been repeatedly excluded from campus initiatives regarding discourse on anti-Semitism and the situation in Israel/Palestine.  Administrators’ capitulation to the notion of legitimate and illegitimate Jewish voices is incredibly dangerous and has already caused harm to Jewish students on campus.  

We have been heartbroken hearing pro-Palestinian Jews’ experiences of harassment at MIT. There are many reports of pro-Israel demonstrators taunting Jewish SAGE participants as “self-hating” and “not real Jews.” Pro-Israel demonstrators saying encampment members, again including Jews, should be raped, murdered, and traded as hostages. These behaviors are despicable, yet there have been zero public consequences or even acknowledgment from MIT leaders.  

J4C is engaging in an authentic and passionate movement grounded in their Judaism, not in spite of it. We see them carrying on the Jewish organizing tradition of doikayt, Yiddish for ‘hereness.’  American activist Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz described it as “the right to be, and to fight for justice, wherever we are…across lines that might divide us, to work together for universal equality and justice” [1]. We wonder: where on campus can these students observe and explore their faith tradition communally?

For many of us, years ago, Hillel and Chabad at MIT were critical parts of our Jewish experience at MIT.  If we were students today, however, we do not believe we would be welcome there. Jewish students and other community members at MIT who do not support the Israeli government and military have no Jewish home on campus. And they are not alone: a recent New York Times article quoted a student from Columbia University saying “[a] rabbi at Hillel…told her that Hillel wasn’t supposed to be a resource for Jewish students who don’t support Israel” [2]. We are deeply troubled by so many universities providing consideration and protection for Jewish students who hold certain political positions but not others. 

We, as pro-ceasefire alumni, and students of J4C, are members of MIT’s Jewish community as well, whose voices deserve recognition. We call on administrators not to ignore the experiences of Jewish students like this one, submitted among letters to the Alliance of Concerned Faculty, “It is challenging to be Jewish now at MIT not because I feel personally unsafe, but because my identity is being invoked to make arguments and policy that I often do not agree with” [3].

We know MIT leadership takes charges of anti-Semitism seriously and that they face internal and external pressure to address these charges.  With this in mind, we encourage them to engage seriously and thoughtfully with ALL Jewish community members, including those standing in solidarity with Palestinians.  

[1] Kaye/Kantrowitz M. (2007). The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press,198-199. 

[2] Bernstein, J. (2024). On Campus, a New Social Litmus Test: Zionist or Not? The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2024/05/22/style/jewish-college-students-zionism-israel.html.

[3] (2024). SOS from MIT – Letters from MIT Students: Distress and harm Caused by Recent MIT Policies and Actions. Alliance of Concerned Faculty, https://sites.mit.edu/allianceofconcernedfaculty/2024/05/16/letters-from-our-students-distress-and-harm-caused-by-recent-mit-policies-and-actions/