Updated: Nov. 19, 2019 at 9:22 p.m.
The Student Association Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday calling on the organization and the University to prevent instances of anti-Semitism on campus.
SA senators passed the legislation 32 to zero, with four abstentions, urging officials to take steps to investigate an anti-Semitic Snapchat video posted earlier this month and require faith discrimination workshops during mandatory first-year diversity trainings. The legislation, which followed almost two hours of public comment from students, also calls on the SA Senate to adopt versions of the U.S. State Department’s working definitions of anti-Semitism and condemns harassment or bullying related to Judaism.
“As Jewish people, we have been persecuted since the very beginning, and the fact that people on this campus are drawing swastikas on the doors of Jewish students is disgraceful,” said SA Sen. Louie Kahn, CCAS-U and a sponsor of the resolution. “The only appropriate reaction of the Student Association is to condemn anti-Semitism in its fullest terms.”
Students participated in town halls over the past few weeks to discuss the prevalence of anti-Semitism on campus and ask officials about the ongoing investigation into the video and the consequences for the students involved.
Senators voted to omit clauses that claimed the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor” and that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state after students voiced concerns that the resolution did not represent all Jewish students who have differing views on Israel. Some senators also spoke out against the senate’s role in taking official stances on “geopolitical issues.”
Senior Rebecca Lewis, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said during public comment that as the only pro-Palestinian Jewish group on campus, members are often isolated from the Jewish community and have been labeled as anti-Semitic for criticizing Israel.
Lewis advocated for amendments to be included in the resolution that she said would protect students’ rights to engage in “valid criticism” of Israel without being labeled as anti-Semitic.
“We are vilified, our voices are silenced,” she said. “When we experience anti-Semitism, our communities do not stand behind us. GW has failed Jews like myself in the past, and I’m here to ask you not to do it again.”
Noah Shufutinsky, the vice president of GW for Israel, said during public comment that SA members heard from Jewish students at an SA community forum last week that attacks against students’ connections to Israel are anti-Semitic and threatening, but SA leaders often do not fully understand the concern. He said he is “tired” of having to explain to students an issue that is “blatant” on campus.
Shufutinsky said the legislation was not about “legitimate” criticisms of Israel but that the Snapchat video exemplifies a “bigger issue” on campus. He said denying Jewish individuals’ rights to have connections to Israel is not a “nuanced debate” but an act of racism.
“If you’re offended by it, you need to take a minute and reevaluate your positions,” he said.
Three student organizations – GW for Israel, GW College Democrats and GW College Republicans – wrote a letter last week urging University President Thomas LeBlanc to take up three “action items” to tackle anti-Semitism which included instituting a working definition of anti-Semitism.
Kahn, CCAS-U and a sponsor of the resolution, said the senators who wrote the legislation chose to include information about Israel because Jewish students have told them that their identities are “firmly attached” to Israel. He said excluding Israel in the resolution would be a “disservice” to the Jewish community.
“This is about recognizing the right of the Jewish state to exist, just it’s existence,” he said. “You can criticize it all you want, I don’t care, but as senators I believe that we have to say definitively that the Jewish state of Israel exists.”
Kahn said when crafting the resolution that neither he nor SA Sen. Marietta Richman, MISPH-U and another sponsor of the resolution intended to harm any students for their beliefs. He said that while students can freely criticize Israel and that he often disagrees with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies, the resolution was intended to tackle anti-Semitism.
“This is just about saying anti-Semitism’s wrong and I stand firmly behind that,” he said.
After voting on the resolution, the senate moved to an upstairs room in the Marvin Center and voted to censure – meaning the senate reprimanded the member, according to SA bylaws – SA Sen. Jake Corsi, CCAS-G for creating or continuing to foster a hostile environment within the organization. Senators did not censure him for failing to fulfill his duties, like attending mandatory diversity training, as a senator.
Senators initiated censure proceedings against Corsi in September, but conflicting guidelines in the SA’s governing documents about how proceedings should be handled and a special SA meeting last month delayed the censure hearing for almost two months.
The censure hearings took place during executive sessions, which closed the discussion off to the public per SA bylaws.
This post was updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelled Marietta Richman’s last name. It has been corrected.