MIT case study: How systemic institutional antisemitism chases away talent

Image by Roger W

Cal and Stanford aren’t the only prestigious colleges driving off folks who oppose Hamas and support Israel’s right to exist. In December 2023, MIT lecturer Mauricio Karchmer stepped down from his dream job after observing his administration affirm antisemitic hate, while keeping mum on explicit terrorism. In a moving Free Press op-ed, Karchmer recounts MIT’s history of opposing different viewpoints, and mourns his preventable exit from an institution that’s pushing out ideological/ethnic/religious “others.”

As a computer scientist, I normally don’t have time for politics. But when Hamas invaded Israel on Saturday, October 7, brutally murdering 1,200 Israelis, I emailed the head of my department and urged her to issue a statement of support for Israelis and Jews. I assumed the reason was obvious. The university had sent statements before on various issues—such as a message condemning the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and another standing in solidarity with the Asian community amid a wave of hate crimes in 2021.

On Monday, the head of my department and its office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) sent out a message titled “A time for community support of each other.”

The message was riddled with equivocations, without mentioning the barbarity of Hamas’s attack, stating only that “we are deeply horrified by the violence against civilians and wish to express our deep concern for all those involved.” I was shocked that my institution—led by people who are meant to see the world rationally—could not simply condemn a brutal terrorist act.

That same day, the protests on campus started. Students chanted “Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea” with fury and at times glee, like they were reciting catchy songs instead of slogans demanding the erasure of the Jewish people. …

The following month, our faculty newsletter was almost entirely dedicated to the protests, with several professors parroting anti-Israel propaganda. One professor wrote an anonymous editorial “Thanking the Protesting Students” for “reminding us that organizing and voicing dissent—even when it is loud or uncomfortable—is in fact one of our ‘essential activities.’” In another editorial called “Standing Together Against Hate: From the River to the Sea, From Gaza to MIT,” linguistics professor Michel DeGraff wrote that the protesters calling for intifada “have given me hope for the future.”

The only voices in the newsletter standing up for Jews were Jewish. But we are too few to fight this battle.

Though I cringed as I read these faculty letters, and shuddered as I walked by protests on campus, nothing has hurt more than watching the Israeli and Jewish students—who comprise fewer than 6 percent of the MIT student body—suffer.

On November 14, one of the Israeli PhD students in my department confided to me that he was taking a few weeks off from the semester to return to Israel—an active war zone—because he needed to escape the toxicity of MIT’s campus. This week, he told me he is considering leaving MIT without completing his PhD.

I am truly in awe of emerging leaders like Talia Khan, an MIT graduate student, who boldly spoke in front of Congress one month ago, explaining how her peers told her the young people murdered at the Nova music festival in Israel on October 7 “deserved to die because they were partying on stolen land.” She has served as a powerful voice for the Jewish community, particularly when so many others have been silent. …

Students at MIT and other elite colleges have been radicalized by faculty members who have encouraged and even led the student body to become social justice warriors, supporting their highly progressive political beliefs. America’s brightest minds are being manipulated by a force they don’t even understand to adopt a narrow view of the world. That this is happening at a place where they’re meant to be exploring a wealth of ideas and have their thinking challenged shocks me.

This thinking has led to an illiberalism on MIT’s campus, where certain speakers have been canceled for having the wrong views. In fall of 2020, environmental scientist Dorian Abbot was uninvited from speaking at the university for expressing unfavorable ideas about affirmative action (even though his talk was about climate and life on other planets). But two years later, MIT’s Women’s & Gender Studies department and Coalition Against Apartheid co-hosted Mohammed El-Kurd, a Palestinian poet who has said that Israelis hsave “an unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.”

Over 65 percent of students from each MIT undergraduate class—or around 800 students—enroll in my Introduction to Algorithms course every year. When I looked at the names of the leaders of some of the most violent anti-Israel groups on our campus, I found a handful of my students on the list. Then I found out that one of my former teaching assistants—a bright young woman—was one of the organizers of the Coalition Against Apartheid and helped bring Mohammed El-Kurd to campus.

I loved my job. But I realized there and then I could no longer train kids in algorithms, knowing they might one day spread this ideology even further through their advanced knowledge. I knew I could no longer be a part of a system that foments antisemitism.

This article originally appeared in the Free Press. Read the whole thing here.


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