Senior leaders at Tufts University, including the university’s president, issued a statement on April 24 denouncing an award giving to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) earlier in the week.
On April 22, Tufts SJP tweeted it had just won the university’s Collaboration Award because of its “End the Deadly Exchange” campaign.
We are so excited to win the Collaboration Award at this year's student organization awards ceremony! We have worked so hard this year alongside our AMAZING coalition working to #EndTheDeadlyExchange, and we want to thank everyone who has joined us in this campaign! pic.twitter.com/ke6tJogu0i
— Tufts SJP (@SJPtufts) April 22, 2020
According to Jewish News Syndicate (JNS), the campaign focused on a campus referendum calling for the university police to cease its partnership with Israeli law enforcement. The referendum was postponed until the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tufts president Anthony Monaco; provost and senior vice president Nadine Aubry; and deans James Glaser, Michael Thompson and Jianmin Qu said in a statement, “We strongly disapprove of this award in light of SJP’s concerning policy positions, including its association with the BDS movement, elements of which we view as anti-Semitic. We will be reviewing the awards process, which currently does not involve academic deans or senior university leadership and this year did not include students, in order to ensure proper oversight and review going forward.”
They added, “We as senior leaders take responsibility for this outcome, which should not have happened, and recognize that the award has caused a great deal of pain and concern for Jewish members of our community and others who share concerns about SJP’s policy positions, particularly in light of rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world.”
Tufts Hillel Rabbi Naftali Brawar said in a statement to the Journal that the Hillel had reached out to the university following the award being bestowed on SJP, expressing “our deep concerns about its implication for the integrity of the awards system and its negative message to the Jewish community.”
“We appreciate President Monaco’s swift response and decisive leadership on this critical issue,” he added. “Tufts Hillel will continue to advocate for Jewish students, and together with our partners in the university leadership, foster an environment on campus conducive to the flourishing of Jewish life.”
Tufts Friends of Israel co-president Max Price similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “I want to commend President Monaco for his strong, unequivocal statement upholding our school’s values. The Office of Campus Life made a clear error in selecting SJP for this award, but I am relieved to see our administration take responsibility and seek to rectify this.”
He added that the university’s statement has given him “a renewed sense of belonging at Tufts, as well as hope for future peace-building work. Today, I am proud to be enrolled in a university that has no tolerance for anti-Semitism or division, and recognizes the importance of genuine, inclusive collaboration.”
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “We applaud Tufts University for being accountable, acknowledging this mistake, and pledging to do better in the future. This accountability, along with the administration’s strong condemnation of [the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] and SJP, should serve as a model for other universities.”
Associated Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper similarly told the Journal, “Tragically, no one shocked about another “student organization” endorsing, facilitating hate against Jewish nation. However, we applaud adults in the room-Tufts University- led by its president for its strong condemnation. And yes, there should consequences for bigots hiding behind student organizational mask.”
AMCHA Initiative Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also told the Journal, “President Monaco and Tufts leadership did the right thing. SJP, an organization whose official policy calls for refusing to collaborate with students who support Israel and whose members persistently and deliberately incite hatred and intolerance towards Jewish and pro-Israel students should not be awarded with anything, let alone a recognition of collaboration.”
She added: “In 2019 SJP members were involved in more than one-quarter of the anti-Semitic incidents that directly targeted Jewish students for harm on campuses across the country. These BDS-inspired incidents included bullying, vandalism, public shaming, discrimination and suppression of speech. SJP members’ abhorrent actions that threaten Jewish students on a regular basis should be called out, condemned and addressed by their fellow students and their respective university leaders, as Tufts has appropriately done here, not hailed.”
According to Tufts’ Office for Campus Life website, the Collaboration Award is given to a student organization that has provided contributions to the Tufts community and showed “they can break down barriers between diverse student populations and foster greater communication between different organizations on campus.” The website also states an awards committee consisting of student leaders and university administrators determines which organizations win an award.
Tufts SJP did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.
In 2019, New York University (NYU) had come under fire after its SJP chapter received the Presidential Service Award. The award sparked a Department of Education investigation into the university in November.
UPDATE: Tufts SJP wrote in an April 24 Facebook post that they were angry at the university’s statement.
“We are appalled and saddened that Tufts SJP has been falsely accused of antisemitism for our principled work in supporting Palestinian human rights,” they wrote. “It is extremely disheartening to see the Tufts administration push forward these harmful and baseless narratives—both for Arab students in our club who remain constant targets of racist accusations and baseless smear campaigns that delegitimize their organizing efforts, and for the Jewish students and organizations involved in this campaign whom this statement entirely erases.”