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Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

campus administration student life

IU administration, faculty respond to letter from U.S. Rep. Jim Banks

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Through a letter with over 200 signatures, IU faculty are criticizing U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana’s Nov. 15 letter to IU President Pamela Whitten regarding alleged antisemitism at IU since Oct. 7.

In his letter, Banks listed three examples of antisemitism on IU campuses: the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s Oct. 9 rally, the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s Oct. 28 gathering calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and claims of antisemitism in IU Student Government from members who have resigned.

Banks requested Whitten and IU administrators respond to a series of questions, including the date of the IU Antisemitism Advisory Board’s last meeting, if Whitten and senior leadership had attended and its recommendations, by Dec. 1. He also asked IU leadership to brief his office on the number of antisemitic incidents on IU campuses since Oct. 7, if leadership has met with the Antisemitism Advisory Board since then and any reports of harassment or illegal activity after the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s Oct. 9 and Oct. 28 protests.

As a lawmaker, I would note that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits anti-Jewish and antisemitic discrimination,” Banks wrote. If IU administrators condone or tolerate campus antisemitism, the university could lose access to federal funding.

On Oct. 10, Whitten released a statement addressing violence in the Middle East. Her remarks received backlash for not directly referring to specific groups or nations affected by said violence. On Oct. 12, Whitten released a second statement, specifically naming Hamas and Israel and expressing sympathy for the Jewish community. This statement drew criticism for not acknowledging Palestinian suffering.

In response to Banks’ letter, four IU faculty members issued their open letter, stating it had a threatening tone and conflated pro-Palestinian political advocacy with antisemitism. As of Thursday afternoon, it had 220 signatures.

A fundamental contradiction informs Rep. Banks’ letter: on the one hand, politicians like him decry what they claim to be government overreach, but, on the other hand, they insist on ‘government oversight’ into aspects of institutions that should be the purview of faculty and university administrators,” Purnima Bose, IU professor and co-author of the letter, said in an email. “Universities should function as spaces for the free exchange of ideas without the interference of politicians. Such interference represents government overreach.”

In an email, Interim Executive Director of Media Relations and Editorial Content Barbara Brosher released a statement addressing Banks’ letter.

We appreciate the Congressman’s outreach,” Brosher said in the email. “The safety and overall well-being of our students will always be our top priority. IU’s commitment to stand against antisemitism is deep and sincere.”

The statement said the IU Antisemitism Advisory Board was established over a year ago and remains “robust” and “active.” It also said that the university has increased police patrols and security measures across each of its campuses and is working with law enforcement and Jewish campus organizations to best support Jewish students.

"Hate has no home at IU and acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia will not be tolerated, Brosher said in the email.

On Tuesday, IU professor Jeffrey Isaac, a co-author of the faculty letter, published an op-ed on the IndyStar’s website further denouncing Banks’ letter and political stances. Isaac, who is Jewish, said Banks’ examples of antisemitism on campus were either pro-Palestinian or hearsay.

There are legitimate debates to be had about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Isaac wrote in the op-ed. These debates are challenging, fractious and sometimes triggering. But they are debates and arguments, and not acts of bigotry. Efforts to police them, on campuses or in the broader society, run counter to the basic values of a democratic society. And efforts to exploit them for political gain represent acts of cynicism unbecoming of anyone who seeks to earn the public’s trust.

On Wednesday, Isaac’s op-ed was published in The Nation, including additional paragraphs condemning Banks for not denouncing then-President Donald Trump’s comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the 2017 Charlottesville, Va. Unite the Right rally. Isaac also mentioned Banks’ request for Washington, D.C. to remove a Black Lives Matter mural and efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

I write very regularly for national outlets about a range of political topics and have published five other pieces recently about aspects of the Hamas terrorist attack and the war that has followed it,” Isaac said in an email. With this particular piece, my hope is to call broad attention to the civil liberties and academic freedom issues at stake.

Banks responded to Isaac’s article on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday afternoon.

“Radical Marxist professor Jeffrey C. Isaac is attacking me for standing with Jewish victims of antisemitism at IU,” Banks wrote. “I’m not sorry!”

Banks attached an image of a copy of “The Communist Manifesto,” which Isaac, a professor of political science, edited and wrote an introduction for. Isaac said Banks’ response was “embarrassingly stupid” and “insulting,” and that his letter is “intellectually flimsy.”

“I am a Jewish-American who has served as a security guard at my synagogue and was a founding member of Bloomington, United, an award-winning civic group formed in response to neo-Nazism in the community in 1999,” Isaac said in an email. “I teach about Nazism and the Holocaust. When he denounces me as a woke fool who promotes antisemitism, he is proving himself to be the fool. If he is so convinced of his rightness, then perhaps he would like to visit the IU campus and publicly debate me on these issues. I’m here. But I don’t expect him to do anything more than tweet and disparage.”

IU did not respond to a request for comment about Banks’ Nov. 29 tweet by the time of publication.

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