Statement from SSI National Regarding Duke University Vetoing SSI’s Chapter Approval:
Earlier this year, students at Duke University have assembled to establish a Students Supporting Israel chapter on their campus.
Students Supporting Israel is a recognized international grassroots student movement that has operated for almost 10 years on over 160 college campuses and universities throughout the United States, Canada, Argentina, and several other countries. SSI’s mission is to be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on campuses, and to support students with grassroots activism.
The new SSI chapter at Duke was just chartered as a new student club on Wednesday, November 10th, 2021. We were excited to know that through our movement’s activities of this new chapter, Zionist voices would be heard, and that Israel education programming will be available to students on Duke’s campus.
Yet, on Monday, November 15, 2021, we were surprised and disturbed to unexpectedly learn that Duke’s Student Government President decided to veto the recognition of Duke’s Students Supporting Israel’s chapter on campus.
We would like it to be known that SSI National is appalled by and opposed to this decision and its provided reason.
The reasoning provided by the student government for the veto is: “evidence that the group singled out an individual student on their organization’s social media account in a way that was unacceptable for any student group and appeared antithetical to the group’s stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose…. Any group exhibiting potentially hostile or harmful behavior is liable to having their official status re-examined or suspended at any time”.
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Below are the facts related to the said event:
Soon after SSI’s chapter was chartered, the school’s newspaper The Chronicle published an article titled “DSG charters pro-Israel group, updates House Rules procedures at Wednesday meeting.”
One Duke student reacted by sharing the article on social media, with the writing “my school promotes settler colonialism”.
As a response to the student’s comment, the new SSI Duke chapter wrote on its social media to the student and to others who may have similar opinions, explaining that this statement she made is problematic, that this is why the club was created: to call out false and misleading information, and inviting the student to attend the upcoming SSI event.
The student comment was public, and so was the response. The response was not “calling out,” as the student said, but rather calling in- inviting the student to participate in a conversation.
Unfortunately, the response by the chapter led to very unpleasant progression of events. The fact that the chapter responded was claimed by the student to be “undeniably targeted harassment” that “made [her] feel unsafe to express her opinion on campus.”
Following the student’s complaint, the student government president decided to veto the entire club’s existence altogether, in a first veto used in over 5 years on Duke’s campus.
The new SSI chapter’s students were told they can attend this upcoming Wednesday, November 17, 2021** another vote of the senate regarding their recognition and to answer questions, and were advised by the school advisor to apologize for their conduct to increase the chance of reinstatement.
(**update: it has come to our attention that the student government vote was now moved to take place tentatively on Wednesday, December 1, 2021)
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SSI national views this situation as complete theater of absurd, and condemns the student government veto, the silencing of pro-Israel students, and the singling out of the new SSI chapter and its activists.
We maintain that:
- The original claim made by the student is false and SSI chapter had the full right to respond to it. The original statement was false for two reasons:
o First, to say that the school itself is promoting anything is false. It is students on campus who have the right to express their opinion in support of Israel who created a club to educate the campus community about Israel.
o Second, and most importantly, the statement about “settler colonialism” is also false and can be considered Antisemitic. According to International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor. It is one of many forms in which Antisemitism is taking place and hatred towards Jews is being spread.
It is from the IHRA definition of Antisemitism that was adopted by over 30 countries in the world including the US Dept of State, we can understand that blaming Israel with settler colonialism aka a racist endeavor can easily be viewed as Antisemitic accusation. The Jewish people are indigenous people to the land of Israel, have always maintained presence in the land, and prayed towards it even when most of the Jewish people were in exile. Israel is not a settler colonial project; Israel is the home for the Jewish nation and the place where over 55% of the Jewish population worldwide lives.
- It is claims like that of the said student that promote hatred and cause divide, and in SSI, it is part our chapters’ purpose to be pointing out false information and speaking up to correct it.
- It is an absurd that responding publicly to a public comment and inviting a discussion will be considered hostile, but promoting incorrect Antisemitic information, is allowed.
- It is absurd that responding on social media directly to a person is considered harassment. Those who put their opinion in the public space, need to know they can get public response.
- It is our view that shutting down a whole student club for a social media comment is what should be considered “undeniably targeted harassment” of the pro-Israel activists, if anything.
- It is the student government and the school that is now making the SSI chapter’s students feel “unsafe to express their opinion” by denying them to assemble as a club on campus, and suggesting they issue an apology for simply writing an online post.
- The Duke student government in its mission claims that their goal is to “define and represent student concerns, provide student services and support, and serve as a reliable source of information to the student body”. In their decision to veto SSI Duke after 5 days they do not meet any of their stated and proclaimed goals above.
- We would like to know if other clubs on Duke’s campus have their social media channels reviewed by the student government as well? Do other clubs need to apologize for writing statements that some may disagree with? If not, then this is a clear singling out of the new pro-Israel club, and we are concerned about whether Duke students truly have the right to free speech.
- If there are members of the academic community who will make false accusations about Israel, it is exactly the purpose of SSI chapters is to educate them on the actual facts and invite them to have a conversation. This cannot be accomplished if there is an intentional effort to silence a segment of the Duke student population.
- The chapter’s social media response was clearly not an attempt to “single out” a specific student, but an attempt to answer the claims raised by the specific student. It is unacceptable that pro-Israel students’ speech and opinions will be silenced. Speech is not violence, and to claim that the social media response of the chapter put the student at risk is a complete fabrication, as the only risk there was, was of hearing a dissenting opinion.
- We ask that student government reinstate the chapter’s recognition during its upcoming meeting and address this blatant injustice, and we encourage the student government President and student body leaders to embrace the guidelines that they are elected to uphold, without any personal bias.
- Rather than attempting to silence the pro-Israel voices by vetoing a pro-Israel student club, the student government at Duke should be spending its time condemning antisemitism promoted on its campus or sponsored by it.