Haverford College Allows Event Blaming Israel for Using COVID as ‘Tool for Settler Colonialism’

An Instagram post showing the “Israel Apartheid Month” events (Screenshot)

During the last week of March, Haverford Students for Peace instead disturbed it on their campus.

For four consecutive days during what the group labeled “Israel Apartheid Month,” they hosted a series of Israel-bashing sessions. None had much to do with the current war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

A March 25 session explored the “connection between disability justice and Palestinian liberation,” according to an Instagram post from the group. A March 26 screening portrayed “an Israeli assault on a refugee camp in Jenin” in 2002. A March 28 session examined “previous student movements at Haverford” and “what student organizing does for larger movements.”

But it was the March 27 event that really stirred the pot. The description of that one accused Israel of “intentionally” debilitating “Palestinians through the spread of COVID.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the executive director of The Greater Philly Hillel Network, which has a chapter at Haverford, were quick to condemn the event.

“It was nothing more than a blatant attempt to attack Israel and show there’s no safe ground on that campus for the Jewish community to feel welcomed,” said Michael Balaban, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation.

“The title of the event trafficked in a millennia-old blood libel,” added Jeremy Winaker, the executive director of The Greater Philly Hillel Network.

Balaban, Winaker and a group of Jewish parents and alums who have been speaking in a WhatsApp group reached out to the school administration about the event. The administration’s response was to ask the Haverford Students for Peace to change the title.

“Haverford College encourages the open and free expression of perspectives, as we also establish and maintain structures that enable and encourage a community to function and flourish across myriad registers, including speech. This includes providing space for the presentation of ideas, and for challenging them,” said Chris Mills, a Haverford spokesman.

John McKnight, the dean of Haverford, sent an email on March 22 to Haverford Students for Peace and the other groups hosting the event. A screenshot of the email was sent to the Jewish Exponent by a Jewish Haverford alum.

“I am writing to inform you that your event promotions have provoked strong reactions from some campus community members and to ask you to respond to these serious concerns,” McKnight wrote.

“I hope you understand by now that we support your freedom of expression, including various forms of political speech,” he continued. “We are also all committed to building and sustaining an inclusive environment of trust, concern and respect.”

“I very much understand and appreciate that your organizations want to do more to educate the campus community about the violence and oppression in Palestine,” he continued. “I also understand that many of you are wrestling with the inclination (and right) to provide contemporary political critiques within a social context that reflects contemporary and historic religious and/or ethnic bias.”

Michael Balaban (Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

Balaban said, “There’s a conflation of freedom of speech that allows you to go out and boldly cast lies.”

“Would Haverford College allow the Flat Earth Society to open a department alongside their science department?” he added.

The Jewish Federation CEO would have been OK with a conversation that criticized Israel’s actions in the war.

“As an academic institution, you have the responsibility to bring appropriate speakers to weigh out the issues and educate people,” he said. “But to claim that Israel was weaponizing COVID was just a lie. It’s a blood libel. At what point are we going to put on witch trials at Haverford? This is a failure of leadership. At what point will an institution stand up and say, ‘We have a responsibility to educate future leaders on what responsible governance is going to be?’ Rather than allowing people to spout something they found online?”

The Haverford administration “chose to follow up by sending a member of its staff to monitor the event,” Winaker said. Ten students ended up attending.

Balaban said the Jewish Federation has “demanded” a meeting with the administration. The organization is also planning on “calling on” Jewish donors to “raise the question of whether they should be supporting this institution.”

“It’s obviously not one that’s adhering to any level of academic credibility,” he said.

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