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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Rampant antisemitism at Tufts reveals a dearth of leadership

President Kumar’s silence on the conflict in Israel and campus antisemitism following two inadequate emails raises concerns about his leadership and who might fill the void.

If the past several months have shown anything, it is the shocking extent to which antisemitism has revealed itself on college campuses throughout the country. Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been the most visible, opting to accommodate — and thus tacitly endorse — antisemitic behaviors. Despite receiving less attention regarding antisemitism, Tufts is sadly no better. In the immediate wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement to its e-list praising Hamas’ “creativity” and signed off their Instagram post with “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” These actions transcended political demonstrations and were indefensible endorsements of evil. During this period that necessitated strong leadership, Tufts’ Office of the President offered the student body an ineffectual, milquetoast statement that failed to appropriately condemn Hamas’ barbaric acts and merely reiterated the “resources and support” of the University. A second statement, which acknowledged Hamas as a “terrorist organization,” attempted to more enthusiastically condemn the actions of Hamas. However, I’d argue the damage was already done. It could easily be seen as Tufts trying to recover its image after an indecisive first message, something that can seem disingenuous. Despite these two statements, too many Tufts students did not digest the message: Students called President Kumar a “genocide enabler” at his event with the Tufts Community Union and staged a sit-in and walkout in and around the Mayer Campus Center while some called for “intifada revolution.”

Silence is a statement. Kumar’s failure to address the conflict has had deleterious effects on Jewish students, alumni, professors and community members. Just yesterday, the Office of the President sent out an eight-minute video recapping the fall semester. During the video message, Kumar concluded a tricolon with, “it is possible to be supportive of the self-determination rights of both Israelis and Palestinians without coming across as somehow being blindly supportive of violence.” I agree with this, yet calls for violence have still taken place. Protesting for self-determination cannot be intertwined with calls for violence and genocide. As I mentioned above, calls for “intifada” and “from the river to the sea” have been heard across campus, yet Kumar has made no mention of accountability and appropriate punishment for involved students. This absence of leadership desperately needs to be addressed, and I implore Professor Emeritus Sol Gittleman to fill the void. It’s an unfair ask, as Gittleman’s duties at Tufts are increasingly limited (and deservedly so).

Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher university professor emeritus, taught Yiddish literature and Yiddishkeit (Jewish customs and practices) in the Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies from 1964–2015. His class rarely had an open seat. Many alumni consider Gittleman to be their best Tufts professor. In addition to teaching, Gittleman was Tufts’ longest-serving provost, assuming the role in 1981 and holding it for 21 years. To honor Gittleman’s decades-long career, Tufts created the Sol Gittleman Professorship in 2011, “an interdisciplinary position in the Department of Film and Media Studies.”

In addition to writing books, Gittleman recently published an article in WBUR, Boston’s local NPR news station. In the piece, Gittleman criticized the Ivy League presidents’ congressional testimonies and the antisemtic rhetoric on their campuses. He aptly pointed out their failure to appropriately denounce calls for intifada and genocide, acts that ought to violate any school’s code of conduct. Later in the article, Gittleman recalled his teaching days and how he edified students on Zionism: “My approach was to just teach the facts. I’d explain that Theodor Herzl was a secular Jewish European, who, after the Dreyfus Affair Trial, wanted a secular Jewish state, with German as its language, and no religious test.”

Tufts would materially benefit from a facts-based approach founded on this conviction. I believe whether you are an antisemite is not debatable. This message needs to be more clearly circulated across the Tufts campus. Gittleman’s knowledge of Judaism, his willingness to speak out and his influence at Tufts are conducive to proper leadership on this issue.

Gittleman’s view on the Ivy League presidents’ congressional testimonies and the antisemtic discourse on their campuses is thoughtful, compelling and grounded in historical facts. I encourage him to share his voice more openly and regularly with the Tufts community. The Tufts administration has failed to adequately chastise students who endorse the genocide of Jews, much like the administrations at Harvard, Penn and MIT, and this needs to change. Gittleman has a prominent platform at Tufts –– he left a lasting impression on numerous alumni and members of the faculty. Gittleman can steer Tufts back on course with his wisdom and knowledge about the conflict. Tufts would benefit from Gittleman voicing his opinion on the actions of pro-Hamas Tufts students. He would fill a gap created by Kumar’s silence. Through a long and storied career, Gittleman has proven to be a source of moral clarity. It would be a privilege to hear from him. Perhaps, he could impart his sagacity onto those with suspect and delusional reasoning.

Professor Gittleman –– Tufts needs you now more than ever.