The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Alumni, faculty open letters criticize student BDS efforts, call for campus civility

The letters have a combined total of 124 signatories as of publication — 35 faculty and 89 alumni.
Photograph+of+a+pink+blossoming+tree+next+to+Alumni+Lawn%2C+as+photographed+on+March+21%2C+2024.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FGeorge+Albu%29
George Albu
Photograph of a pink blossoming tree next to Alumni Lawn, as photographed on March 21, 2024. (Hustler Multimedia/George Albu)

Alumni and faculty members penned open letters expressing solidarity with Vanderbilt’s pro-Israel Jewish community and criticizing efforts to bring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to campus. 

The letters have a combined total of 124 signatories as of publication — 35 faculty and 89 alumni. Vanderbilt Jewish Alumni reported that at least an additional 15 alumni have signed the letter but have not yet been added to the public-facing petition. 

Faculty letter: BDS concerns, Community Creed

The faculty letter was posted online on March 31, one week after faculty shared another open letter with The Hustler condemning the university’s removal of a BDS amendment from the VSG ballot due to legal concerns. The first letter discusses perceived disparities between Vanderbilt’s pro-Israel Jewish groups and other student organizations.

“We are troubled, however, at the notion of a student body that is 80-85% non-Jewish voting to force Jewish student organizations to participate in a boycott of Israel in order to be allowed to utilize student activity fee funding,” the letter reads.

In its original form, the amendment would have prevented all VSG funding — including co-sponsorships from its $200,000 budget and the $1.8 million Student Services Fee budget it oversees — from being used on BDS organic and consumer target companies. The wording was later changed to apply only to VSG’s direct budget. Then-VSG President Sam Sliman, a senior, said this change was made due to the infeasibility of reviewing student organizations’ spending behavior “in that level of detail.” Sliman said the amendment petitioners agreed to the language change, though a revised version of the amendment was never made publicly available. 

Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Sociology Dr. Shaul Kelner, a faculty letter signee, said the change in wording to exclude the Student Service Fee budget does not address the pro-Israel Jewish community’s fundamental concerns with BDS.

In this [faculty] letter, we are telling our Jewish students that we see them, we hear them and we recognize that the boycott campaign has not treated them with equity, inclusivity or respect,” Kelner said in an email to The Hustler.

The faculty letter also cites the historical usage of boycotts against Jews as a primary source of their concern.

“For Jews, boycotts are no neutral symbol. They evoke a long and dark history of policies to isolate and exclude Jews,” the letter reads. “We sense with increasing concern that our campus discourse has ignored or minimized this history, even as a proposed student government policy risks reproducing a form of oppression that has specifically harmed Jews in the past.”

In a March 3 email to The Hustler, Vanderbilt Divest Coalition organizers emphasized the distinction between a boycott of Israel and that of the movement’s consumer and organic boycott targets.

“The petition does not call for removal of funding for any student groups with ties to Israel or on the basis of Israeli or Jewish identity,” VDC said. “Rather it would prevent VSG and student groups who hold events in collaboration with VSG from purchasing items from the specific companies identified by the BDS movement.”

Kelner called this clarification “a distinction without a difference.”

BDS supporters are free to draw distinctions for themselves to guide their own practice. But that’s different from imposing it on the Jewish chaplaincies,” Kelner said. “It seems pretty clear that Hillel and Chabad don’t want to participate in boycotting Israel at all, in any way. That is their right. Our letter is saying that they shouldn’t be forced to.”

The faculty members also emphasize the importance of maintaining the Vanderbilt Community Creed’s values of openness and respect, which they assert on-campus BDS efforts violate. 

“The Community Creed should still matter, even when passions are high,” Kelner said. “The faculty who signed the letter take diverse stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I expect that they take diverse stances on BDS too. This letter is not about what’s going on thousands of miles away. It’s about how we live in a diverse community with each other here.”

Vanderbilt Chabad and Hillel expressed gratitude for the faculty letter in a joint April 9 Instagram post.

“The Jewish community at Vanderbilt thanks the Vanderbilt faculty members who signed the letter supporting fair treatment of Jewish students and organizations at Vanderbilt and explaining why a vote on BDS at Vanderbilt is inherently misplaced and offensive,” the groups said.

Alumni letter: Supporting Jewish students, call for civil discourse

The alumni letter, published on Change.org by Vanderbilt Jewish Alumni on April 8 and on Google Sites on April 11, similarly criticizes BDS advocates for contributing to a “hostile campus environment” by calling on the university to divest from companies “simply because of their national origin.” The Vanderbilt Divest Coalition’s efforts on campus have been limited to calls for only VSG to boycott target companies complicit in Israel’s occupation of and human rights violations against Palestinians. Vanderbilt Alumni for Palestine has initiated a push for the university to divest its $9.7 billion endowment from “any company involved in apartheid.” 

In an interview with The Hustler, Olivia Sinrich (B.A. ‘21), one of the alumni letter’s signees, called the BDS movement “inherently discriminatory” to Jewish and Israeli people. She referenced Kosher food production in Israel and Israeli companies’ employment of both Israelis and Palestinians. She further pointed to the fact that the BDS movement’s founder, Omar Barghouti, has vocally opposed calls for a two-state solution, which she finds antithetical to peace.

“A two-state solution is something that is so broadly supported for peace across the world, so, if ultimately if peace is not the goal of this movement, why are we pushing it on campus?” Sinrich said.

Support for a two-state solution among Israelis and Palestinians has declined in recent years, prior to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks. In 2023, the Pew Research Center found that 35% of Israelis — down from 50% in 2013 — think Israel and a Palestinian state can peacefully coexist, while Gallup reported that support for a Palestinian state alongside an independent Israel decreased among Palestinians from nearly 60% in 2013 to 24% in 2023. 

Addressed to students, faculty and alumni, the alumni letter also criticizes the perceived lack of broader “empathy and openness” on campus. It specifically cites the denial of Vanderbilt’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel into the Multicultural Leadership Council.

“Our alma mater, like other campuses across the world, devolved into an environment that rejected receptive conversation, space for others’ perspectives and even Jewish and Israeli students themselves,” the letter reads.

Sinrich expressed particular concern for Vanderbilt students of Israeli origin or with immediate ties to Israel.

“No matter what your views on the conflict are, feeling like you don’t belong because of your national origin is not okay,” Sinrich said.

The letter further praises Chancellor Daniel Diermeier for his push to foster “understanding, acceptance of individuals from all backgrounds and equity.” Sinrich stated that she believes high tensions on campus have stifled opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue and urged BDS advocates to turn to conversation and education instead of perceived “xenophobia toward Israelis and Jewish groups.”

“There’s a real pain and suffering that they [Palestinians] as a collective have experienced and are currently experiencing, and it’s important that the global community…and…the Jewish community know this — and vice versa regarding the trauma that Oct. 7 and its aftermath caused for global Jewry,” Sinrich said. “I would recommend…the university to create space for those groups to share their own stories so they can create understanding and…find specific issues that they can work on together that are humanitarian in nature.”

Sinrich also emphasized the commonalities between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We both ultimately view our peoples as deeply connected to that land,” Sinrich said. “The Jewish people view Israel as our indigenous homeland; the Palestinian people view it similarly. We both share this intense love for the same place — it’s the same hills, the same sea and, a lot of times, the same cities — and I think that’s something to connect on, rather than to divide.”

The letter concludes with notes of advice and support to Vanderbilt community members, including adhering to one’s values, caring for mental health and building bridges across divides.

“To the broader Vanderbilt community, we have a simple ask: choose kindness, along with the chance to hear out another’s struggles, experiences and viewpoints,” the letter reads. “To Jewish students, faculty, alumni, friends and family, thank you for your bravery, commitment to civil discourse and moral clarity. We are with you.”

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About the Contributors
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
George Albu
George Albu, Staff Writer and Photographer
George Albu (‘27) is majoring in medicine, health and society in the College of Arts and Science. When not working for The Hustler, he enjoys taking long walks around campus, reading or watching video essays about anything and everything online. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (24)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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A
alumni
1 month ago

This letter reminds me of that debacle back in 2012 when some Christian group(s) on campus threw a fit because the University was going to cut their funding if they didn’t allow LGBTQ+ people to join/seek leadership roles.

If the funding for your group comes from the University, then the way you use those funds should be in keeping with the University’s standards. What BDS is trying to do is have a conversation about what those standards should be. It is not an act of hostility.

A
anon
1 month ago

So when the US passes sanctions on Russia, Syria, etc, is that considered discriminating against Russians and Syrians in the US? The people who signed this letter seem to not understand the concept of boycotting… To the extent that Hillel receives fundings from the school, they should not necessarily get full discretion on how they’re able to spend it – just like any other student org. The ways orgs spend funding should be in line with Vanderbilt’s principles, and those principles are what BDS is trying to have a conversation about.

N
Non-Tenure Track Faculty
1 month ago

As a continuing (lecture) track faculty member at VU, I appreciate the faculty letter’s acknowledgment that there are many of us who cannot safely sign this letter in support. If not for the so many tenured faculty in my department that signed the letter in support of the expelled students, I would gladly support this call for the inclusion of all students and for the university to live up to its values. Sadly, I am not able to do so without fear of retaliation from those faculty members who hold the keys to my reappointment and who have expressed hostility towards this view.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

While I don’t agree with much expressed in that letter, I appreciate that addendum as well. There’s a lot of reason for fear of political expression on contentionous issues for non-tenured faculty and staff. It’s great that they acknowledge that.

I’d just add on though that this same dynamic prevents pro-Palestinian speech (or speech that can be construed as pro-Palestinian)as well. Non tenure track faculty have expressed fear preventing them to sign letters expressing dismay at the universities handling of the protesting students and BDS campaign. While I don’t doubt the pressure you’re feeling in your department, and empathize with how it’s closed off pathways for you to comfortably speak, it must be noted that there absolutely pressures in academia as a whole to support Palestinians.

A
anon
1 month ago

If you did not support the students who were expelled for presenting their views on this issue, why would you expect anybody to stand up for you? Seems like you’re ok with the hostility around this topic, as long as that hostility isn’t directed at your views.

N
Non-tenure Track Faculty
1 month ago
Reply to  anon

Also, your comment proves the point that there are people who don’t respect diversity of thought on this campus- you and many faculty signatories are suggesting that if I disagree with your line of thinking then I deserve to lose my job. What a horrible suggestion for an educational institution! I can appreciate that you are self-convinced of your righteousness; do you think that excuses violent and bullying behavior?

A
anon
1 month ago

My question was rhetorical… I do not think you should lose your job or lose opportunities for career advancement, and it’s hard for me to imagine that you actually interpreted what I said that way, but maybe I wasn’t as clear as I thought.

I was pointing out a double standard you seem to have. You are ok with the students being expelled and suspended for their views (unless you disagree with the principle of sit-ins and the student body government voting in general??), yet you realize in your own circumstance it would be unfair for you to face repercussions for expressing your views.

I also don’t know what violent and bullying behavior you’re talking about? If one of your higher-ups had bullied you in some way, I don’t think you’d mentioned it. You’d only mentioned fear that your views would be held against you.

N
Ntt
1 month ago
Reply to  anon

Students were expelled for assaulting a staff member (violent). Sit ins are a show of force (bullying, not an invitation to dialogue).

Your comment took a very oppositional “with us or against us” tone. My interpretation of it is reasonable.

N
Non-Tenure Track Faculty
1 month ago
Reply to  anon

Your rhetorical question, presented in an insensitive, ignorant, and oppositional manner, has a literal answer which counters your claim that I hold a double standard. I don’t expect anyone to stand up for me. I don’t believe that my political opinions have any bearing on my ability to perform the duties of my job. Nevertheless, there exist poorly-defined phrases like “lack of collegial demeanor” that can be used to deny a non-tenure track faculty member a continuation of their contract. That is to say that expressing opinions around highly charged issues can lead to disguised repercussions that oust unprotected faculty members. It is not a matter of having someone “stick up” for me. it is a matter of me being able to express my views without fear of professional consequence. This is something I cannot do.

There is no double standard here other than the ability to speak freely or not among certain strata of the faculty. You have made an assumption and mischaracterized my opinion that I am “OK with students being expelled for expelled and suspended for their views.” Please do not put words into my mouth. Students facing expulsion assaulted a staff member (one example of violent and bullying behavior). Students being suspended violated university rules. If I engaged in such behavior, clearly violating rules of conduct, then I would expect repercussions. My personal beliefs do not give me permission to violate rules and harm others. Why should I hold a double standard and stick up for those who violate rules of conduct that I support and am held to?

Back to the point – when tenured faculty sign these letters of support which also demonstrate bias on an issue, it creates a chilling effect on the free speech of unprotected faculty members (the non-tenure track). This is a very real phenomenon.

J
Jay
1 month ago

Why is an irrelevant region in the Middle East suddenly the target of activism on US college campuses? I don’t understand why Israel/Palestine is suddenly a big issue now, given we have much more important domestic issues like homelessness to worry about.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Jay

The US is spending billions to arm a country many believe is actively engaging in genocide, and there are state laws and university actions and policies prohibiting speech and action against it. Clearer now?

A
anon2anon
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

How likely is it that the person above claiming Gaza is a genocide typed that post on a device made in the nation interning 1 million Muslims and filled with conflict minerals fueling actual genocides in East Congo and elsewhere?

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

Where’s the article on the many letters of support the students have received?

A
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

I’m guessing it’s because the ratio of support versus disdain for their actions is not in their favor…

J
Jews for Free Palestine
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

there are letters in support of the expelled students from every single school at vanderbilt except blair, including the law school, and those have hundreds of signatures compared to the relatively meager amount of signatures on this one

A
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

tbh i’d bet that it’s the opposite

J
Jews for Free Palestine
1 month ago

the only thing this article illuminates is that the people who oppose the BDS movement clearly have 0 understanding of what it actually means. the targets of the BDS movement are not a direct boycott of israel — they are a boycott of companies that are problematic because they are directly complicit in israeli war crimes, like HP, which develops the facial recognition technology used to suppress palestinians at border checkpoints, or Chevron, which is illegally running a pipeline through sovereign palestinian territory and stealing millions of dollars worth of oil and gas. anyone who claims that jewish student groups would be most affected is just fearmongering and is either being stupid or duplicitous.

i can’t help but feel like these same people would have opposed the boycotts of apartheid south africa as being “anti-white.” obviously they weren’t; they were instrumental in ending the oppressive regime against black south africans. the people who claim that BDS is antisemitic are not protecting jews; they are upholding the hegemony of a violent ethnostate that actually endangers jews, and critics of BDS are not invested in the safety of the jewish people but in their supremacy. i condemn professor kelner’s decision to co-opt Jewish history as a means of providing political cover for a state that is actively committing a genocide. i also urge olivia sinrich to acquaint herself more closely with palestinian perspectives; claiming that the two-state solution is “so broadly supported for peace” ignores exactly the perspective you expect her to ignore: the palestinian perspective. most palestinians oppose the two-state solution because it gives them crumbs in return of all of the land that was stolen from them.

i also wish the hustler would report on any of the several letters that faculty and alumni have signed in support of the student protesters and in support of the BDS movement — there was one from several faculty, one from the law school, one from several alumni, etc. To my knowledge all of those have far more signatures than the one reported on here, but given the hustler’s clear bias against palestinian causes i’m not surprised that those letters are getting less attention

Last edited 1 month ago by Jews for Free Palestine
M
Machiavelli
1 month ago

Please seek help. Worried about u.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

Then why does the BDS website call for a divestment of “Israeli Fruits, vegetables and wine?” and a hummus company? Most kosher wine is made in Israel…

J
Jews for Free Palestine
1 month ago
Reply to  Anonymous

because doing so is one of the most effective ways to nonviolently put political and financial pressure on israel to stop committing war crimes. the primary targets, however, are still companies that are most complicit. i don’t think hillel and chabad will really be affected if they have to buy a different hummus than sabra (which is pretty subpar when it comes to hummus anyways)

if you need help finding kosher wines, i recommend you look to any of the countless kosher vineyards in italy, france, and california! i am glad that you are trying to find a way to keep to our religious values without supporting a genocide 🙂

Last edited 1 month ago by Jews for Free Palestine
A
A Jewish Vanderbilt Student
1 month ago

TALK TO EM!!!!

A
Anonymous
1 month ago

lol – bds calls for boycotts of Puma, Disney, and Papa John’s and you are pretending that actions like sponsoring the Israeli soccer team or having an Israeli superhero makes the company “complicit in war crimes.” Clearly you aren’t the one doing the research.

Also, at least two pro-bds faculty letters were covered by the Hustler. Check your facts and tell the truth.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anonymous
A
Anonymous
1 month ago

When I read “the hegemony of a violent ethnostate that actually endangers jews,” then what I understand you to be saying is:

1.) The existence of Israel is not acceptable to you (i.e., it’s existence is a “hegemony”).

2.) Your characterization of the nation as a “violent ethnostate,” while inaccurate, uses emotionally charged language to delegitimize the nation of Israel and bolster your call for its elimination

3.) “That actually endangers Jews” – the reprehensible notion that terrorism attacking Jewish people is a justifiable response to the existence of the nation of Israel.

This is why the BDS argument is Anti-Semitic and immoral. Israel, as a nation, has a right to exist in situ as much as any other nation on the planet. It is fair to criticize its policies and actions, but that is not all that is happening here.

BDS states that “Virtually all Israeli companies are complicit to some degree in Israel’s system of occupation and apartheid.” (https://bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-to-boycott). BDS claims, for example, that “Chevron generates billions in revenues, strengthening Israel’s war chest and apartheid system” – that is to say that BDS makes the absurd claim that anything generating revenue for Israel is complicit in its military activities. Is Israel to be completely economically starved? Is every company “generating revenue” complicit in war crimes?

Further, BDS’ claim that Intel’s development center in Qiryat Gat is on “ethnically cleansed” Palestinian land is a sensationalized recharacterization of the results of the 1948 war; the suggestion of Intel’s involvement with Israeli occupation of that territory is ludicrous. Again, BDS is making the claim that any entity conducting business with Israel is complicit.

The list of disingenuous arguments made by BDS goes on. Perhaps most telling is: “The Disney-owned Marvel Studios (US) is promoting in the next Captain America film a “superhero” that personifies apartheid Israel. Both companies are therefore complicit in “anti-Palestinian racism, Israeli propaganda, and the glorification of settler-colonial violence against Indigenous people,” as Palestinian cultural organizations have stated.” (https://bdsmovement.net/Act-Now-Against-These-Companies-Profiting-From-Genocide)

This quote clearly demonstrates that any recognition of Israel as a nation is being read as complicit in “Israeli Apartheid” (another emotionally-driven, inaccurate term intended to delegitimize the nation).

BDS offers only the smallest fig leaf to hide its blatant Anti-Semitic stance, its support for the unwarranted destruction of Israel, and its shameful moral support and encouragement to terrorist organizations.

I hope that you will take a more critical look.