Jewish students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are set to return to the classroom next month, where they will be greeted by an anti-Israel student group that is threatening to shut down "business as usual at MIT" until the Jewish state is no more.
The group, MIT Coalition Against Apartheid, made its threat in a December Instagram post. "When we return next semester," the group said, "we will be even stronger and even bigger to make sure that there is no business as usual at MIT until Palestine is free! From the river to the sea." While it's unclear exactly how the group plans to escalate its advocacy against the Jewish state, its members are already in hot water with the university over demonstrations that violated school policy and left Jewish students fearful.
In early November, for example, Coalition Against Apartheid organized an infamous protest in which members occupied MIT Lobby 7, a campus hub located inside of the school's main entrance that leads to classrooms and faculty offices. The group moved forward with the protest despite a school policy prohibiting demonstrations in Lobby 7 and other areas of campus where protesters would disrupt classes. The protest included calls for "Intifada" and saw participants occupy the lobby from 7:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. MIT leaders used an emergency notification system to tell students to avoid the area, and the school's Jewish attendees said the protest made them "feel MIT is not safe for Jews."
Coalition Against Apartheid's pledge to take "even stronger and even bigger" action will test MIT's resolve as the school faces criticism over its response to campus anti-Semitism. MIT president Sally Kornbluth faced calls to resign after her participation in a disastrous December congressional hearing, during which she argued that "calling for the genocide of Jews" may not violate the school's code of conduct. Days later, House Republicans launched an investigation into MIT and other elite universities.
While Kornbluth has since pledged to reassess the school's policies on "harassment, bullying, intimidation and discrimination," her administration has gone easy on Coalition Against Apartheid members in the past.
During the group's Lobby 7 protest, MIT staff delivered slips of paper informing participants they would be suspended if they did not leave the area. "With the current disruption of institute activities, a line has been crossed," the message read. But protesters refused to leave, staying in the lobby from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
After the ordeal, Kornbluth watered down her disciplinary threat. Students involved in the protest received a "non-academic suspension," allowing them to continue attending class. A harsher punishment, Kornbluth said in a statement, could have led to the deportation of foreign students, prompting the president to back down.
While Kornbluth's statement did not include names of any Coalition Against Apartheid foreign members, at least one of the group's leaders does not hail from the United States. That student, electrical engineering and computer science major Mohamed Mohamed, hails from west London, where his mother and father emigrated from Somalia and Sudan, respectively. Mohamed is frequently featured in the group's Instagram videos—in one recent post, he vowed to defy MIT policies, saying, "We won't stop, and they can't suspend the movement."
In addition to Mohamed, Coalition Against Apartheid is led by MIT senior Safiyyah Ogundipe, a chemical engineering student from Virginia. Ogundipe, who served as the group's president as recently as November, was present at the Lobby 7 protest and dismissed the school's demand to disperse, calling it "something that was causing anxiety amongst some of our students." Ogundipe during an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education also pledged to fight back against MIT leaders.
"I'm not gonna be run off of my own campus," she said.
A third Coalition Against Apartheid member, undergraduate student and former Microsoft intern Alejandro Tañón Díaz, echoed Ogundipe's rhetoric, saying in an Instagram post he and other group members will come back "bigger and stronger … until apartheid falls." Another member, graduate student Susanna Chen, argued in a Jan. 7 interview that Israel will not be defeated until activists are "willing to put their neck out and really take the risk … to actually fight meaningfully against the U.S. war machine."
Mohamed, Ogundipe, Díaz, and Chen did not respond to requests for comment. MIT spokeswoman Sarah McDonnell emphasized Kornbluth's "continuing efforts to combat anti-Semitism on campus and review student disciplinary processes."
"MIT and President Sally Kornbluth reject anti-Semitism and other forms of hate," McDonnell said.
Members of MIT's Jewish community, however, are not convinced. In a Jan. 11 letter to school leadership, the MIT Jewish Alumni Alliance criticized Kornbluth's actions to address anti-Semitism, characterizing them as hollow and uninspiring.
"Unless MIT is willing to step up and address these misguided and blatantly anti-Semitic behaviors and beliefs, Jewish students will continue to face intimidation from outside and inside the classroom," the group wrote. "Our genocide unfolded in the wake of world-class German universities of MIT’s caliber turning their backs on us. Our conscience will not allow us to remain silent if we see MIT follow a similar path."