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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Judiciary member alleges discrimination, garners national attention; members of SJP, TCU Senate face harassment

The Academic Quad is pictured in snowfall.

Tufts Community Union (TCU) Judiciary member Max Price alleges that he was discriminated against and that his place in student government was threatened due to his Jewish identity, in a months-long conflict between arms of the TCU government and activist group Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The conflict, which began in a series of meetings between the TCU Judiciary and SJP preparing for SJP’s fall referendum, has attracted national attention and led to the harassment of members of both the TCU government and SJP. 

SJP’s referendum called for the university to apologize for sending its police chief to a training course in Israel in 2017, ban Tufts University Police Department officers from “attending programs based on military strategies” in the future and prevent officers who have been on these trips from being hired at Tufts in the future. The referendum garnered record voter turnout and passed with 68% of the vote.

University administration announced that they would not take action in response to the results of the referendum. 

Getting the referendum on the ballot

Last spring, SJP proposed and began drafting a ballot referendum as part of their campaign to “#EndTheDeadlyExchange,” a national movement to end militarized training trips for campus police departments. 

“We want to send the message that the Tufts Administration cannot increase the militarization of TUPD under the guise of counterterrorism,” Julia, a member of SJP, told the Daily in November.“One of the main objectives of our referendum is to hold the Tufts Administration accountable for compromising the safety of students (especially POC students) by sending a TUPD officer to a militarized training trip in Israel.”

Part of the referendum process is getting the language of the referendum approved by the TCU Elections Commission and the TCU Judiciary; this process allows the Elections Commission and the Judiciary to “present it to interested parties for the sole purposes of ensuring accuracy and lack of bias,” according to the TCU Elections Commission’s bylaws

Price, a junior, was serving his first term on the TCU Judiciary after being elected in the spring of 2020. Price had previously spoken publicly against the #EndTheDeadlyExchange campaign as former president of Tufts Friends of Israel, which later encouraged students to vote against SJP’s referendum on social media. 

In a series of emails between SJP and the Judiciary, SJP repeatedly asked the TCU Judiciary that Price not be involved in proposing revisions to the referendum or attending meetings about the referendum, saying that Price had “demonstrated clear and public opposition to [SJP’s] campaign.” 

Price said a member of the Judiciary asked that he recuse himself from deliberations on the language of SJP’s referendum, which is within the jurisdiction of the Elections Commission and the TCU Judiciary. The Judiciary called an informal meeting on Nov. 15 to vote on whether Price previously exhibited bias that would render him unfit to work on the SJP referendum; the Judiciary voted unanimously that Price did not have to recuse himself. 

“From the beginning of the process, I was transparent with my fellow Judiciary members about my personal beliefs. Like everyone, I have beliefs on this, as well as many other political issues, one of them being that I strongly support police demilitarization and criminal justice reform,” Price told the Daily in an interview. “And I said that I would do my best to eliminate all potential bias for my personal beliefs in the professional work of removing bias from the referendum.”

Nov. 16 meeting

The day after the Judiciary’s informal vote, members of the TCU Senate executive board, TCU Judiciary and Committee on Student Life met with Price to determine whether he was biased and should recuse himself from the SJP referendum process. In this Nov. 16 meeting, Price was asked about statements he had made as president of Friends of Israel, a Zionist student organization. 

In a letter to Tufts administrators advocating on behalf of Price, the Louis D. Brandeis Center For Human Rights Under Law describes the Nov. 16 meeting as an “interrogation” during which Price was discriminated against on the basis of his identity as a Zionist Jewish person.

Price recalled the meeting in a personal statement published by the Brandeis Center, writing, “Student government leaders grilled me for over an hour about whether my personal beliefs and Jewish and Zionist identities impact my ability to serve on the TCUJ on this issue.”

TCU Parliamentarian Taylor Lewis disagreed with Price’s characterization of the meeting, telling the Daily that Price was only questioned about his public statements, not about his identity.

“What was asked was whether Max had made specific public statements against SJP as an organization and against the contents of the referendum process, not about his identity, not about the beliefs that he holds, but what he has publicly stated,” Lewis, a senior, said.

At the end of the meeting, Price’s impression was that the issue had been resolved, and he would not have to recuse himself. 

Nov. 18 meeting

Less than a week before the student body was to vote on the referendum, SJP and the TCU Judiciary were still deliberating its specific language.SJP invited members of the Judiciary to attend a Nov. 18 meeting with Eran Efrati, a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier and researcher on the military relationship between the U.S. and Israel. SJP said that Efrati could provide an expert perspective on debated points in the referendum language, specifically regarding the relationship between TUPD and Israel after a 2017 counterterrorism training trip. SJP asked that Price be excluded from the meeting with Efrati.

Price was told by Holden Dahlerbruch, chair of the Judiciary, that he was to be muted throughout the Zoom meeting with SJP and Efrati, a compromise to SJP’s request that Price not be involved in the meeting at all. Price told the Daily that he was concerned that Efrati, a member of the national Deadly Exchange Campaign Advisory Team, would bring additional bias into the debate rather than eliminating it. 

Less than an hour before the meeting began, Dahlerbruch, a sophomore, told Price that he could invite a guest speaker to represent an opposing point of view. Price went on Twitter to find someone who had publicly spoken out against the Deadly Exchange campaign and found Joshua Washington, the director of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel.Washington and Price had never spoken before the Nov. 18 meeting with Washington, Efrati, SJP and the Judiciary. 

“I don't know anything about him except that he has tweeted about the Deadly Exchange before,” Price said. “So given that I had 15 minutes to find somebody, which is no simple feat, I grabbed him and asked if he can jump on a Zoom call for the Tufts Judiciary, with no preparation.”

Unbeknownst to the other attendees, Washington recorded the meeting, including a moment of confrontation between SJP and Washington. In Massachusetts, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all parties.Washington posted a clip of the meeting to his social media and YouTube, with a caption claiming that he was silenced by SJP members. Washington’s organization, the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, and conservative political figures shared the clip before it was taken down by Washington on Price’s request. 

SJP said they were not given advance notice that Washington would be attending the meeting, and that if they had, they likely would have refused to attend. 

“Washington’s attendance at this meeting was an unorganized final attempt to sabotage SJP’s referendum,” SJP said in a written complaint to the TCU Senate, which they filed after the Nov. 18 meeting. “His attendance at the meeting was unauthorized and dangerous as he has our names and faces now.”

As the meeting came to an end, the Judiciary called a vote on the most recent version of the referendum language. The language was approved with two votes in favor and two abstaining; Price was the sole opposing vote. The Nov. 24 special elections, in which students would vote on the referendum, were six days later.

Complaint filed, hearing scheduled

Following the Nov. 18 Zoom meeting, SJP filed a complaint with the TCU Senate against all five members of the fall 2020 TCU Judiciary, alleging that Price’s failure to recuse himself from the referendum process had led to bias and corruption in the TCU student government. 

The complainants, who identified themselves only as members of SJP, alleged that the Judiciary had breached Article III Subsection D 4a of the TCU Constitution. 

Article III Subsection D 4a states that “All persons appearing before the TCUJ have the right to a fair and impartial hearing on all matters requiring a binding vote. Members of the TCUJ shall have no familiarity or public stance on the substance of an upcoming matter and no relationship or involvement, current, or past, with any persons who are litigants in a hearing.”

In their complaint, SJP cited Price’s public condemnation of the Deadly Exchange campaign and his position as president of Tufts Friends of Israel as evidence of his bias. SJP said their privacy was violated when Washington shared an illegally recorded video containing their names and faces on social media, and identified Price’s lack of recusal as the root cause of this privacy breach. 

“From the beginning, Max’s lack of recusal made SJP’s referendum process longer than usual, made SJP subject to more criticism than the [Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment] referendum received, … put SJP in direct danger of being doxxed, and [led to] corruption in the student government,” SJP wrote in their complaint.

Though it focused on Price, the complaint also claimed that the other four members of the TCU Judiciary were complicit in Price’s failure to recuse himself.

When allegations are brought against a member or members of the TCU Judiciary, the TCU Constitution instructs the TCU Senate to conduct a hearing and determine whether to take disciplinary action against the subjects of the complaint. 

Per the TCU Senate bylaws, TCU Senate Parliamentarian Lewis was responsible for organizing the hearing. He consulted with several Tufts administrators to ensure the hearing be as fair as possible. He also communicated frequently with SJP and the TCU Judiciary in the months leading up to the hearing, which was planned for Feb. 28. 

Price alleges that Lewis and the TCU Senate denied his right to due process by scheduling a hearing without first providing him with a conduct officer from Tufts’ Office of Community Standards to discuss the complaint and advise him on how to respond, as outlined in the Tufts Student Conduct Resolution Procedure. However, Lewis says that the Student Conduct Resolution Procedure is meant to govern university procedure violations, whereas alleged violations of student government procedure are covered by the TCU Constitution and bylaws. 

Lewis maintains that although the TCU Senate did not plan to provide Price with a conduct officer, they did try to work with him to create a fair hearing process. Email communications between Lewis and Price show that Lewis tried to schedule a meeting with Price to discuss the specifics of the hearing, but Price never responded to those communications.

“I requested to meet with Max multiple, multiple times throughout my email correspondence, and he never agreed to meet,” Lewis said. “I think that if we had met, we might have worked something a little bit better out.”

The Brandeis Center gets involved

Facing the potential loss of his Judiciary seat and other repercussions, Price turned to outside organizations. A friend connected him with the Brandeis Center, a nonprofit that focuses on anti-Semitism on university campuses. In a 110-page collection of exhibits — including statements, correspondences and reports of anti-Semitism at Tufts — the Brandeis Center alleges that Price was “subjected to anti-Semitic harassment targeting him on the basis of his ethnic and ancestral Jewish identity,” culminating in SJP’s complaint against Price. 

An introductory letter addressed to Tufts administrators denounces the Deadly Exchange campaign and claims that it “promotes a modern blood libel.” It also alleges that Price was denied due process ahead of the planned hearing on the complaint. 

This letter draws specific attention to the Nov. 18 meeting between the Judiciary and SJP, during which Price was asked by Judiciary Chair Dahlerbruch to remain muted. 

“Silencing Max Price's expression of opinion on the TCUJ Judiciary because he is Jewish and expresses a Zionist, pro-Israel opinion is flagrant ‘viewpoint discrimination’ that cannot be tolerated in a free society or in a university where the free-speech principles of the First Amend- ment govern,” the letter reads. “The university must forcefully condemn this violation of Mr. Price’s right to free expression.”

The Brandeis Center and Price said that Zionism is integral to Price’s Jewish identity, and that excluding Price from referendum deliberations based on him being an outspoken Zionist is a form of anti-Semitic discrimination. 

"If you want to be part of social justice at Tufts and if you want to work on criminal justice reform and anti-racism and police demilitarization, and you're Jewish, you have to denounceyour shared heritage, your shared ancestry with Israel, which isn't acceptable to me,” Price told the Daily. “I don't think that there should be a religious test for participating in social justice on campus.”  

SJP denies that they discriminated against Price on the basis of his Jewish identity. Their complaint to the TCU Senate is directed at the TCU Judiciary, though it does make specific accusations about Price’s role in the referendum process. The complaint does not mention Price’s Jewish identity or Zionist beliefs. 

"Tufts SJP is made up of students from many backgrounds, including Palestinians, Jews, and many others who work to fight for justice and freedom. We are concerned by efforts to conflate Palestinian liberation with antisemitism and erase Jewish anti-zionist history and present,” SJP wrote in a statement to the Daily. 

The letter from the Brandeis Center is addressed to University President Anthony Monaco, Provost Nadine Aubry and General Counsel Mary Jeka and makes recommendations to the university on how to respond. Specifically, it requests that the university investigate SJP’s role in the complaint and discipline its members for discrimination, Monaco publicly apologize to Price and to the Tufts Jewish community on behalf of Tufts, and the university update its non-discrimination policy to broaden the definition of anti-Semitism.

In an email to the Daily, Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, declined to give specifics on whether the university would respond to the Brandeis Center letter. He said that the university was not at liberty to comment on specific allegations or cases. 

“We take very seriously any concerns raised by students -- regardless of their backgrounds and perspectives -- of bias, safety, privacy and intimidation, whether by organizations affiliated or unaffiliated with Tufts,” Collins wrote. “We will continue to work closely with our students and university community to foster a productive and safe learning environment for all.”

SJP and TCU Senate fear harassment

The hearing gained national attention when Jewish Insider published an article about Price’s allegations of anti-Semitism and harassment by SJP. The article quoted Price and Alyza Lewin, president of the Brandeis Center. It also linked toSJP’s original complaint, Price’s response and redacted email communications between SJP and the Judiciary from the referendum process. 

With the increased media attention, SJP and the TCU Senate became concerned for their online privacy. Though SJP had wanted to remain anonymous in their complaint, the Jewish Insider article amplified the Brandeis Center’s calls for Tufts to investigate and discipline the students who had filed the complaint. Similar articles were published by other Jewish news outlets over the next several days.

In a statement to the Daily, SJP said they feared their identities would be revealed and they would be further targeted online if they continued to pursue their complaint. 

“We have continued to receive threats to our safety since launching this referendum—an experience shared by many who are willing to speak out for Palestinian rights,” SJP wrote. “More recently, we received threats to publish the identities and information of the students who filed the complaint if we pursued this accountability process, subjecting us to online bullying and false accusations in right-wing media.”

Alongside this media scrutiny, SJP feared their identities would be publicized because prior to the scheduled hearing date, Parliamentarian Lewis had shared their names with the other participants in the hearing, including Price. Lewis acknowledged that this decision created security concerns for SJP, given that Price had already shared their private complaint with the Brandeis Center.

Lewis consulted with Tufts’ Office of the Dean of Student Affairs to model the hearing after a Tufts disciplinary hearing, and one takeaway from that collaboration was that in a typical university hearing, the complainants’ identities are known to the respondents because the hearing is conducted in-person, so they see and interact with each other during the proceedings. Though SJP registered their complaint anonymously, Lewis says they would have eventually had to share their identities with the Judiciary had the hearing gone forward.They would have given opening statements and their names and faces would have been visible in the Zoom call. 

Still, Lewis took the decision to expose the SJP members’ identities seriously and acknowledged the difficulty of organizing a fair hearing while also protecting the participants’ security. 

“I was very conflicted, and I still don't know if that was right,” he said. “But I think what's clear is that we were all just trying to do our best.”

In an email to the Daily, Collins confirmed Student Affairs’ position that anonymity would not have been possible for SJP during the hearing, since Lewis was following the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs’ model for hearings.

“When [complainants and respondents] choose to participate, anonymity is not possible because each participant has a right to know who is saying what in support of or in defense against the substance of the allegations,” Collins wrote.

SJP was not the only group to experience intimidation and fear for their privacy after the publication of the Jewish Insider article. Members of TCU Senate also received unsolicited phone calls and media inquiries as the issue gained attention.

After these inquiries began, TCU Historian Sarah Tata removed senators’ names and email addresses from the TCU website. TCU President Sarah Wiener told the Daily that senators were advised to make their social media accounts private and remove their phone numbers and addresses from resumes they had posted online. She is unsure how long these privacy measures will last, or if they will be adopted permanently to protect senators from these types of invasive inquiries.

Wiener, a senior, added that the fear of being doxxed fell disproportionately on students of color within the TCU Senate, who would likely face greater scrutiny and repercussions if their names were published online in connection to a case like this one.

“A lot of students whose names were being shared were students of color, and how scary [is that] when there's not institutional support and backing, and everyone's presumptions in the job market for instance may already be against you,” she said. “That was really concerning that these voices were being threatened or intimidated even further.” 

Lewis echoed Wiener’s sentiments.

“Regardless of the circumstances, exposing members of the Tufts community to public scrutiny was an unnecessary and reckless decision,” Lewis said in an email to the Daily.

SJP withdraws complaint

Disparaging press coverage, compromised anonymity in the hearing process and the precedent of being publicly identified after the Nov. 18 Zoom call all contributed to SJP’s concerns for their safety. This ultimately led them to withdraw their complaint on Feb. 25, three days before the hearing was scheduled to take place. In a statement to the Daily, they referenced concerns for their safety and privacy in light of the increased national attention that the case had garnered. 

“While we are disappointed we will not see accountability through the university due to intimidation tactics and harassment, this will not diminish the voices of the students and organizations who voted yes on the referendum and are organizing for freedom and justice for all,” SJP wrote in its statement.

Price gave a statement after the cancellation of the Feb. 28 hearing through the Brandeis Center expressing relief that he was no longer the subject of an investigation, as well as disappointment that the Tufts administration did not intervene or respond to the Brandeis Center’s letter. 

“Now that my position in student government is secure, I look forward to devoting my energy to beating back the rising tides of bigotry and injustice on campus,” he said.

Price told the Daily that though allegations of harassment against students should be taken seriously, he doesn’t regret attracting national attention to his story. 

“I think an injustice is being done. And I think that bringing the situation under scrutiny helps to correct it,” Price said. “So while I sympathize with those who may be facing harassment now, I don't regret bringing attention to this story.”

Price has not decided whether he will run for TCU Judiciary again when his term expires this spring. 

Editor’s note: Julia, a member of SJP, requested in November that part of their name be omitted to protect their safety. Other SJP members are not identified individually due to concerns for their safety.