Duke Student Gov’t Upholds Veto of Pro-Israel Group

November 18, 2021
Duke University (Photo from Pixabay)

The Duke Student Government (DSG) upheld their student president’s veto of a Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter being recognized on campus during a November 17 meeting.

Christina Wang, the student president, announced that she was vetoing recognition SSI Duke after the chapter called out a student on social media for saying that the student government’s initial recognition of the chapter meant her “school promotes settler colonialism.” In a since-deleted post, SSI Duke argued that the student’s use of “settler colonialism” was problematic and offered to educate her on the matter. Wang argued that SSI Duke’s post “singled out an individual student on their organization’s social media account in a way that was unacceptable for any student group and appeared antithetical to the group’s stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose” and that she would have done the same against any organization that behaved in such a manner. Duke SSI initially apologized in a social media post, which was later deleted.

The Duke Chronicle reported that the final vote was 37 senators in favor of Wang’s veto, three against and 10 abstentions. Wang’s veto could only be overturned if two-thirds of the senators voted against her. Duke SSI will have to submit a new application in order to obtain recognition on campus.

Duke SSI Co-Presidents Alanna Peykar and Alexandra Ahdoot argued during the meeting that their chapter deserved another chance, according to the Chronicle. Ahdoot said that they viewed responding to social media posts as part of SSI’s mission to “condemn and combat false narratives” and that their initial apology did not explain why they decided to respond to the post in question. She vowed to respond to future posts “in a more professional manner” through tabling and hosting events to educate people on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Another student who spoke, Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee member Mikhal Ben-Joseph, acknowledged that Duke SSI’s actions warranted punishment but asked if it was “in proportion to the situation at hand.” The student who SSI Duke called out said during the meeting that she felt harassed by Duke SSI’s post and feared for her safety. Wang similarly said, “I feel harassed. Definitely. And I feel that part of my future is up there to some extent. But I definitely don’t want this conversation to be about me.”

The national SSI organization defended their Duke chapter, arguing in a statement that the DSG held Duke SSI to a double standard. “If Students Supporting Israel has no ability to call out a lie about Israel on campus without facing a veto or suspension, what rights do students then have on campus? Who will safeguard the freedom to speak and to debate ideas? [DSG] set up a new standard across the country, where students are being judged in the court of public opinion and if a group’s opinion is not liked have no room on campus.”

Anti-Defamation League Washington D.C. tweeted, “It’s concerning to learn Duke Student Government vetoed the recognition of a campus @SSI_Movement chapter, chartered with the goal of making Israel education programming available to students. We’ve reached out to Duke Hillel & are looking into this.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted that Duke “simultaneously crushes free speech, endorses big lie hate and leaves Jewish students defenseless.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “StandWithUs is concerned by the DSG’s decision to uphold the DSG President’s baseless veto of SSI’s student group recognition. SSI fulfilled all of its obligations for formal group recognition, including initial approval by this very DSG and should be recognized as such. Instead, it is doubling down and applying a double standard against only SSI for fulfilling its very mission by calling out anti-Jewish bigotry online.

“Rather than cancelling student groups for exercising their rights of free speech, the DSG should be supporting students impacted by antisemitic hate speech and providing them with a platform to educate their peers. It is imperative that the DSG reconsiders this harmful decision.”

Jacob Baime, CEO of the Israel Campus Coalition, similarly said in a statement to the Journal, “Have we really gotten to the point where one student government leader can deplatform Jewish students and delegitimize a well-known pro-Israel student group for the ‘crime’ of defending themselves on social media? Duke administrators must step in and take swift action to restore Students Supporting Israel’s status as a recognized campus organization. In the context of an historic increase in antisemitic hate crimes and a broader national conversation about race and equity, the university has an obligation to make it clear that Jewish students are no less worthy of dignity, respect and safety than anyone else.”

Stop Antisemitism tweeted that they were “horrified” by the DSG vote to uphold Wang’s veto. “False claims of settler colonialism get standing ovations under Wang’s leadership – sickening!  This does NOTHING but alienate Jewish students on campus!”

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

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