Backlash Against Williams College for ‘Anti-Semitic’ Vote
The Williams College Council’s move to deny registration to a pro-Israeli student club has become a point of controversy on campus, particularly after various rights groups have urged President Maud Mandel to do more to combat discrimination.
Members of the College Council debated the proposal to create a registered student club called the Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) on April 16 and 23. The proposal was ultimately rejected by a 13-8 vote.
The club planned to celebrate Jewish cultural events and Jewish and Israeli holidays and described its purpose “to support Israel and the pro-Israel campus community, as well as to educate the College on issues concerning Israel and the Middle East.”
“What we’re looking to do is to engage in educational initiatives, hold events, bring speakers to campus from a wide variety of political backgrounds with this issue and just put out more information so that students can look at all the available info and make a decision for themselves,” Molly Berenbaum a leader of WIFI, told The Williams Record.
“We’re really not interested in dictating a political position to students or faculty here.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) condemned the college council for denying the ability of the student group to express their views on campus. It also expressed concerns over the disappearance of free speech at Williams in general.
“Student governments should encourage more students to speak and debate ideas rather than hamper their ability to do so,” Sarah McLaughlin, FIRE senior program officer, said in a letter to the college.
“President Mandel must immediately remind the College Council and the entire campus community that viewpoint discrimination is wrong — especially at a campus committed to free expression.”
In a letter to the campus community earlier this month, President Mandel said that the student body had made the decision on political grounds and that members were in contradiction with their own bylaws.
“Council departed from its own process for reviewing student groups, which at no point identifies a proposed group’s politics as a criterion for review,” Mandel wrote. “The decision also seems to be in tension with CC bylaws, especially Article V, Section 3: “Prohibition Against Discrimination in Student Organizations.”
StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel nonprofit group, also wrote a letter to the president to express its dismay over the blatant “abuse of power by student leaders.”
Yael Lerman, director of the StandWithUs Legal Department, wrote that by denying registration to WIFI, the college has violated its non-discrimination statement, code of conduct and council bylaws.
“The Council’s conduct is flagrantly discriminatory against many Jewish students based on their religious and ethnic identities, and against Israeli students based on their national origin,” Lerman wrote. “Moreover, this decision has an indisputable antisemitic undertone.”
“We urge the administration to exercise its own authority within the College’s system of shared governance to correct this misstep,” the letter added.