Thursday, January 28, 2021

StandWithUs Calls on Williams College to Formally Recognize Pro-Israel Group

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StandWithUs co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein and Legal Department Director Yael Lerman sent a letter to Williams College May 5 arguing that the college needs to formally recognize Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) as a student group on campus.

On April 23, the Williams College Council rejected WIFI’s request for recognition as a Registered Student Organization; clubs that are not recognized as RSOs are not allowed to have access to campus funding and resources and they cannot use the college’s name. President Maud Mandel said in a statement May 3 that the council denied recognition to WIFI on “political grounds,” and in doing so the council violated their bylaws.

We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws,” Mandel said. “I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO.”

Rothstein and Lerman wrote in their letter, which was obtained by the Journal, that WIFI needs to have official RSO status.

WIFI complied with all procedures required to form an RSO and therefore should receive such status, as well as all, not most, services available to Williams RSOs,” they wrote. “Denial of any benefit granted to RSOs is a form of de facto discrimination and should be rejected outright by your administration.”

Rothstein and Lerman argued that WIFI’s denial of recognition was the result of anti-Semitism, not “political grounds.”

“Zionism is the movement supporting Jewish rights to self-determination, and the Council’s rejection of WIFI as an RSO seeks to denigrate this vital aspect of mainstream Jewish identity for many Williams students,” Rothstein and Lerman wrote. “Williams’ student newspaper reported that this is the first time in over ten years that a group applying for RSO formation, and which complied with all applicable regulations, has been denied RSO recognition. Much of the debate for granting RSO status centered around WIFI’s refusal to take a stance on highly controversial issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in language that couched anti-Semitic slurs in the form of anti-Zionist rhetoric. This matter is clearly beyond the scope of Council protocol, violates viewpoint neutrality and ultimately stifles students from participating in an important component of campus life due to bias and discrimination.”

Therefore, they argued, the council’s actions violate the college’s code of conduct and non-discrimination statement.

“it is imperative that your administration take all necessary steps to reject and reverse the Council’s discriminatory decision,” Rothstein and Lerman wrote. “We understand that President Mandel is trying to empower Williams’ students to right their own wrong. However, if this outcome had occurred against any other minority group, we strongly question whether her tone would remain as conciliatory toward the students who made that choice. While we recognize and appreciate the right to student governance autonomy and shared government, so too do we see the tremendous need for oversight to prevent abuse of that autonomy. The Council has patently abused its authority by discriminating against WIFI and denying it RSO recognition. We urge the administration to exercise its own authority within the College’s system of shared governance to correct this misstep.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

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