Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 17, 2021
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COURTESY OF CHRIS H. PARK

Tweets made by the head teaching assistant of a large chemistry course this fall are being investigated for anti-Semitism.

The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) has opened an investigation into comments made by Rasha Anayah, a teaching assistant (TA) and graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, following reports that several of her tweets targeted Zionist and Jewish students. 

“[E]thical dilemma: if you have to grade a Zionist students exam, do you still give them all their points even though they support your ethnic cleansing? like idk,” one tweet read.

A poll accompanying the Nov. 15 tweet asked respondents to choose between “yes rasha. be a good ta” and “free palestine! fail them.”

Anayah has been a TA for “Applied Chemical Equilibrium and Reactivity” for two years. This fall, she served as the head TA for the course.

Alanna Margulies, the president of the Hopkins Hillel student board, expressed concerns about the potential impact of Anayah’s tweets on students, particularly freshmen.

“This is a situation that has made a lot of students unsafe, and it’s something that affected people who haven’t spent much time on campus,” she said. “To have this as one of their first interactions with their TAs and their classes, that just makes it all the more important that the school takes action that takes into account justice and making sure students feel safe and comfortable.”

Hopkins Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestine activist organization of which Anayah is treasurer, condemned all acts of racism, especially anti-Semitism, in an email to The News-Letter

Representatives of SJP noted that Anayah has been threatened on social media by organizations that have reported on the incident.

“These organizations have a long documented history of engaging in smear and censorship campaigns aimed on stifling free speech on campus through the utilization of racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian tropes to vilify and defame their victims,” the group wrote.

SJP called on the University leaders to protect Anayah from these organizations and to acknowledge the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as they conduct their investigation.

Anti-Semitism refers to hostility, prejudice or discrimination toward Jewish people. Anti-Zionism is an opposition to Zionism, a nationalist ideology that supports the establishment of a Jewish state. While anti-Zionism does not equate to anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism has sometimes been used to express anti-Semitic sentiments.

Kenneth Moss, the Felix Posen professor of Modern Jewish History at Hopkins, noted the historically complex relations between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

“It is certainly the case that anti-Zionism has been an important dimension of real, existing anti-Semitism at many junctures in history,” he said. “Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have been both distinct at times and also entangled.”

Anayah’s tweet explicitly referred to a Zionist student, but her other tweets expressed sentiments more generally toward Jewish students at Hopkins.

“[D]idn’t get pinned with an israeli or some bitch white boy to have to share my knowledge with,” one tweet read. “[W]e had an undergrad in lab who had been on birthright and had one of the street signs to tel aviv on her laptop. it stabbed me every time she opened it. if i had been paired to [o]ne of them or one of these conceited white boys i would have lost it.”

Although her Twitter account has since been deactivated, screenshots of her tweets were made available online. 

In a Jan. 5 email to Hopkins Hillel affiliates, Provost Sunil Kumar and interim Dean John Toscano stated that they had seen the tweets and are taking action.

“We are aware of an incident of alleged antisemitism and potential abuse of authority in the discharge of academic responsibilities on our campus,” they wrote. “Any link between grading and bias runs counter to our values and policies, and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that does not occur.”

Due to federal privacy laws, they added that they were unable to provide further details or comment specifically on the incident. 

Similarly, OIE declined to provide details of its investigation to The News-Letter but explained that the University reviews each report of discrimination according to the Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Procedures. Part of the assessment is to implement any interim measures, which includes placing individuals on administrative leave or restricting their access to campus.

In an email to The News-Letter, Anayah emphasized her commitment to scholarship and social justice.

“In regards to my teaching and evaluation of students, I have always acted with the utmost integrity and fairness,” she wrote. “I am a dedicated teacher and scholar with a commitment to social justice and to my role. My record as a teaching assistant is a testament to these facts.”

Anayah stated she was unable to discuss her tweets, citing the ongoing investigation. 

The Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC) condemned her tweets in a statement, noting that the group has been working with the University on the issue.

“This is an urgent matter and we believe this situation must be resolved as quickly as possible and with transparency,” the statement read. “If the allegations are true, we expect there to be clear communications from top leadership to the University’s Jewish community that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and has consequences.”

The Washington, D.C. office of the Anti-Defamation League affirmed the BJC statement in an email to The News-Letter, calling on Hopkins to take appropriate action.

“Students should be evaluated and afforded academic opportunities based on the quality and merit of their academic work, not based on their personal protected characteristics or their ideologies or viewpoints,” the statement read.

Howard Libit, the executive director of BJC, described the tweets as anti-Semitic.

“The way it was communicated, I don’t have any doubt that it was anti-Semitic,” he said. “The idea that a TA at Hopkins would give lower grades to a student who supports Israel’s right to exist is appalling and unacceptable.”

Senior Jeremy Berger, however, asserted that it is inaccurate to label Anayah’s tweets as anti-Semitic. He stressed the importance of using these labels correctly. 

“I know countless times where Palestinian activists, no matter how they conduct themselves, are eventually targeted and attacked as anti-Semites because of their anti-Zionism,” he said. “It’s really important not only for the truth’s sake and not only for not labeling someone as anti-Semitic correctly but also for Jews.”

According to Berger, the poll in the Nov. 15 tweet was not meant to be taken seriously but was the result of someone who has been triggered by a Zionist student. 

Berger maintained that Anayah’s other tweets were not anti-Semitic either.

“You have to understand the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis have access to the student’s ancestral homeland,” he said. “The country that they built and benefited from has come from the explicit loss of land, culture, displacement and ethnic cleansing of her people.”

Berger urged organizations like Hopkins Hillel and individuals who have labeled Anayah as anti-Semitic to admit to mischaracterizing anti-Zionism. 

“As a Jew, I am deeply disturbed to see the response to this ‘incident’ of vicious attacks, harassment and the spread of blatant lies,” he said. “No one was threatened, and certainly no one was threatened for being Jewish.”

Moss stated that understanding how anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are distinct is no more important than understanding how they bleed into each other.

“If you come away from understanding the historic relationship of the Zionist project to Palestinians feeling strongly critical about it, that’s not intrinsically anti-Semitic to me. If on the other hand, people invoke tropes of innate Jewish malignity or Jewish power...and call that anti-Zionism, that doesn’t make it a legitimate discourse in my view or mean that it’s not anti-Semitism,“ he said. “I would hope that rather than assuming there is a simple way of defining either of these things, we look at them in their full complexity.”

Greta Maras contributed reporting to this article. Alanna Margulies is a contributing writer for The News-Letter. She did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article. 

The Department of Chemistry did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article did not include some of Moss’s quotes. They have been revised to more accurately reflect his position.

Correction: Alanna Margulies is a contributing writer, not a staff writer, for The News-Letter.

The News-Letter regrets this error.

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