Nearly 70 student leaders, who have roles in organizations from the Student Association to fraternities and sororities, signed onto a letter calling for an SA senator accused of anti-Semitism to resign from his post.
The letter, posted in the Facebook group “Overheard at GW” Wednesday, listed seven demands in response to an incident earlier this week in which SA executive vice presidential candidate Brady Forrest faced accusations of anti-Semitism for comments he made in prior Facebook posts. In the posts, which resurfaced Monday, Forrest criticized groups like GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association for supporting Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014.
Forrest called for a boycott of a multicultural event that year because it included those groups as co-sponsors.
In the letter, student leaders called for Forrest, who is also a graduate-at-large senator, to resign from the SA Senate, suspend his campaign for executive vice president and issue a formal apology to GW’s Jewish community. The letter also called for the University to condemn Forrest’s comments, for the student body to study how criticism of Israel can constitute anti-Semitism and for the winners of the SA elections Wednesday to promise they will work to eradicate anti-Semitism and include it in diversity trainings.
The letter lastly called for students and administrators to recognize the “deep diversity” within the Jewish community on campus.
Student leaders from various organizations signed onto the letter, representing themselves and not their organizations. The presidents of the Young America’s Foundation, GW College Democrats, Hindu Students Association, GW Panhellenic Association, Green GW, Pakistani Students Association, GW College Republicans, Program Board and Class Council all signed onto the letter, in addition to various leaders from other student organizations.
In response to the letter, Forrest declined to say whether he will resign from the senate but reiterated that he only critiqued “political ideology,” not the Jewish faith. In the days since the posts resurfaced, Forrest has stood behind the messages.
“I don’t believe an entire group of people should be responsible for the actions of a few but those that actively and openly support a political ideology can be critiqued when that political ideology leads to violence and they continue to support it,” Forrest said.
Junior Joe Vogel, a former SA senator who helped draft the letter’s wording and posted it in the Facebook group, said he hopes the letter makes its way to administrators, who he said have “shot down” students before who have raised concerns about anti-Semitism on campus. Officials have so far had no official reaction to the controversy.
“We are vocalizing our concerns to the broader GW community that this is problematic, this is an issue and we have to speak up against it,” Vogel said.
Hillel Zand, the president of the Jewish Student Association, said the letter came together over the course of 24 hours, as a group of students began drafting the language Tuesday night and circulated a sign-up sheet to student leaders. He said many students were “disappointed” that the University didn’t respond to Forrest’s posts or condemn anti-Semitism, and that “if the administration isn’t going to say anything, then student leaders have to.”
“We’ve seen acts of hate this year on campus numerous times and we really need to generate a dialogue about how we acknowledge hate on campus and also remind people that anti-Semitism isn’t a thing of the past and it doesn’t come in the shapes and forms that it used to,” Zand said.
Caitlin Berg, the vice president of political affairs for the GW College Democrats who also helped draft the letter, said she has seen “various instances” of anti-Semitism at GW and wanted to rally student leaders to condemn it, because “I didn’t see the administration doing enough.”
“Seeing nearly 70 leaders from all political parties and backgrounds is amazing,” Berg said. “It makes me feel safer on campus knowing that people believe what is right and are willing to take a stand against hatred.”