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March 8, 2023 3:59 pm

‘Ending Antisemitism’: George Washington University Student Council Establishes Antisemitism Task Force


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

The George Washington University President’s Office. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The George Washington University Student Association (SA) on Monday passed an “Ending Antisemitism Order,” which will establish a task force looking into the problem of antisemitism of the university’s campus, which Jewish students say has grown more menacing in recent years.

The task force will comprise ten student members, a commissioner, and deputy commissioner and will produce a report on the subject in May. Undergraduate and graduate student councils in SA both voted to pass the resolution per the organization’s rules. It was passed unanimously in the former and approved with two yes votes against three abstentions in the latter.

“We the students of the George Washington University through our representative, the Student Association, establish and create this task force to combat antisemitism, which is a scourge to our community and antithetical to our values,” it said, according to a copy obtained by The Algemeiner. “This task force shall speak assertively, collaborate instructively, and remedy conflicts compassionately.”

Several members of the university’s Jewish community helped bring the measure before SA’s student councils, including Sabrina Soffer, who will serve as commissioner, and Ari Patinkin, the president of George Washington University Chabad. According to Soffer, it needed the approval of the Student Association’s undergraduate and graduate student councils. Debate in the graduate council lasted for nearly two hours, with several anti-Zionist activists opposing it, she said.

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Complaints of widespread antisemitism on campus prompted discussions Patinkin to begin discussions with Student Association president Christian Zidouemba and Legislator General Adam Galland about a possible executive order in January.

Soffer said the task force will initiate a long overdue conversation on campus.

“Over 30 Jewish students sent me public comments about how they’re feeling on this campus, and it’s honestly very scary to see the fear they have” she continued. ” The task force will include Jews and non-Jews, and that’s the best way, I think, because by bringing everybody together we can create real change.”

Soffer added that she will soon propose an anti-bullying initiative, which aims to add to the university’s policies language affirming that Jewish students will receive the same protections against harassment that are accorded to other minority groups. She also hopes to put Jewish issues on the radar of the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) office and address antisemitism in the classroom. Recently, she said, a critical race theory professor taught that Jews were “voluntary subjects” in Nazi medical experiments.

Another high profile incident of alleged antisemitism in the classroom motivated Soffer and Patinkin.

In January, Psychology Professor Lara Sheehi, who teaches a mandatory diversity course in the graduate school, was accused in a complaint filed at the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) by StandWithUs — a nonprofit that fights antisemitism and offers education about Israel — of antisemitism for hosting an antisemitic speaker, launching a smear campaign against Jewish students, and filing disciplinary charges against them in retaliation for their accusing her of antisemitism.

According to the complaint, Sheehi expressed contempt for Jews on the first day of class, when in August she asked every student to share information about their backgrounds and cultures. Replying to a student who revealed that she is Israeli, Sheehi said, “It’s not your fault you were born in Israel.”

On Wednesday, Carly Gammill, Director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism, told The Algemeiner that OCR is currently evaluating the complaint to determine whether it merits a formal investigation.

“I’ve also had a class in which antisemitic statements were made,” Soffer said. “It’s sometimes very subtle but still very present at the same time. It’s totally unacceptable and something I want to address as well.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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