Northeastern University Finally Responds to ZOA Report of Anti-Semitism in the Classroom, But Takes No Action
Boston’s Northeastern University responded on Friday to allegations from students of rampant anti-Semitism by faculty on campus, after The Algemeiner pressed the school on why it hadn’t answered a formal letter sent three months ago from the Zionist Organization of America, which helped the students make their case.
The 12-page report from the ZOA cataloged a litany of student horror stories, including intimidation, class harassment and teachers indoctrinating an alternative reality version of Middle East and Israeli history. The report focused on Professor of International Affairs Denis Sullivan, now Co-Director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, who did not respond to The Algemeiner’s requests for comment.
In a statement issued to The Algemeiner, Northeastern University said: “If any member of our community feels marginalized for any reason, the university has a range of offices and avenues where grievances can be heard and resolved. This includes a dedicated Office of Diversity and Inclusion, our extensive student affairs operation, and the university ombudsman.”
“However, unsubstantiated allegations made by third parties are not sufficient for Northeastern—or any university—to launch internal investigations. Pursuing unsubstantiated allegations is just as irresponsible as ignoring legitimate concerns,” the statement said.
Susan B. Tuchman, the human rights lawyer who heads the ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice and prepared the report based on extensive student interviews, said the school’s statement was “just another slap to students and their concerns.”
“The Northeastern University statement says that students should complain if anyone ‘feels marginalized for any reason.’ But as the ZOA letter points out, Jewish students repeatedly complained. Their complaints were ignored, or the hostility they were subjected to was justified,” Tuchman told The Algemeiner.
“One student who bravely spoke up at a forum about campus civility was publicly demeaned and embarrassed by a dean. You’ve probably seen the videos that are posted on ‘Shame On NEU.’ These videos contain actual recordings of what professors have said in NU lectures,” she said.
“Dismissing the reports in our letter as ‘unsubstantiated’ allows the administration to avoid the real issue, about whether Jewish students are being subjected to a hostile learning environment and what must be done to remedy the problem. Northeastern’s reaction is just another slap in the face for students and their concerns.”
In their report, the ZOA said, “Much of our work is dedicated to helping Jewish students who are being subjected to anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation on their college campuses. We were contacted about longstanding problems that Jewish students have been facing on your campus, both at the undergraduate level and at the law school.”
“More than a year ago, Jewish students wrote you a heartfelt letter, telling you that the ‘Jewish community at Northeastern is beginning to feel unsafe and uncomfortable on campus and we feel it is the obligation of the University to prevent that.’
In addition, a number of Jewish students have appealed individually to you and other university officials for help. Outside advocates for students have also brought the campus problems to your attention, going so far as to document them in three separate and very disturbing videos.”
The ZOA said Professor Sullivan was “a prime example of the problem.”
In one class, Professor Sullivan “fabricated a story about the basis for Christian Zionism, defaming Christian Zionists as anti-Semites who support Israel because that is where they want Jews to live, instead of in their own Christian neighborhoods. When a Jewish student (who happens to come from the Bible belt) challenged this false and ridiculous notion, Professor Sullivan mocked him in front of the class, sending the message to the student that he should know his place and keep quiet.”
“In the same class, Professor Sullivan lied to his students about the origins of the Israeli flag, describing the two blue stripes on the flag as representing the Nile and Euphrates Rivers, and claiming that the stripes symbolize Israel’s desire to take over everything in between the two rivers and expand the Jewish Zionist kingdom. Again, Professor Sullivan lied to his students in order to promote his personal anti-Israel agenda. In fact, the stripes on the Israeli flag were inspired by the blue and white stripes on the tallit (Jewish prayer shawl).”
“Sullivan makes it difficult for Jewish students to challenge his anti-Israel views and outright lies. According to one Jewish student, when you question what Sullivan tells the class about Israel, Sullivan ‘finds a way to make you feel stupid.’ Such behavior is unprofessional, violates the academic freedom of students, and violates the professor’s obligation to teach the truth.”
“In March 2012, Professor Sullivan moderated a lecture by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, who spoke about ‘The Radical Middle: Building Bridges between America and the Muslim World.’ According to a student who attended the lecture, Ali Gomaa openly lied, outrageously telling his audience that Judaism oppresses women and Israel slaughters babies. Neither Professor Sullivan nor any other faculty member or administrator present at the lecture spoke up to condemn this anti-Semitic falsehood. Indeed, the Provost, Stephen Director, thanked Gomaa for his ‘thoughtful, stimulating presentation,’ with no acknowledgment, let alone criticism, of the hateful message Gomaa was sending to students about Jews and Israel.”
In its statement to The Algemeiner, Northeastern said:
“Universities fulfill their mission through the vigorous exchange of disparate ideas. It is clear that some subjects—particularly those that focus on religion and Middle East studies—can be divisive. We have taken steps to ensure that teaching in these fields is balanced and academically rigorous.”
While not addressing the students’ complaints directly, the school has, indeed, “taken steps,” which the ZOA also recognized.
In April, 2013, administrators sanctioned the Students for Justice in Palestine group for misconduct, after the SJP disrupted an event featuring Israel Defense Forces officers that took place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, then requiring the group to write a “civility statement” to judge future conduct. While the sanction was quietly applauded by Jewish groups, including the Boston-based Association for Peace & Tolerance On Campus, whose director Charles Jacobs has railed against the school in Boston’s Jewish Advocate, the move triggered criticism of the school on the grounds of abrogating student rights to free speech in a much higher profile column in the Boston Globe.
The biggest step “to ensure that teaching in these fields is balanced and academically rigorous” was, in June, 2013, appointing a Jew, Professor Dov Waxman, as the Co-Director of Professor Sullivan’s research center on Middle East Peace. Professor Waxman has a PhD from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, degrees in Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University, has taught at Baruch College and Bowdoin College and was a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a scholar at the Middle East Technical University, in Ankara, Turkey.
His two books are “The Pursuit of Peace and the Crisis of Israeli Identity: Defending/Defining the Nation,” about how national identity is determining Israel’s foreign policy, and “Israel’s Palestinians: The Conflict Within,” about problems integrating the Arab population of Israel.
Controversial or not, both books present legitimate scholarship, and Professor Waxman’s presence on the faculty should likely mean more “balanced and academically rigorous” classes. Professor Waxman did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the president or executive director of Northeastern Hillel.
In the statement to The Algemeiner, university administration said, “Regardless of the specific academic discipline, we strive every day to ensure that Northeastern is a place where both ideas and individuals can flourish in pursuit of knowledge,” which is, ultimately, what ZOA’s student interviews say is sorely lacking at the school.
Rather than having students “flourish in pursuit of knowledge,” in an interview with the ZOA, a Northeastern student described wilting in the face of anti-Semitism:
“I had never in my life, ever, experienced anti-Semitism first hand until this past year when I witnessed [Economics] Professor [Shahid] Alam and Professor Sullivan display an age old hatred against the Jewish people. . . . I now unfortunately can understand what bigotry really is, and it is absolutely not something that I ever wanted or needed to experience. No one should have to experience hatred like this in their learning environment… This is about doing the right thing and steering the University in the right course. This is about saying that Jewish students are protected just like any other individual on campus. This is about saying that every student on campus is equal and shall be treated with the utmost respect.”
“Neither you nor most of the other university officials even responded” to the student’s complaint, the ZOA reminded the school’s president, Dr. Joseph E. Aoun, in its report. “The one who did reply – Michael Armini, Senior Vice President for External Affairs – did not acknowledge any wrongdoing by Professor Alam. Instead, Mr. Armini justified Alam’s comments as ‘academic freedom.'”