November 15, 2023

Rep. Jim Banks says IU fails to combat antisemitism in letter to Pamela Whitten

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Accusations of antisemitism on Indiana University's campus have spread from Bloomington to Rep.  Jim Banks (R, IN-03) office in Washington, D.C.

After Director of Diveristy, Equity and Inclusion Makiah Pickett and Treasurer Alex Kaswan resigned from Indiana Undergraduate Student Government in a letter to the student body, Banks wrote to President Pamela Whitten Wednesday.

Banks asked that his office be briefed on the number antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel. He also requested information on meetings with IU antisemitism task forces and if student-led pro-Palestine protests led to harassment reports or illegal acts.

“As an IU graduate, allegations of antisemitism at my alma mater are personal and extremely concerning to me,” Banks said. “As a lawmaker, I would note that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits anti-Jewish and antisemitic discrimination. If IU administrators condone or tolerate campus antisemitism, the university could lose access to federal funding."

An IU spokesperson provided a statement, saying the university appreciates the congressman’s outreach. The statement said safety and well-being of IU students are always top priorities.

“IU’s commitment to stand against antisemitism is deep and sincere,” IU said. “Hate has no home at IU and acts of antisemitism and Islamophobia will not be tolerated.”

IU has increased police presence across all campuses and introduced additional security, the university stated. IU is working closely with law enforcement and Jewish campus organizations to follow best practices.

The Antisemitism Advisory Board was established over a year ago, the university said, and it “remains robust and active.”

Banks said he wants a response to his letter by Dec. 1.

Hundreds gathered on the Bloomington campus Oct. 9 to show support for Israel and Palestine in separate demonstrations. IU’s Chabad and Hillel groups organized the pro-Israel demonstration. IU’s Palestine Solidarity Committee organized the other. Police monitored both rallies.

The Indiana Daily Student reported the two groups confronted each other at the end of the night.

Banks singled out the Palestine Solidarity Committee for its Oct. 28 protest calling for a ceasefire.

"One protestor held a sign reading 'Colonialism, Apartheid, Genecide [sic],' and, according to the Bloomingtonian, an IU student smeared Israelis as 'occupiers," Banks wrote. 

IU's Palestine Solidarity Committee provided a statement Wednesday. The committee expressed “profound disappointment” at being singled out by Banks. It vehemently rejected linking its activities to antisemitism, and urged Banks to “uphold international law and fundamental principles of human dignity.”

“Contrary to assertions made by Congressman Jim Banks, our characterization of the state of Israel as ‘occupiers’ is not a smear but rather a precise reflection of the internationally recognized illegal occupation of Palestinian land, as defined by the United Nations Security Council and endorsed by numerous human rights organizations,” the Palestine Solidarity Committee said. “The IU administration has exhibited clear bias against Palestinian students through Pamela Whitten’s statement, yet the Congressman has not taken a stand in solidarity with Palestinian and Muslim students.”

The committee strongly encouraged empathy for both perspectives and to work towards ending discrimination against Palestinian, Jewish and minority students.

Whitten released a “statement regarding the Middle East” Oct. 10, saying “IU is heartbroken over the horrific violence that has occurred over the past few days.” The three-sentence statement did not name Israel, Hamas or Palestine.

Banks highlighted the criticism that followed Whitten’s statement.

On Oct. 16, Whitten released another statement on social media, expressing solidarity with IU’s Jewish community and urging compassion on campus.

“I have reflected on the events of this past week and have had many conversations with the IU community,” Whitten said in the new statement. “I continue to be heartbroken by the terrorist attack on the people of Israel. Let there be no ambiguity, Israel has suffered grievous atrocities at the hands of Hamas terrorists.”

Banks details recent accusations against IUSG, citing Kaswan’s and Pickett’s labeling IUSG leadership “blatantly antisemitic.” He said he shares their sentiments that the resignations motivate “actions from leadership to combat bias and antisemitism on campus.”

The Anti-Defamation League reported a quadrupling of verified antisemitic incidents in the U.S. from Oct. 7-23. Pro-Palestinian rallies are included in that figure, the ADL said. The ADL reported there were 33 antisemitic incidents in Indiana in 2022.

Banks said IU leadership must respond aggressively to reports of antisemitism on its campus.

Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias are also on the rise in the U.S. since Oct. 7. The Council on American-Islamic Relations reported it received a total of 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4. This is a 216 percent increase compared to last year, CAIR said.

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