(May 9, 2019 / JNS) Williams College president Maud Mandel condemned the school’s student council for rejecting a pro-Israel club from being formed on campus. In a statement last week, she said that the “transcript of the debate and vote indicate that the decision was made on political grounds.”
“I’m disappointed,” said Mandel, that the student government did not follow “its own processes and bylaws.”
The bylaws make no mention of political views as an eligibility factor.
The Zionist Organization of America said the rejection of the proposed group, called Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI), violated the college’s policies and the First Amendment right of WIFI students. It called on the school to override the student council’s decision.
The ZOA also called on Williams College to “issue a statement to the Williams community (1) condemning the actions of the Council and the wrongful, anti-Semitic conduct of speakers at the College Council meetings; and (2) explaining the reasons why it is overriding the College Council’s decision, so that the College Council and the rest of the community will understand that Williams College truly stands behind its commitment to the ‘rights of all to express themselves in words and actions.’ ”
StandWithUs wrote a letter to Mandel and the vice president for campus life, Stephen Klass, criticizing both the rejection of WIFI as a campus group and Mandel’s response, which SWU said did “not go far enough.”
“WIFI’s application for registration was rejected not because of mere political views, but because of anti-Semitism,” stated the letter.
“Zionism is the movement supporting Jewish rights to self-determination, and the Council’s rejection of WIFI as an RSO seeks to denigrate this vital aspect of mainstream Jewish identity for many Williams students,” it continued.
“The Council’s actions are a brazen attempt to silence students because of their political opinions and their Jewish and/or Israeli identities. While students are certainly entitled to maintain and express their own viewpoints, they may not do so in a discriminatory manner that “infring[es] upon the rights of others” with differing views,” added the letter. “WIFI complied with RSO formation protocol. Its denial of RSO recognition was done in bad faith, constitutes blatant discrimination, and thus deliberately violates the individual rights of all WIFI members.”
Like the ZOA, SWU called for Williams College to reverse the student council decision.
Students want ‘a group that thinks Israel should exist’
The tally of last week’s anonymous vote was 13 in favor and eight against with one abstention.
Apparently, it’s the first time in more than a decade that the College Council voted against having a club that met the criteria of its bylaws.
WIFI, per its constitution, seeks “to support Israel and the pro-Israel campus community, as well as to educate the College on issues concerning Israel and the Middle East.”
Had it been recognized, WIFI would have had access to funding and administrative support.
Issues that the council members had with the group included it not taking a position on matters pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At an April 16 council meeting, one student asked, “Why do you feel the need to ally yourself with the State of Israel, as opposed to taking a human-rights-oriented approach?”
Another student seem concerned about having a club “that’s built on the assumption that Israel has a right to exist, in the sense that it has a right to enact its policies, which [are] oftentimes drowning out the voices of Palestinians.”
WIFI leader Molly Berenbaum responded, “It’s specifically just a group that thinks Israel should exist. That’s really as specific as it gets.”