MIT Refused To Host Dennis Ross. It Invited a Hamas Apologist Instead.

Dalia Mogahed, who described Hamas terrorism as legal 'resistance,' slated to speak as a part of MIT's 'Standing Against Hate' Initiative

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

In the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 attack, MIT president Sally Kornbluth responded to a rise in campus anti-Semitism with a new initiative: "Standing Together Against Hate." Launched on Nov. 14 of last year, Kornbluth trumpeted it as an effort aimed at "community building." She put MIT chancellor Melissa Nobles in charge.

Trouble began to brew when, as a part of this initiative, the school invited a Hamas apologist to speak, an event slated to take place on March 18. Last month, members of MIT's Jewish Alumni Alliance met with Kornbluth to request that the school also consider hosting Dennis Ross, the former U.S. envoy to the Middle East and a well-respected diplomat who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Kornbluth expressed interest in the suggestion, the alumni group said in a statement, and the group's members extended an invitation to Ross, who agreed to participate in a separate event, his office told the Washington Free Beacon. But MIT administrators, led by Nobles, backed out, telling the Jewish alumni group they were "steering clear of politicians, current or past," according to an email, the contents of which were reviewed by the Free Beacon.

Ross has worked in the White House, most recently on the National Security Council in the Obama administration. Before that, he served in the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan and in the State Department under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He has never run for office.

"Needless to say, I am not a politician and also have the distinction of having been appointed by two Republican presidents—Reagan and Bush 41—[and] two Democratic presidents, Clinton and Obama," Ross told the Free Beacon.

Jewish alumni are up in arms. The school's response reflects a "double standard" that MIT "applies only to Jews," the group said in a statement obtained by the Free Beacon. If Ross is a politician, the group argues, then Dalia Mogahed—a Boston University "antibigotry fellow" who has justified Hamas terrorism and is scheduled to speak as a part of the initiative—is too.

Like Ross, Mogahed has served as a presidential adviser, albeit to fewer presidents and in more junior roles. She served as an adviser to former president Barack Obama in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

For Matthew Handel and Lori Ullman, two Jewish Alumni Alliance members, MIT's refusal to host Ross—and its excuse for excluding him—are insulting.

"It's already patronizing for anyone to say we're at MIT, so we think we're smarter than you," Handel, who co-founded the group, told the Free Beacon. "It's beyond arrogant that they would say, 'We work at MIT, so as MIT alums, we're smarter than you; MIT students, we're smarter than you; Congress, we're smarter than you.'"

MIT did not return a request for comment.

The school unveiled its lineup of Standing Together Against Hate speakers, including Mogahed, in January. Mogahed's remarks—titled "Islamophobia: A Threat to All"—are slated for next week. She has argued that Hamas is allowed to terrorize Israel under international law because Palestinians are "living under occupation."

"It has been firmly established that resistance, including struggle against a colonial occupation force[,] is not only acknowledged under international law but explicitly endorsed," she said in a social media post that she deleted last month after the Free Beacon contacted her for comment. "International humanitarian law further solidifies this principle by expressly embracing acts of resistance for national liberation. … As an occupied population, Palestinians inherently possess the right to resist."

Ross, by contrast, has expressed support for Israel in the war while also criticizing the Jewish state's "policies in the West Bank." He serves as a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank whose board members include prominent members of both parties.

"Dennis Ross has served in both Democratic (Clinton and Obama) and Republican (Bush 41) administrations and has never run for political office," the Jewish Alumni Alliance said in its statement. "Dalia [Mogahed], selected and welcomed by the planners as a speaker suitable for the [Standing Together Against Hate] series, has in common with Dennis Ross that she has also been a presidential appointee."

"How does this background make Dalia Mogahed suitable for inclusion, yet disqualify Dennis Ross?" the group asked Kornbluth in its statement. "Most likely, a presidential appointee is defined as a disqualified speaker only when that person may upset the 'antisemitic applecart' that you admitted to us exists within the MIT community and within your leadership team."

Mogahed's inclusion in the speaker series has attracted scrutiny from Congress.

On Friday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce sent a letter to Kornbluth requesting documents on the school's response to campus anti-Semitism. The letter referenced Mogahed, with the committee's chairwoman, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), calling her an "antisemitic speaker" who "has endorsed Hamas' terror attack on Israel."

The committee is seeking internal communications between MIT leaders on the school's disciplinary decisions and other actions, meaning it could obtain documents that show the planning process behind the Standing Together Against Hate series.

This is not the first time MIT has dismissed members of its Jewish community in regards to that series.

Last fall, Kornbluth tapped a group of Jewish faculty members to advise the school on Standing Together Against Hate, with the participants expressing hope that the move would help them "more effectively influence the decision making to reduce the tensions on campus."

Months later, in January, MIT announced Mogahed's participation in the series. The school also revealed that the series would include just one panel on anti-Semitism, with two panels reserved for Islamophobia and "anti-Palestinian racism."

The announcement surprised the Jewish faculty members, who said MIT failed to seek out their advice altogether. They responded by disbanding the advisory group.

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

MIT plans to provide a response to the House committee's document request, it said in a Friday statement. It's unclear how thorough that response will be.

"MIT is committed to providing a response to the committee's questions," the school said. "We don't have any further comment at this time."