See The Williams College Council’s Reasons For Denying Recognition To Pro-Israel Group

David Benkof Contributor
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The administration of Williams College, under pressure from First Amendment groups, overruled its student council’s decision to deny official status to the Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI) last week. In the wake of the college’s decision, some of the anti-Israel students’ most vehement comments were released yesterday for the first time.

The Williams College Council had previously debated whether to recognize WIFI as a Registered Student Organization, which would provide it with funding, administrative support, and other benefits at the elite Massachusetts institution. The council voted 13-8 against recognition, the first time it has rejected a group that met the qualifications in its bylaws. Highlights of the transcript of that meeting (whose recording did not follow the usual custom of being released publicly) appeared in an article by a former Williams professor in the online magazine Tablet. (RELATED: Professor Faces Death Threats For Israel Support)

The arguments of opponents of equal status for the pro-Israel group, as reported by Professor K. C. Johnson, included:

  • That “what free speech and democracy really means” is for the council to consider “clashing free ideas” and then “vote in what we think are the best ideas and for us to vote out what we think are ideas we think are worthy of being discarded.”
  • That during the Holocaust Jews experienced “horrible conditions” but that contemporary Palestinian suffering is “even … worse,” since Jews were only segregated in ghettos “for short periods of time.” (The latter statement is accurate, because the ghettos were soon liquidated with their residents deported to death camps where the Nazis murdered them.)
  • That WIFI was giving succor to “the rhetoric of President Trump” who, the student said, “is saying Jews don’t belong” in America and “should go to Israel.”
  • That Arabs are “Semites” and so any portrayal of the council as anti-Semitic is “not very accurate.”
  • That the group was unnecessary because the council funds the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voice or Peace and Students for Israeli Palestinian Dialogue. (The founder of the latter group explicitly rejected the idea that the organization was “an existing pro-Israel group on campus” and that it in fact takes no stand on the Middle East conflict.)

During the campus debate after the vote, eleven students wrote an essay for the campus newsletter that contained similar extremist and sometimes bizarre arguments for rejecting WIFI:

  • Because of the support for Israel by the U.S. government and in American political circles, Williams “does not need” a student group defending Israel’s “right to exist” any more than it needs to “defend the rights of wealthy, straight white men.”
  • Having a pro-Israel group on campus would, somehow, “eras[e] the voices of Palestinian students.”
  • The leadership of WIFI rejected the idea that Israel was engaged in genocide against Palestinians.
  • WIFI’s “only contribution to the campus discourse” would have been “obscurantist, misinformed, and discursively supportive of human rights abuses.”
  • If the conversations during the debate represented the ideas WIFI would promote on campus, “we ought to celebrate their proposal being denied.”

Despite the student anti-Israel advocacy, the college released a statement last week that WIFI was now a recognized student organization “with the full rights, privileges, and responsibilities that label entails.”

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