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Georgia Tech student activists found guilty of discrimination for preventing pro-Israel staffer from disrupting meeting

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The Young Democratic Socialists of America at Georgia Tech (YDSA GT) have been found guilty of discrimination and sanctioned by the school’s Office of Student Integrity (OSI) for barring a pro-Israel individual from attending one of their meetings over concerns that they would potentially be disruptive. The decision comes after a 6-month long disciplinary process from the OSI, which YDSA referred to as “open-ended, opaque, politically-motivated, and ultimately unlawful.”

This past spring, YDSA GT partnered with other organizations to hold “Israeli Apartheid Week” on Georgia Tech’s campus, a nationwide program that aims to educate students on the human rights abuses of Israel. Shortly before the week’s events, Hillel Georgia Tech group sent an email to its supporters explaining that members would attend some of the events to provide a counter-narrative. Hillel is the largest campus Jewish organization in the world and their official positions are adamantly pro-Israel.

On April 1, YDSA GT held a “Palestine 101” class, with a number of speakers giving lectures on the country’s history. The Hillel staffer who sent out the aforementioned email attempted to attend the class, but was turned away out of fear that they’d cause a disruption. According to YDSA GT a disruption occurred anyway, with two students yelling out inflammatory remarks during the lectures. Testimony given during the later hearing reveals that the staff member who was turned away coordinated with the two students before the event.

The Hillel staff member contacted the Associate Dean of Students, who encouraged the group to file a complaint with OSI. Two weeks later YDSA GT was informed that they were charged with violating section of the Student Code of Conduct, although they were provided no details on whats specifically constituted the charge. The group refrained from holding pro-Palestine events as the investigation dragged through the summer, out of fear of sanction or additional investigations.

Finally in September, the OSI panel held a hearing in which both sides were able to call witnesses forward to speak about the situation. The commissioners ultimately determined that YDSA GT had violated a different statute than the one they were initially charged with. Hillel’s witnesses contended that the member was turned away as a result of their affiliation with group and support for Israel, an accusation that implies the possibility of anti-Semitism. YDSA GT says that they openly welcome Hillel students to their events, that there is overlap between members of the two groups, and that they were only concerned about the possibility of a disruption.

YDSA GT has been placed on disciplinary probation as a result of the ruling it’s now required to engage in programming with other student groups about political differences. YDSA GT is appealing the decision and asking for an apology from the university. They are currently circulating a petition (which is already signed by organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Legal) to drum up support for this effort. 


“OSI grossly mishandled this disciplinary process, and the sanctions resulting from it are a clear example of unconstitutional repression of political speech,” YDSA GT co-chair Katherine Rolison told Mondoweiss, “This is just one example of a nation-wide pattern of universities privileging the established narrative around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and silencing students who speak in the defense of Palestinian human rights.”

This ruling comes on the heels of a letter put out by the Department of Education (DOE) that took aim at a joint Middle East studies program at University of North Carolina and Duke University. That letter was the culmination of a DOE investigation into the program, which was also sparked by pro-Palestine campus events. The DOE effectively threatens to cut Title VI funding for the program unless it promotes a pro-Israel agenda that is more critical of Islam.

Earlier this month, over 350 faculty members signed a Jewish Voice for Peace petition declaring that they wouldn’t allow the Trump administration quash their support for Palestine. “We pledge to keep talking about Palestine — teaching Palestinian history, citing Palestinian scholarship, sponsoring Palestinian events, and inviting Palestinian speakers, cultural workers, and activists to our classrooms and campuses. We won’t be intimidated.”

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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23 Responses

  1. lonely rico on October 24, 2019, 5:35 pm

    Kudos to the YDSA GT students –

    We won’t be intimidated

    Norman Finkelstein won’t be intimidated either.

    To be published by OR Books in November “I Accuse! Herewith a proof beyond reasonable doubt that ICC chief prosecuter Fatou Bensouda whitewashed Israel”

    This finely-honed indictment by a writer widely acknowledged for his forensic skills is directed at Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. It sets out how she defiled her office by refusing to investigate credible allegations of Israeli criminality.
    On 31 May 2010, Israeli forces attacked a humanitarian flotilla bound for Gaza. By the end of the action, nine passengers on the flotilla’s flagship, the Mavi Marmara, were dead (a tenth passenger died later from his injuries). Scores of others were injured, and hundreds more endured torture and inhuman treatment.
    The Union of the Comoros, where the Mavi Marmara was registered, referred the Israeli attack to the ICC. The Chief Prosecutor ruled that the incident was not of sufficient gravity to warrant an official investigation. Bensouda could only reach this conclusion by grossly misrepresenting the facts of the case and removing the assault from its context—the illegal Israeli blockade and the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
    Though she has twice declared the case closed, an unprecedented pushback from within the ICC has forced the Chief Prosecutor to revisit it. The challenge now posed by this volume comes down to this: If justice is to prevail, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must either investigate alleged Israeli crimes or resign.

  2. Joshua Laskin on October 25, 2019, 9:23 am

    These YDSsA GT are just so great. Of course they’re not allowed to hold a campus meeting while excluding probable troublemakers. As if anyone wanting the ‘counter-narrative,’ isn’t already beaten over the head with it. Strange, how the more that Zionists suppress the freedom to assemble and discuss, the more modern antisemitism is happening. I guess if the rules don’t apply, then they’re unlikely to apply, across the board. But these YDSs, speaking truth to power, receive their lesson: Becoming the people’s leaders of tomorrow, entails combatting the dark side of the tribal horde.

    • Jon66 on October 25, 2019, 10:21 am

      They exclude someone based upon the fear that this person might potentially be disruptive. They didn’t present any evidence of an intention to disrupt. They simply wanted to exclude a dissenting opinion. And then they complain that there is suppression of dissent. Perhaps if they were more tolerant of dissent things on campus would be better.

      • Mooser on October 25, 2019, 12:23 pm

        You would have been a comforting presence when the Nazi gangs were disrupting Jewish meetings in 1930’s Germany.

      • Mooser on October 25, 2019, 12:34 pm

        “Perhaps if they were more tolerant of dissent things on campus would be better.”

        Does it ever occur to you that people get to be in control of their own venue?
        “Jon 66”, if you want to hold an anti-semitic meeting, proposing Jews should be banned or ‘discouraged’ from being on campus, (just to extol the free-speech benefits of such a meeting, of course) you’ll probably have to hire your own hall.

      • Jasonius Maximus on October 26, 2019, 12:46 pm

        True! However had the blocked representative looking to present a “dissenting opinion” been from a White Nationalist organization or Neo-Facist group, would this have played out the same way and had the same result? Nope! So in effect, a double standard is not only expected, but guaranteed when Hillel or other pro-Israel groups are concerned. Not because of freedom of speech, but because of exceptionalism.

  3. Misterioso on October 25, 2019, 11:23 am

    Good grief!! This news item begs the question – Would a Zionist organization holding a similar event welcome the presence of a pro-Palestinian activist considered to be “potentially disruptive”? NOT A CHANCE!!

  4. Katie Miranda on October 25, 2019, 6:54 pm

    This should be a lesson for everyone involved. Part of becoming a grown up is learning to live and work with other people who are different than you. No one should be excluded from campus events because someone is afraid they will do something distasteful. And students shouldn’t disrupt events that they find distasteful. The administration no longer empowers campus security to handle these issues which is the crux of the problem. Have a disruptive student? Security needs to throw them out. I don’t understand how these students (from anywhere on the political spectrum) get away with histrionic meltdowns every time someone is speaking or teaching about something they don’t like because they feel “unsafe”. You want to know what feeling unsafe is? Go to Gaza or Syria. Don’t like a speaker ? Don’t attend the lecture. Better yet, hold your own lecture with a better argument or pass out flyers outside with a better argument. That’s how the real world works. I don’t care for the Zionist argument anymore than anyone else on this site but I damned well know the difference between hearing an opinion I vehemently disagree with and actually getting shot at. Both make me “uncomfortable” only one makes me “unsafe”.

    • just on October 25, 2019, 7:34 pm

      Spot- on, Katie!

    • Mooser on October 25, 2019, 8:05 pm

      “Have a disruptive student? Security needs to throw them out”

      Thank God for security! Always willing to figure it out and throw out a staffer.

    • JoeSmack on October 25, 2019, 11:51 pm

      To be clear, they did not exclude anyone for differing opinions. They excluded someone because that person sent out a mass e-mail expressing their intention to apparently disrupt the event. One of her colleagues, who got in, then did exactly that. They didn’t disrupt by having a difference of opinion. They disrupted it by literally disrupting it: interrupting the speakers, screaming at everyone, etc. Those people then filed bogus charges with the School claiming discrimination.

      We can agree to disagree about how to handle potential disruption without a student group being put on probation and subjected to a witch-hunt.

      • Katie Miranda on October 29, 2019, 2:17 pm

        This is where security needs to be empowered to throw out disruptive students. Let them show up and if they can’t act like civilized adults, they will have to leave. But you can’t ban someone just because you’re afraid they’re going to act out. That’s the problem; the administrations of these schools are too scared of the students to enforce civility.

    • RoHa on October 26, 2019, 12:55 am

      I’m pretty sure that you aren’t allowed to suggest “growing up” any more.

  5. smithgp on October 25, 2019, 11:27 pm

    OK, here’s my Minority Report:

    YDSA GT’s attempted prior restraint on the putative disrupter was bad politics and a defection from commitment to First Amendment freedoms. There’s altogether too much dreary, unnecessary comity on U.S. campuses. At the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mid-Missourians for Justice in Palestine (a community organization) and Mizzou Students for Justice in Palestine insist on, and greatly value, our right to protest and argue vociferously when Christians United for Israel (CUFI) or other pro-Zionist organizations hold their events. Sure, they say we’re “disrupting” their event because we’re not sufficiently respectful of their “narrative.” But they have to suck it up, since our vehement disrespect doesn’t actually disrupt the proceedings. And, of course, as Katie Miranda points out, disrespect doesn’t make anyone unsafe, even if it makes them (inshallah) EXTREMELY uncomfortable. It would be illogical for us to insist that THEY can’t try to “disrupt” our events. May the best “disrupters” win!

    I’d like to argue against one of (our much-loved) Katie’s points: “Have a disruptive student? Security needs to throw them out.” At Mizzou, we are protesting against the highly visible presence of campus security at a recent CUFI event–at least four campus policemen accompanied by two campus “diversity” officials! This can be very intimidating to vulnerable students–for example, Arab or Muslim students who already face prejudice and often a tenuous visa status as well. We suspect that the Zionists summoned security in order to imply that as Zionists they needed to be protected from anti-Semites that intend them physical harm. In any case, let us set a good example by not trying to recruit the police to support our cause, as if it’s not strong enough to withstand whatever feeble “disruption” Zionists are able mount in a free and open forum.

    • Katie Miranda on October 29, 2019, 2:37 pm

      I appreciate the extra background info.

      If I were a student, regardless of my views, I’d be pretty upset if events I went to were disrupted or shut down by screaming students. How does any learning happen if there is always someone, somewhere in the study body who disagrees with what’s being taught ? The last time I was attending university classes was 2010, the climate was very different, plus it was an art school so we were too overloaded with work to have time for organizing disruptions of other people’s lectures. If we did, security would have immediately thrown us out.

      • Mooser on October 29, 2019, 3:45 pm

        Are you missing the fact that the potential disruption (as indicated in the headline) came from a staffer?

        Where does that leave ‘security’?

      • smithgp on October 29, 2019, 4:04 pm

        Hi Katie.

        The “disruption” I’m talking about is persistent, conspicuous opposition to and questioning of the message being delivered by the hasbara event in question. This is not true disruption that physically shuts down the event–for example, by screaming so that nothing can be heard. But if successful, it does sidetrack the event’s trajectory in a direction very much undesired by the event’s sponsors. Examples of legitimate “disruption” include distributing flyers, silently unfurling banners or flags, standing up and turning our backs to register disrespect towards a speaker’s argument, vigorous counterpoint by numerous audience members during a Q&A. You can probably imagine others.

        In Columbia, Missouri, including at the University of Missouri (Mizzou), the anti-Zionist community is pretty successful at this kind of “disruption” of hasbara events, while Zionists are largely unsuccessful at “disrupting” our events, even though we anti-Zionists are presumably greatly outnumbered by Zionists in our town and university. That’s because our commitment to freedom, justice, and equality in Palestine is relatively deep and well-informed, while very few Zionists have this sort of commitment. In any case, neither camp tries to actually block participation by its opponents.

        You bring up the scenario of a class being disrupted so that students can’t learn. I taught at Mizzou for 40 years without encountering this sort of disruption. But maybe I should have experienced it! Surely there were one or two times (maybe many more!) when I was being dictatorial or just plain stubbornly mistaken, and a student uprising would have been salutary. Better angry uprising by impolite students than sullen resignation by cowed students. In any case, the uprising would have to be pretty extreme to warrant calling in the cops.


      • Mooser on October 29, 2019, 4:24 pm

        Did you happen to notice it was the students who got sanctioned?

      • RoHa on October 29, 2019, 9:38 pm

        RIMMER: How did you get into Art College?

        LISTER: The normal way you get into Art College. The same old, usual, normal, boring you get in. Failed me exams and applied. They snatched me up.

        (Red Dwarf Series 2, Ep 1.

      • RoHa on October 29, 2019, 9:44 pm

        “Are you missing the fact that the potential disruption (as indicated in the headline) came from a staffer?”

        I found the story a bit unclear, perhaps because I don’t know much about the Hillel organization.
        Was the staff member of Hillel also a student or a member of Georgia Tech staff?
        If not, what right did he have to attend a GT students’ meeting in the first place?

      • RoHa on October 30, 2019, 7:06 am

        Ooops! Not intending to suggest anything about you, Katie. It’s just that the mere mention of Art College makes me think of Dave Lister.

  6. Mooser on October 30, 2019, 12:37 pm

    With “freedom-of-speech”, there is an another principle which comes into play; ‘protection of speech’.
    Those critical of Israel are entitled to the same protection of their speech that Zionists have always enjoyed.

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