Smith College Responds to Antisemitic Vandalism by Promising To ‘Re-Examine’ Investing in Israel, After Removing Hummus From Dining Halls

A research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies repudiated the Smith president’s response as ‘irresponsible and dangerous.’

Via Wikimedia Commons
College Hall at Smith College. Via Wikimedia Commons

A prestigious women’s liberal arts college, Smith College, says it will consider divesting its endowment from Israel after protests from the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, a virulently anti-Israel group. 

The move was panned by critics on social media who pointed to the announcement’s bizarre timing. The announcement was made in an email responding to an antisemitic incident targeting a kosher kitchen on campus. 

The email, sent by Smith College’s president, Sarah Willie-LeBreton, first denounced vandalism at the kosher kitchen — which included the theft of a mezuzah (small prayer scrolls encased in a capsule and attached to a door frame) and swastika drawings — before announcing that the college was considering the divestment from the Jewish state. 

Ms. Willie-LeBreton wrote, “In recent days, we have learned of mezuzahs stolen from door frames and of swastika graffiti in the public rights of way near campus; we have witnessed protests and flyers born of pain and frustration; and we have heard of students who feel they cannot speak candidly about their beliefs,” the Smith College president wrote. 

She notes, “We are disheartened by these unsettling events and reiterate in the strongest terms that there is no place for antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any form of hate at Smith College.” The college has not had any reported incidents of Islamophobia. 

The college president added, “The Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility is considering a divestment request, and the office of finance is considering the best time to offer a session on the endowment.”

According to the school’s crime logs, a mezuzah was taken from “inside the kitchen” at the “Emerson House/Kosher Kitchen” on February 14. The crime logs list the case as “closed.” A spokeswoman for Smith College did not immediately respond to the Sun’s request for more details on the matter. 

The college president’s response was widely rebuked on social media by members of academia. 

A George Mason University of Law professor, David Bernstein, wrote on X, “I think it’s time to say that when you respond to a specifically antisemitic incident by condemning antisemitismandislamophobia, you have exacerbated the original antisemitism by not taking seriously what happened, and instead placating antisemites who think that addressing antisemitism as such is problematic.”

With regard to the college president’s response, Mr. Bernstein added that “this one is even worse than usual, noting that Smith is considering a request to divest from Israel, as if that’s somehow a proper response to an antisemitic incident as opposed to encouraging antisemitism.”

A research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Hussain Abdul-Hussain, repudiated Ms. Willie-LeBreton’s response as “irresponsible and dangerous.” 

In an email to the Sun, a spokeswoman for the school doubled down on the president’s messaging. She asserted that the divestments were part of a routine process for the college. “As occurs at other college campuses, Smith students will occasionally petition the college to consider divesting from particular industries,” the spokeswoman wrote to the Sun. 

She added that, “The Board is considering the request and has made no decision.” 

The potential divestiture from the Jewish state comes as Smith has been convulsed by anti-Israel demonstrations, as with many other liberal arts colleges. At Smith, however, the anti-Israel demonstrators are making substantial headway toward convincing administrators to cave into their demands. 

In December, Smith’s Chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated the school’s decision to discontinue the sale of products from an Israeli dipping brand, Sabra. Sabra is owned by PepsiCo and produced by an Israeli food manufacturer, Strauss Group. 

Ms. Willie-LeBreton is the former Swarthmore Sociology and Anthropology department chairwoman and Black Studies Program coordinator. On its website, Smith describes Ms. Willie-LeBreton as “an accomplished administrator, scholar, and sociologist who studies social inequality and race and ethnicity” and is “known for her commitment to the liberal arts, strengthening community, and energizing the work of equity and inclusion.” She has been president of the college since October 2023.

The New York Sun

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