EXCLUSIVE: After U of Tennessee Downplays Campus Antisemitism, Covert Watchdog Releases Expanded Dossier, Says Prior Report Only ‘Tip of Iceberg’
The recent exposure of antisemitic and racist behavior by a ring of students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) represents only the “tip of the iceberg,” the leading campus watchdog group which first brought the issue to light told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
Canary Mission — a secretive group that monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic activities on college campuses — made the claim in response to a statement by UTK on Monday downplaying an exclusive report by The Algemeiner which revealed antisemitic and racist online postings by persons affiliated with the school.
“The story published in the Algemeiner on August 4 highlights seven social media posts by just six of our students over a span of five years,” the school told WATE.com, a local ABC affiliate. “Several are no longer enrolled as students and are no longer part of our campus community.”
In addition, a spokesman for UTK told The Algemeiner that the report “far exaggerated the climate on our campus,” adding that UTK “does not condone the statements included in the story [and] we believe those current and former students were within their constitutional rights to post their personal viewpoints.”
But new information provided by the covert watchdog to The Algemeiner shows a scope of antisemitism and racism on campus that extends far beyond the six current and former UTK students originally named by Canary Mission. “The full picture is far more shocking,” a Canary Mission representative, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Algemeiner.
According to the group, 14 current students, eight former students and one individual — who “is not a student but an agitator” — with ties to UTK’s Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters are responsible for a total of “97 highly racist, bigoted, antisemitic or threatening posts” on social media. “You can be sure that there are more we did not find,” the watchdog added.
“The posts highlighted in the [original] report were intended to be an alert for the UTK administration and the public at large to investigate the matter further,” Canary Mission said.
In The Algemeiner’s original report last week, Canary Mission said it had uncovered a “cesspool” of extreme Jew-hatred and other forms of bigotry at UTK. This, the group said, is being spread by students connected to the school’s branches of SJP and MSA.
One UTK SJP member proudly praised Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, tweeting, “Had to write about a leader for DCL class. Wrote about Hitler. Cuz he’s a boss,” and a recent UTK graduate attacked a Jewish social media user, referring to “dirty filthy Jews.” The founder of UTK’s SJP chapter tweeted support for terror against Israel
According to Canary Mission’s latest data, released on Wednesday, authors of the racist postings include the founder and president of UTK’s SJP, as well as the group’s vice president and the president of UTK’s MSA branch. A breakdown of the social media posts (up to date as of publication time) provided by the watchdog, shows that 34 posts were made by MSA members, 25 by SJP members and 38 by joint members of both the MSA and SJP.
“The vast majority of the posts were made by individuals within the past two years, while they were students at UTK and active in their MSA or SJP chapters. As the administration noted in its response, the highlighted posts span a period of five years. This indicates a long-standing problem and ought to prompt more concern, not less,” the watchdog told The Algemeiner.
“When UTK claims that ‘several are no longer enrolled as students and are no longer part of our campus community,’ they are being misleading. Graduates often remain active in the SJP and MSA campus communities for years following their graduation,” Canary Mission said, adding that it has uncovered in one such instance a 2009 UTK graduate being active in UTK’s SJP within the past year.
“When students graduate, does the effect of their hate speech spread to others during the prior three or four years abruptly vanished?” the watchdog questioned. “We know from experience that when hate speech, bigotry and promotion of violence is left unchecked, the situation on campus escalates until many groups no longer feel safe on campus.”
The 97 posts span a wide range of offenses, Canary Mission said, including inciting and threatening violence, antisemitism, racism against black and white people, homophobia, praise for Hitler and endorsing terrorism and terrorist organizations.
In January 2015, UTK SJP retweeted an antisemitic graphic featuring an iconic photo from the Holocaust, alongside an image of Israeli soldiers, comparing them to Nazis.
The photo was posted as a wave of religiously motivated terrorist violence swept across Israel, leaving scores of Israelis injured and dead.
In January 2013, Mohamed Ali — who ran for the position of UTK MSA’s head of public relations — shared on Twitter a meme, composed of four photos illustrating an imagined dialogue between Hitler and Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
Considering the evidence gathered by Canary Mission and UTK’s muted response to the revelations, the watchdog group told The Algemeiner that the university “seems to have their head in the sand.”
“They have a serious problem on their campus and their response is to pretend it doesn’t exist. Parents will feel safer about sending their children to UTK if the administration accepts the reality and deals with it,” the group said.
“These posts reflect the uncensored and authentic character of the leadership and members of SJP and MSA on the UTK campus, deserving of condemnation to the highest possible degree,” Canary Mission said. “We hope that this new information will re-prompt the administration to seriously examine the climate at the university.”
On Tuesday, two major Jewish campus groups rebuked UTK for failing to outright condemn the antisemitism, telling The Algemeiner that the school’s approach to the issue was reckless.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative — which combats, monitors and documents antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America — and Aron Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s (SWC) campus outreach arm, were also reacting to the statement released by UTK on Monday.
The college must “vociferously condemn and repudiate any and all antisemitic statements and activities by past and present members of the campus community,” SWC’s Hier told The Algemeiner, while Rossman-Benjamin described the administration’s response as “irresponsible.”
“What UTK should have said was this type of speech is heinous and despicable and call it out as antisemitism, plain and simple,” she said.