Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 28, 2022

Jewish advocacy groups demand action from Hopkins concerning TA's tweets

By MIN-SEO KIM | August 6, 2021

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COURTESY OF CHRIS PARK

StandWithUs and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law emphasized that they considered the University's response to the TA's tweets insufficient. 

Earlier this year, the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) began an investigation into Rasha Anayah, a graduate student and teaching assistant (TA) for Applied Chemical Equilibrium and Reactivity with Lab, after reports surfaced that several of her tweets targeted Zionist and Jewish students.

In the tweets, Anayah entertained the notion of failing the exam of a “Zionist student” in a Twitter poll and stated her disdain for the prospect of teaching Jewish students who went on a Birthright trip to Israel.

This July, the Jewish advocacy groups StandWithUs and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law issued a follow-up letter demanding more aggressive action from the University to make clear its commitment to an inclusive environment for Jewish students as part of the institution’s responsibilities under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Title VI dictates that any institution that receives federal funds, such as Hopkins, must comply with anti-discrimination legislation lest it face the possibility of losing government subsidies. 

Specifically, the groups recommend issuing a strongly worded statement condemning antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of antisemitism as part of its anti-racism training and making it clear that the University will not tolerate discrimination or hostility toward pro-Israel Jewish students.

The IHRA defines anti-semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

President of the Brandeis Center Alyza Lewin explained why she and her organization view Jewish identity as closely linked to that of Zionism, an ideology that advocates for the establishment of a Jewish state

“Expressing support for Israel’s existence as a Jewish homeland and expressing pride in the Jewish state for many Jews grows out of their Jewish identity,” she said in an interview with The News-Letter

She argued that, as a result, condemning Zionists effectively attacks Jewish students. Lewin drew particular attention to one of Anayah’s tweets that asked her followers if it was ok to fail the exam of a “Zionist student.”

“She instigated her students to think and feel negatively toward Zionists and treat them in a discriminatory fashion,” Lewin said. 

Sophomore Harvey McGuinness described what he sees as the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. 

“I don’t think anti-Zionism is the same thing as antisemitism at its core,” he said. “However, in the non-Jewish community, it has become [the same] because in the modern era being Jewish is so closely associated with Israel, specifically from people observing the community and making assumptions from the outside.” 

He emphasized that there is a distinction between criticizing the government and policies of Israel and overt antisemitism. However, he feels that that these criticisms often escalate into overt hatred. 

For example, McGuinness believes that Anayah’s tweets about Zionists and ethnic cleansing made the antisemitic assumptions that all Jewish students are Zionists and that just because one supports Israel, one supports every action and policy enacted by the Israeli government.

Because Anayah made an explicit reference to Birthright, which McGuinness sees as an integral experience for many Jewish youth, he believes that her statements veered into antisemitism as they appeared directed toward Jewish students. 

According to Hopkins Hillel President of the Student Board Alanna Margulies, Hopkins Hillel maintains the position that anti-Zionism is often a spinoff of antisemitism. 

“The official Hillel position is that many forms of anti-Zionism are an extension of antisemitism and that anti-Zionism has historically been a tool [used] by antisemitic actors,” she said. 

In an email to The News-Letter, Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, asserted that even if the TA hadn’t acted upon her threats, her actions were indefensible as they encouraged discrimination.

“Whether or not any Jewish or Zionist student was academically penalized by this TA due to their identity, the primary concern is that by posting a poll to Twitter asking others to weigh in on how she should treat Zionist students, the TA has incited others to target Zionist students with unequal treatment based on their identity,” she wrote.

In the joint letter, the two advocacy groups have noted that the University so far only pledged to launch an investigation and has remained otherwise silent on the matter. The organizations see these actions as insufficient in rectifying the hostile environment created and preventing future incidents.

Rothstein added that the University must be more aggressive in combating antisemitism in order to ensure equal access to educational opportunities.

“[Hopkins] must take every step necessary to ensure an educational environment free from antisemitism,” she wrote. “Jewish and Zionist students must be reassured that they will not be deprived of equal opportunity to participate in every educational program and/or class available to them at [Hopkins] and we await a clear affirmation of this from the University.”

International Relations Professor Steven David, however, asserted that the University should be less focused on rhetoric and more focused on ensuring that its graders are not influenced by students’ backgrounds in an email to The News-Letter. 

“Condemning anti[s]emitism is virtually meaningless, and condemning anti-Zionism enmeshes the [a]dministration in areas it should stay out of,” he wrote. “What I would like to see is the University making it clear that those responsible for grading our students cannot allow race, ethnicity, religion or perceived political beliefs [to] be a factor in that grading.”

David also noted that he would like the University to release any details on what they have done in response to the episode, if they have launched an investigation to see if any grades were impacted and the results of that investigation. 

In an email to Lewin, Provost Sunil Kumar highlighted that federal privacy laws limit the University’s ability to share information about OIE investigations. Neither OIE nor the Department of Chemistry responded to The News-Letter’s request for comment. 

Lewin noted that the tweets came at a time of a troubling national trend regarding antisemitism across the country. 

“There has been, nationwide, a serious uptick in antisemitic incidents across the country. Recent months have seen not only an uptick in antisemitic rhetoric, but actually in antisemitic violence,” she said. “We know there are students that are worried about returning in person to classes and campus.” 

She expressed her concern that should the University fail to make it clear that it does not tolerate antisemitic behavior on campus, Hopkins might witness a similar surge in hateful rhetoric and actions. 

McGuinness emphasized his concern for his personal safety regarding the rhetoric coming from some Hopkins students.

“I will say as a Jewish student, a lot of the discourse, including from students at Hopkins in positions of power, is frightening,” he said. “It makes me feel less than safe and it’s backpedaling. It’s concerning.” 

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

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