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Williams College tolerates ‘de facto discrimination’ against pro-Israel student group

‘Most’ benefits of recognition are not enough

Maud Mandel’s half-measures aren’t enough for StandWithUs.

The president of Williams College received a stern letter from the pro-Israel group Monday, accusing the elite liberal arts college of a double standard applied to a student group seeking formal recognition.

While she rebuked the student government for refusing to recognize the Williams Initiative for Israel on “political grounds,” in explicit violation of its bylaws, Mandel did not overturn the decision.

Instead, college officials reached out to the WIFI students to inform them they can receive “most” of the benefits of recognition without actually being recognized by the College Council. (Williams has not answered College Fix queries about what benefits are only available to “registered student organizations.”)

StandWithUs is not satisfied with “most” of the benefits.

In a letter shared with The Fix and posted online, CEO Roz Rothstein and Legal Director Yael Lerman told Mandel (below) and Stephen Klass, vice president for campus life, that the president’s public letter “sidesteps the greater issue and whitewashes the problem with the Council’s actions”:

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. Denial of any benefit granted to RSOs is a form of de facto discrimination and should be rejected outright by your administration. …

As stated in President Mandel’s letter, “[t]he transcript of the debate and vote indicate that the decision was made on political grounds” rather than WIFI’s failure to comply with any RSO formation requirement. This statement does not go far enough. WIFI’s application for registration was rejected not because of mere political views but because of antisemitism. 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.

MORE: Mandel offers WIFI ‘most’ of the benefits of recognition

They also scolded Mandel for her “gross understatement” that there’s “tension” between the council vote and its bylaws. It’s not tension – it’s violation of a “basic tenet of student governance.”

It’s worth emphasizing that WIFI does not endorse any particular Israeli political party or policies. As its founder Molly Berenbaum repeatedly told the council in its April 16 minutes, its sole criterion is supporting Israel’s right to exist.

The council voted it down anyway, making plain that it will not approve any group that supports Jewish self-determination.

The Williams administration must “reject and reverse” the council decision as a matter of compliance with its own nondiscrimination policy and student code of conduct, regardless of the council’s compliance with its own bylaws, StandWithUs said.

It’s also possibly in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination against anyone on the grounds of “race, color, or national origin” in a program that receives federal funding, according to Rothstein and Lerman. The question is whether the “denial of student activity benefits to WIFI members” fits within the Title VI framework.

At the very least, the council decision violates Williams’ student code of conduct. It’s a “brazen attempt to silence students because of their political opinions and their Jewish and/or Israeli identities”:

While students are certainly entitled to maintain and express their own viewpoints, they may not do so in a discriminatory manner that “infring[es] upon the rights of others” with differing views. WIFI complied with RSO formation protocol. Its denial of RSO recognition was done in bad faith, constitutes blatant discrimination, and thus deliberately violates the individual rights of all WIFI members.

StandWithUs is probably correct that Mandel would not have maintained a “conciliatory” tone if the council had refused recognition to “any other minority group” on campus.

Yet as stated by Ephblog, the unofficial blog on Williams College news, Mandel’s lackadaisical response seems to undermine her own agenda for the college:

There are plenty of rich Jewish alumni that Maud will try to raise money from over the next few years. What do you think their views are on this topic?

MOREIs Williams College the next Evergreen State?

IMAGE: northallertonman/Shutterstock, WilliamsCollege/YouTube

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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