MIT Leaders Assembled a Faculty Advisory Group on Campus Anti-Semitism. Then They Ignored It.

Jewish faculty members disband group after school freezes them out of 'Standing Together Against Hate' event

Sally Kornbluth (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
February 14, 2024

Last fall, Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Sally Kornbluth tapped a group of Jewish faculty members to advise the school on a new initiative meant to combat campus anti-Semitism. The participants were "hopeful," they said in an email to fellow MIT staff, that the move would help them "more effectively influence the decision making to reduce the tensions on campus."

Shortly thereafter, in January, an announcement from MIT chancellor Melissa Nobles dashed those hopes.

The school's "Standing Together Against Hate" (STAH) initiative, Nobles said, would include four panels: one on anti-Semitism, one on "campus freedom of expression," one on Islamophobia, and one on "anti-Palestinian racism." Omitted from the speaker series was any talk on racism or hatred targeting Israelis and Zionists.

MIT's hand-picked speakers also prompted concern. Islamophobia panelist Dalia Mogahed in the wake of Oct. 7 endorsed Hamas terrorism as an act of lawful "resistance" and suggested that Israelis are "savages" who "kill babies" and "bomb hospitals." Free speech panelist Erwin Chemerinsky, meanwhile, serves as the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, which was sued in November over "unchecked" campus anti-Semitism.

For the Jewish faculty members, Nobles's announcement came as a surprise—not because MIT declined to take their advice on panel topics and speakers, but because the school failed to seek out their advice altogether. The members responded by disbanding their advisory group.

"As our group was originally conceived in the framework of STAH, we want to emphasize that we had no input to the published program and/or reviewed it before its announcement," the advisory group members said in their February email. "As a result, we recently informed President Kornbluth that we would disband the advisory group."

The ordeal comes as MIT faces a congressional investigation into its handling of campus anti-Semitism, an issue that has dogged Kornbluth since her participation in a December congressional hearing that saw her and other university leaders argue that calling for the genocide of Jews may not violate their schools' codes of conduct. House Republicans launched an investigation into MIT following the hearing.

Kornbluth has since vowed to reassess MIT's policies on "harassment, bullying, intimidation and discrimination." She also launched the "Standing Together Against Hate" initiative in November, which MIT leaders said would help "bring our community together" by addressing anti-Semitism and other "tension between some groups and individuals."

Instead, the initiative created tension between Kornbluth and Jewish faculty members, calling into question the embattled president's pledge to combat anti-Semitism. For the MIT Israel Alliance, a campus group formed in the wake of Oct. 7 to protect Jewish students, Kornbluth's freezing out of the advisory committee marks a "missed opportunity … to tackle the very real and disturbing heightened antisemitism on campus."

"The STAH campaign to 'build understanding and foster respectful dialogue' is at best a farce," the alliance said in a statement. "Practically, it will only continue to marginalize Jewish members of the MIT community who are already traumatized by the antisemitic incidents on MIT's campus from the fall, and leave them vulnerable to further harassment and discrimination, none of which has yet to be properly addressed by the MIT senior leadership."

Neither Kornbluth nor the organizers of MIT's "Standing Together Against Hate" initiative returned requests for comment. An MIT spokeswoman defended Mogahed's participation in the initiative last week, telling the Washington Free Beacon that Mogahed and the initiative's other speakers "embrace that the spirit of the series is about overcoming divides, not stoking them."

Unauthorized anti-Israel protests have plagued MIT's campus in the months following Oct. 7.

One campus group, MIT Coalition Against Apartheid, organized an infamous November demonstration in which members occupied Lobby 7—a campus hub that leads to classrooms and faculty offices—for roughly 14 hours. School policy prohibits demonstrations in Lobby 7 and other areas of campus where protesters would disrupt classes, and MIT staff delivered slips of paper to protest participants informing them they would be suspended if they remained in the area. The protesters refused, and Kornbluth went on to water down her disciplinary threat, with students involved in the protest receiving a "non-academic suspension" that allowed them to continue attending class.

One month after the demonstration, Coalition Against Apartheid pledged to take "even stronger and even bigger" action against the Jewish state during the spring semester. "When we return next semester, we will … make sure that there will be no business as usual at MIT until Palestine is free! From the river to the sea," the group wrote in a December Instagram post.

Coalition Against Apartheid made good on that threat Monday night, when it held an "emergency speakout" protesting an Israel Defense Forces mission that led to the rescue of two Hamas-held hostages. The group's members also denounced MIT's "Standing Together Against Hate" initiative, with one speaker saying he can have "no f—ing dialogue" with the Jewish state's supporters, a video obtained by the Free Beacon shows.

"We're tired of 'Dialogues Across Difference,'" the speaker said, referencing the initiative's speaker series. "There could be no f—ing dialogue across difference when bombs are being rained down from one side to destroy, annihilate, ethnically cleanse, and murder the entire people on the other side. What the f— are we gonna talk about?"