MIT suspends pro-Palestinian student group, saying it broke campus demonstration rules


((JEWISH REVIEW)) – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology suspended a pro-Palestinian student group Tuesday for violating campus rules about demonstrations, the latest school to do so amid controversy over the Israel-Hamas war.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth, who is Jewish, announced the suspension of MIT Coalition Against Apartheid in a video. The group had held what it called an “emergency action for Rafah” the night before, taking over a campus building without permits in order to condemn Israel’s planned invasion of the southern Gaza city that has alarmed even many allies of Israel, including the United States and Jewish leaders.

It was not the first time this group had violated campus rules, Kornbluth said.

“Last night, members of the CAA, the Coalition Against Apartheid, once again conducted a demonstration on campus without going through the normal permission processes that apply to every student group at MIT,” she announced in the video. She added, “When students don’t respect the rules, we have to take steps to ensure the safety and smooth functioning of the campus community.”

She added that the suspension was on an interim basis and that a committee would soon make a final determination on its status. For now, the group cannot use campus resources provided to other student groups.

MIT has attracted outsized scrutiny in the debates over how Israel is discussed on campus. Kornbluth was criticized by some Jewish groups in November for only partially suspending students who had occupied a campus building for a similar protest. A month later she was one of three university presidents to testify before Congress about campus antisemitism, in which each declined to state outright whether “calls for the genocide of Jews” violated rules on their campus. The presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who testified alongside Kornbluth, both stepped down in the hearing’s wake. 

More recently, a popular Jewish professor at MIT, Mauricio Karchmer, publicly announced he was leaving the university over its handling of antisemitism. A group of concerned Jewish MIT alumni is pushing for the school to do more to acknowledge the problem.

Kornbluth’s move to suspend the CAA drew praise from Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

“Yesterday, I sent a letter to @MIT President Kornbluth to express concern regarding the student group Coalition Against Apartheid,” Greenblatt posted Wednesday on X. “Last night, MIT got it right by suspending the group’s privileges after it once again failed to follow school policies.”

The Rogers Building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., is shown on Aug. 12, 2017. (Beyond My Ken via Creative Commons)

A number of universities have suspended pro-Palestinian student groups since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. 

Columbia University has suspended its chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace, similarly citing violations of campus rules; other schools including George Washington University, Brandeis University and Rutgers University have taken similar steps against their SJP chapters. The group’s Florida chapters recently sued the state over an order from Gov. Ron DeSantis demanding their blanket suspensions; last month a judge denied their request for a preliminary injunction, saying the order was never formally implemented.

On Instagram, a student coalition supporting MIT’s Coalition Against Apartheid condemned the university and Kornbluth’s decision to suspend their group. 

“For over four months, the MIT administration has continued to silence our voices by applying a double standard to our actions,” the coalition said in a statement that called the Coalition Against Apartheid’s actions as “peaceful protest after peaceful protest in response to the genocide perpetrated by the Israeli occupation in Palestine.”

The statement claimed that 13 members of the group had been threatened with permanent suspension.

“MIT fears the mass mobilization of our community, who have remained steadfast with Palestine,” the statement said It was signed by dozens of groups at an assortment of campuses, including MIT Jews For Ceasefire; Harvard Law School Tzedek; Princeton University Alliance of Jewish Progressives; Jewish Voice for Peace chapters at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley; and several SJP chapters.

Kornbluth’s own video message did not say anything about threatening students with suspension. She did emphasize that CAA had not been suspended because of its pro-Palestinian views.

“It is, for example, legitimate to criticize the policies of any government, including the current government of Israel, as indeed many Israelis do,” she said. “But as members of one community, we should not feel it’s OK to vilify and shun Israeli and Jewish members of our community. Equally, we shouldn’t feel it’s OK to vilify everyone who advocates for the Palestinian people as supporting Hamas.”