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Seven Steps to Protect Jewish Students: A Follow Up Letter to Cornell Leadership

As hostility grows, a group of concerned alumni offers seven concrete steps to protect Jewish students that can apply to any college.
[additional-authors]
November 9, 2023
The Cornell University campus on November 3, 2023 in Ithaca, New York. (Photo by Matt Burkhartt/Getty Images)

About two weeks ago, I came across a stinging letter from a Jewish parent of a Cornell freshman that captures many of the safety issues Jewish students are facing today. The letter, written by Daniel Shlufman and addressed to the Provost, started as follows:

Dear Dr. Kotlikoff:

“I am writing to you as both the father of a freshman at Cornell as well as the President of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which is one of the largest Jewish organizations in the Northeast involved in fighting antisemitism. I attended the meeting this morning at Hillel where you addressed several hundred parents of Jewish students. I commend you for attending, speaking and listening, and for handling questions and comments from a group of scared and angry parents.

“However, I must also condemn your lack of leadership and that of the entire administration as it relates to the safety and security of the Jewish students on campus. You have tried to remain neutral to a situation where 1400 civilians were brutally butchered, beheaded, raped and burned by an organization that is considered a terrorist group by the United States. You have failed to understand the nuance between condemning Hamas (which is an undeniable evil every bit as brutal, just not as powerful, as the Nazis) and supporting rights for the Palestinian people. The Administration has allowed actions to occur on campus which support Hamas that have come very close to and may have in some cases even rose to the level of the Federal crime of assisting the work of a terrorist group. And even with that, Cornell has avoided commenting and acting to prevent harassment and intimidation on campus detailed below by falsely claiming that Cornell is not a political institution when you have commented and shown leadership when hate crimes were directed at other groups.”

I bring up that letter because this morning, I received a follow-up letter to Cornell leadership from Mr Shlufman and other signatories. We’re reprinting it in full because it contains seven compelling, concrete suggestions to protect Jewish students that can apply to any college.

Open Letter to Cornell University Board Chair, President and Provost

Dear Chair Kayser, President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff:

We want to begin by thanking you for taking the Jewish concerns seriously by issuing more appropriate statements and laying out some concrete steps to address them. We know how committed you are to keeping the campus safe and maintaining Cornell as a special place for learning. We believe that this is possible, but not without some fundamental changes which we will briefly describe below:

1. Establishing Safe and Appropriate Manners of Protest:

The University owes a duty of care to all students. In practice this means that, though rallies are permissible, they need to be held at appropriate times, in appropriate places and in an appropriate manner.  That is, not marching throughout campus wearing masks and shouting threatening messages so that they interrupt, block and intimidate other students.  If students or staff harass, threaten or intimidate other students, there needs to be harsh, immediate and appropriate administrative and/or criminal punishment, as the case may be.  There also needs to be adequate police presence to assure that all sides are kept safe. This was not the case at the rallies so far on campus.  If necessary, the City, County and State police should be called in to keep anyone physically, psychologically and emotionally safe.

2. Guaranteeing all Students Freedom from Harassment and Intimidation.

Cornell, along with all other universities, has created “safe spaces” for microaggressions. This is all well and good, but you must take this idea and expand it to create physically safe spaces for Jewish students who are actually faced with REAL “macro” not micro- aggressions in hate speech calling for their deaths and the demise of the Jewish State with chants of “No Justice No Peace” and “From the River to the Sea.”  Any act of harassment and intimidation as well as violations of the Student Code of Conduct (as detailed in #6 below) needs to be investigated immediately and then strongly punished by expulsion and/or criminal prosecution.  And, most importantly, the “teeth” behind this policy needs to be made known unequivocally throughout the campus community.

3. Controlling Professors’ Antisemitism, Bullying and Propaganda.

Though professors have First Amendment rights to free speech at Cornell’s NYS colleges (but not at the private ones) and “Academic Freedom” at both, this should only extend so far. In protecting these rights and freedoms, the Administration must ensure that professors in their courses, classroom instruction, on campus and in online speech do not violate Cornell’s ethical and bullying policies; do not engage in harassment or intimidation which many are doing by singling out Israeli or Jewish students by making them feel uncomfortable at best and often threatened at worst which is a violation of Article VI of the Civil Rights Law.

For example, an English teacher this week asked students how they felt about the situation in the Middle East. When most indicated that they felt for the Israelis, she then gave the students information on how many Palestinians were killed and then asked them to go around again to share their feelings after knowing this, which made the Jewish students very uncomfortable.

4. Prohibiting Professors from using the University’s name and leveraging its prestige.

Professors have rights to advocate for their political positions.  However, what they cannot do without the permission of the University is to use the name/insignia of the University in their political letters, petitions and policy statements. This needs to be prohibited as frankly very few of the professors who do that have enough prestige on their own for anyone to care what they say.  It is their affiliation with the University that does this and which the University should prohibit. Moreover, while they can do it as individuals, professors have no right to advance political causes in their capacity as University employees when, for most of them, the venomous and dangerous propaganda they spew has NOTHING to do with either their academic pursuits or areas of expertise.

5. Retooling the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (“DEI”) Department:

The DEI departments need to be retooled so that: (i) Diversity includes diversity of thought and religion not only physical characteristics or various orientations.  Also, the subjective and impossible to properly quantify concepts of “occupier vs occupied and oppressor vs oppressed” needs to be removed from consideration as a result. (ii) Equity means that Jewish students are treated the same as other maligned minorities, despite our perceived success or “whiteness” (even though more than half of Israel’s Jewish citizens are not Caucasian but Mizrahi/Sephardi or of other races), and when we constitute only about 2.5% of the US population yet are victims of 55% of the hate crimes, and (iii) Inclusion is expanded so that Jewish people are also considered as part of a persecuted group and antisemitism (as per the IHRA definition referenced in #7 below) is not permitted in the academic environment. Those who run the DEI departments need to understand all of this and also need to be held accountable for their intentional or unintentional bias against Jewish students.

6. Defunding and deauthorizing campus groups who violate the Student Code of Conduct.

Many of the student organizations that promote anti-Israel bias are not legitimate student organizations as they outwardly glorify violence, antisemitism, murder, terrorism and hate. Their rallies and slogans of “From the River to the Sea” is, in fact, a call for ethnic cleansing and eradication of Jews and of the State of Israel are clearly in violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Their words, physical intimidation, tearing down of posters; graffiti, vandalism and blocking public walkways and areas with demonstrations while shouting hateful speech are ALL violations of the below enumerated sections of the Student Code of Conduct (the “Code”)

Many of these pro-Palestinian groups engage in conduct that results in “emotional or psychological harm to a person” in violation of subsection IV.B. of the Code (Assault and Endangerment); “threatening behavior, unreasonably loud or belligerent behavior and obstruction of pedestrian traffic” in violation of subsection IV.E. (Disorderly Conduct); “disruption of the lawful exercise of others’ freedom of speech” (e.g. by removing hostage posters) and peaceful assembly (e.g. shouting at students in pro-Israel rallies and shouting down pro-Israel speakers) in violation of subsection IV.F (Disruption of University Activities) and subjecting a group to uninvited and unwelcome behaviors that are abusive, threatening, intimidating and create a hostile environment” (e.g. shouting “Death to Jews”) in violation of subsection IV.J. (Harassment).

7. Involving all the Stakeholders in Fighting Antisemitism:

As other minority communities are rightly involved in calling out and defining bias so should Jewish people as to antisemitism.

a. IHRA Definition. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is the most widely agreed upon definition of antisemitism. Cornell should adopt, this definition which includes, inter alia, , (i) calling for the harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology (ii) making demonizing and stereotyping allegations about Jews; (iii) denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination (e.g. claiming Israel is a racist or apartheid State); (iv) holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of Israel; and (v) the double standard of requiring Israel to behave in a way that is not expected of any other democratic nation” (e.g. demanding a cease fire when 240 hostages are being detained by Hamas).

b. Antisemitism Action Committee. Establishing a committee of students, professors, administrators, alumni and parents to work through solutions to campus antisemitism.  This will include some of the concepts above as well as (i) Holocaust and antisemitism education for incoming freshman, student government members, professors and the DEI staff  (ii) revamping courses that are not academic exercises in the history or objectives of the Palestinian people but are excuses for the proselytizing of a political position and the destruction of the Jewish State; and (iii) empowering the committee to react swiftly in recommending appropriately strong consequences to acts of antisemitism by students and staff.

We strongly recommend that you implement all of the suggestions contained herein. Cornell has a unique opportunity to either be at the forefront of finding a solution to this problem or to continue furthering it. Thank you.

Respectfully yours,

Antisemitism Task Force,
Cornell Chapter-Alums for Campus Fairness
Misha Galperin, Parent ‘27
Mimi Klimberg, Parent ‘20, ‘26
Wendy Levitt, JGSM ‘92
Susan Portman Price, ‘90 MRP ’91, P’21
Daniel Shlufman Parent ‘27
Sarah Victor (Chair), ILR ‘1

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