Duke University (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)
Duke University

Student government veto of Students Supporting Israel chapter was discriminatory, says Brandeis Center.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The Louis Brandeis Center, a high-profile civil rights and legal watchdog, is demanding that Duke University administrators reverse what it calls a “discriminatory” decision by the student government not to recognize a campus pro-Israel group.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that administrators at the Durham, North Carolina campus replied to the center on Friday that they are looking into the matter.

In November, Jewish students launching a Duke chapter of Students Supporting Israel applied to the Duke Student Government (DSG) for recognition. SSI is an international campus movement with chapters at universities and colleges across the U.S. and Canada.

Their request was vetoed by Student Government President Christina Wang. She said it was because Duke SSI “singled out an individual student on their organization’s social media account in a way that was unacceptable for any student group and appeared antithetical to the group’s stated mission to be welcoming and inclusive to all Duke students, and educational in mission and purpose.”

She also called the post “potentially hostile or harmful.”

The Duke SSI post Wang referred to was on Instagram. After a student said Duke SSI “promotes settler colonialism,” the group replied saying “please allow us to educate you” and invited the student to an event. According to the JTA, Wang did not indicate how exactly Duke SSI’s response was “potentially harmful or hostile.”

The DSG subsequently upheld Wang’s veto by a vote of 37-3 with 10 abstentions.

According to the student newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, the Duke Student Government has not exercised a veto since 2016.

The Washington D.C.-based Brandeis Center said Duke SSI was “subjected to special scrutiny that other groups did not have to endure,” and that the veto was based on nothing more than a “rather anodyne” social media post.

The letter added that the Duke administration was “legally obligated to take corrective action.”

In 2019, the U.S Department of Education threatened to pull funding from a Middle East studies course jointly run by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because of its pro-Islam bias. Both universities reached settlements with federal officials.

As part of that settlement, according to the Chronicle, Duke administrators agreed to revise policies against discrimination, harassment and other forms of misconduct.

The institution was in a separate controversy in 2017, when Duke University Press published The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir Puar. The book alleged that Israel deliberately maimed Palestinian children in order to profit off the ensuing disabilities. Duke stoked further outrage in 2020 when the university’s Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies published a flattering review of Puar’s book.

Although Duke is a private institution, it receives federal grants for various programs. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives federal funds or financial assistance.

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