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Vanderbilt’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) faced a probing interrogation during their application process for the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC).

By Dion J. Pierre, Algemeiner

Amid a burst of antisemitism on college campuses across the US, the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter at Vanderbilt University has been denied membership in the Multicultural Leadership Council (MLC) branch of student government.

According to The Vanderbilt Hustler, the group is the only one to be rejected from this year’s applicant pool, an outcome that SSI president Ryan Bauman said is evidence of febrile opposition to dialogue and coexistence among some segments of the student body. The only Jewish group to be admitted, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), is a fringe anti-Israel organization that did not condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel and has long celebrated terrorism against Israelis.

Among the nine groups to be admitted to the MLC this year were the Taiwanese American Student Association, Vanderbilt Pride Serve, the Vanderbilt Association for South Asian Cuisine, and the Vanderbilt Iranian Student Association. One of the 11 total organizations that applied, Vanderbilt United Mission for Relief and Development, is still awaiting an upcoming vote.

As a requirement of its application, SSI was told to deliver a presentation to the MLC but given only a few minutes to do so. Afterward, the group was cross-examined by the MLC — of which Students for Justice in Palestine is a member organization — about their opinions regarding “genocide” and “apartheid,” an apparent attempt to use the proceeding as a soapbox for anti-Zionist propaganda.

“We told them that we didn’t show up to discuss politics,” Bauman told The Algemeiner during an interview on Tuesday. “We told them we were there to celebrate Israeli culture and further the pro-Israel movement and invited them to have other dialogues at another time. We were then told to leave, and they held a closed session. And as you can see, it resulted in us being rejected by a wide margin.”

Vanderbilt University is not a terrible place to be a Jewish student, Bauman explained, but the persistence of anti-Zionists shaming them about their identities has caused them to feel marooned and misunderstood at a time when they want commiseration between all students affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I really wish that they [the MLC] would reconsider. If they wanted to have hard conversations about their criticisms of Israel, let us join and have those conversations, but they can’t even look me in the eye and say that we have a right to our opinions,” he continued. “It’s awful and immensely sad to see that much obstinance exuding from college students who will become the future leaders of the world.”

Overall, Bauman added, the percentage of Vanderbilt University students who support movements like the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel is small. He credited the school for being “the best campus” for Jewish students.

“It’s complicated,” he said. “It’s hostile sometimes, but I feel very confident and comfortable walking around with my Star of David and going to Shabbat. And the university has done a phenomenal job making sure that there’s ample security at Chabad and in making Jewish students feel safe. They’ve been very helpful.”

Vanderbilt is still dealing with the aftermath of a disruption of university business last month by an anti-Zionist group that occupied an administrative building and proceeded to relieve themselves in plastic bottles. The activists assaulted and pushed university employees to gain access to the building and berated a Black public safety officer because he would not assist them in breaking school rules, according to campus officials and video footage of the demonstration.

On Friday, the university announced that several students involved in the unauthorized demonstration have been suspended or expelled and must immediately vacate its dormitories. School provost C. Cybele Raver expressed regret for levying severe punitive measures against the students.

“The gravity of this situation and these outcomes weighs heavily on those of us charged with carrying out our responsibility as leaders,” Raver said in a statement shared with The Algemeiner. She emphasized, however, that the students made their own “choices and decision” which prompted the “seriously and costly consequences.”

Asked about the Multicultural Leadership Council’s rejection of Students Supporting Israel, a university spokesperson said the school is reviewing the matter and will share any relevant information about its findings.

This is not the first time that Students Supporting Israel has been denied membership in a student organization. In 2021, the president of Duke University’s Student Government vetoed a vote approving recognition of SSI, an incident which set off volleys of criticism and a sharp rebuke from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

“Grant them the same access,” Brandeis Center president Alyza Lewin said at the time, warning of potential civil rights violations. “Treat them no differently than any other student recognized organization. If the university chooses not to intervene and does not make sure that SSI gets equal access and it is understood to be no different than any other organization, there could be potential legal liability for the university.”

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