Duke student government condemns anti-Semitism after previously blocking approval of a pro-Israel group

Student Government Senators at Duke University acted against anti-Semitism on campus months after a pro-Israel student organization was vetoed by student government leadership.

In November, the Student Government president vetoed approval of Students Supporting Israel as a recognized student organization.

Student Government Senators at Duke University acted against anti-Semitism on campus months after a pro-Israel student organization was vetoed by student government leadership.

The "Resolution of the Duke Student Government to Define and Condemn Antisemitism" was introduced to the chamber and subsequently approved Feb. 2 to change the internal structure of the organization. 

In doing so, the student government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA) to establish an official baseline for identifying anti-Semitism in the Duke community. 

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is also included in Duke University's Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Related Misconduct.

"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestation of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities," the definition reads. 

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The definition was drafted by the IRHA's Committee on Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial in 2015 and adopted by the Plenary in Bucharest on May 26, 2016. Since its publication, the statement has been adopted by 32 countries and 30 student government associations.

Additional motions the resolution approved include condemning "all forms of discrimination and harassment based on religion" and collaborating with the Duke community to implement efforts to prevent targeted discrimination and harassment. 

Academic Affairs Senator Nicole Rosenzweig, a sponsor of the resolution, told Campus Reform that the resolution was passed after the Student Senate participated in an "Antisemitism 101" training.

"Given the sheer prevalence of antisemitism globally and particularly on college campuses in the U.S., my fellow Jewish peers and I felt that it was necessary for the Duke Student Government to take a timely stand in solidarity with the Jewish community," she said. "Following up on the previous week's Antisemitism 101 training for DSG Senators, we sought to come together in an effort to define antisemitism in order to combat it more effectively."

According to Rosenzweig, the resolution was drafted as a collaborative effort among Jewish students, Jewish Student Life at Duke, and University Hillel.

"We hope the passage of the [resolution] is just the beginning of continued conversations and efforts to eradicate antisemitism in all of its forms."

The resolution comes on the heels of recent allegations of antisemitism rooted within the student government.

In November, Campus Reform reported as Student Government President Christina Wang vetoed the approval of recognizing Students Supporting Israel (SSI) as an official student organization. 

The veto of the organization's approval overturned the student government's original decision to grant recognition and cited a social media conflict that has, since, been deleted.

The veto sparked accusations within the student government, with one student telling Campus Reform anonymously that the organization is facing a "double standard" that equates to "Israel supporters (including Jews) more afraid to speak up about their opinions."

Another student suggested the social media interaction may have been a "misunderstanding."

Students Supporting Israel is a pro-Israel student organization whose mission is "to be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on college campuses, and to support students in grassroots pro-Israel advocacy."

The organization currently hosts chapters in 18 states and multiple international institutions across the globe. 

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Students Supporting Israel praised the passing of the resolution on Instagram and congratulated the students for their actions. 

"This is a step in the right direction of REINSTATING SSI at Duke University!" The post stated.

The caption continued, "The HRA definition defines SSI at Duke's obligation to call out antisemitism as acting in the BEST of faith. Time to reinstate @ssi_duke."

Co-Founder of SSI Valeria Chazin told Campus Reform that it is important for the student government to put policy into practice by making use of the statement, rather than simply repeating it.

"While we of course strongly welcome the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism by any institution and student governments across the country, it is important that after such adoption, the adopting body will actually act to make sure of this definition, because if not, then adoption alone can just amount to virtue signaling for the Jewish community."

The national organization suggested further measures that the student government can take to decrease antisemitism on campus, including imposing training sessions on counteracting antisemitism and hosting discussions about antisemitic examples.

At this time, Chazin noted that communication regarding the fate of the Duke chapter has been unclear and there has been no effort to advance the effort.

Chazin explained, "With regards to the SSI Chapter, unfortunately, not only that it has not been reinstated yet, but communication from Duke is very unclear about when we can expect to be reinstated. Two letters by SSI National and many letters by community organizations remained unanswered by Duke. It is our understanding that there will be a committee reviewing the decision of the student government, however the timeline remains unclear."

The resolution was introduced to counter a recent increase in antisemitism both on campus and across the nation. According to the introduction of the text, "60 percent of religiously motivated hate crimes" are committed against the Jewish community despite "making up only two percent of the U.S population."

Nevertheless, Chazin remains optimistic that, following the adoption of the IHRA definition, the chapter will have smoother sailing.

"It is our hope that adopting the IHRA definition will make the student government realize how singling out the SSI club and holding a 4-hour long meeting targeting the Jewish student leaders of the chapter was a wrong they need to correct," she said. 

Campus Reform previously reported on the rise of anti-Semitic attacks on college campuses, citing a Heritage Foundation study that found antisemitism has increased 34.8% over the academic year- peaking at 244 incidents during the 2020-2021 school year.

The resolution was penned by Vice President for Campus Life Lana Gesinsky alongside Senators Nicole Rosenzweig, Alex Dray, Daniel Ehrlich, and Talia Granick. The student government members, SSI, and Duke University have been contacted for comment. 

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