USC President Carol Folt sent out a letter to the community on Aug. 6 denouncing anti-Semitism and calling Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Vice President Rose Ritch’s resignation letter “heartbreaking.”
Folt wrote, “In her heartbreaking resignation letter, Rose described the intense pressure and toxic conditions that led to her decision – specifically the anti-Semitic attacks on her character and the online harassment she endured because of her Jewish and Zionist identities. She also challenged all of us to do better in aligning our actions with our stated desire to have a campus culture that is truly inclusive and respectful of racial and religious diversity, and of different cultural backgrounds and beliefs.
“As president of USC, I believe it is critically important to state explicitly and unequivocally that anti-Semitism in all of its forms is a profound betrayal of our principles and has no place at the university. We must condemn any bias or prejudice that is based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristic. What happened to Rose Ritch is unacceptable, and we must all take up her challenge to do better.”
Folt acknowledged that the university still wrestles “with a history of anti-Semitism” and noted that anti-Semitism has been on the rise on college campuses throughout the country. She stated that USC will be launching its “Stronger Than Hate” program through the USC Shoah Foundation.
“It represents the work of many of our university leaders — including students, staff, and faculty — who have come together to support and amplify our collective struggle against hate,” Folt wrote. “Through meaningful exhibitions, programs, and workshops, this initiative is designed to help foster a campus culture of connection and compassion that empowers us to listen, learn, heal, and dream together. We hope that as we listen to each other, we can move beyond stereotyped beliefs that lead to implicit and explicit biases, and instead foster a respectful and supportive campus culture.”
She concluded the letter with a call to foster an inclusive culture on campus through fighting “prejudice and hatred whenever and wherever we encounter it and be a force for good.”
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “The language of this statement is strong in that it acknowledges the anti-Semitism and harassment Rose faced based on her ‘Jewish and Zionist identities,’ and promises some concrete action. However this message should have been shared with the campus community long before a Jewish student leader felt compelled to resign from student government. The fact that the situation deteriorated to this point demonstrates how much more work must be done to fight anti-Semitism at USC.”
AMCHA Initiative director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “I commend the president for her strong, prompt and forceful statement condemning the hate and harassment that was directed at Rose Ritch for expressing her Zionist identity. I hope that President Folt will take steps to ensure that no USC student has to endure such hateful behavior that violates their fundamental right to express their identity and fully participate in campus life.”
Ritch wrote in her resignation letter that she had been harassed for being a supporter of Israel.
“I have been told that my support for Israel has made me complicit in racism, and that, by association, I am racist,” Ritch wrote. “Students launched an aggressive social media campaign to ‘impeach [my] Zionist a–.’ This is anti-Semitism, and cannot be tolerated at a University that proclaims to ‘nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance.’”
She added, “An attack on my Zionist identity is an attack on my Jewish identity. The suggestion that my support for a Jewish homeland would make me unfit for office or would justify my impeachment plays into the oldest stereotypes of Jews, including accusations of dual loyalty and holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.”
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “Students should feel safe at college regardless of their views. It’s outrageous that this young woman and @USC student VP felt forced to resign after being deliberately targeted and relentlessly harassed simply because of her Zionism. USC must act immediately.”
Students should feel safe at college regardless of their views. It's outrageous that this young woman and @USC student VP felt forced to resign after being deliberately targeted and relentlessly harassed simply because of her Zionism. USC must act immediately. https://t.co/RtqozQ7FMd
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 6, 2020
The campaign against Ritch stems from student Abeer Tijani calling on USG President Truman Fritz to be impeached in June over alleged racial remarks. She also accused Ritch of being complicit due to her silence on the matter and therefore she should either be impeached or resign. Tijani later acknowledged on her Instagram page that while Ritch’s support for Israel shouldn’t disqualify her from being USG vice president and it would be anti-Semitic to blame her for the Israeli government’s policies, the need for Palestinian students’ voices to be heard is a “bigger issue that is greater than Rose and her personal affiliations.”
Fritz resigned from his position on July 7.