Editorial: President Kaler has created far more division than USG ever could

Editorial Board

The priority of any university president should be to look out for the safety of their student body. President Eric Kaler flagrantly disregarded that notion when he decided to label our Undergraduate Student Government (USG) as antisemitic.

On Nov. 8, we saw the passage of Resolution 31-15 by our USG—which calls on Case Western Reserve University administration to investigate whether any part of our university’s endowment is invested in companies that support violence against Palestinians, and to divest from them if they are found to do so. Versions of the bill had been considered by USG for years, as students debated whether the actions of the Israeli government were worth supporting with our university’s money. The debate at USG’s General Assembly was very respectful and came to a head with the passage of the bill. Students spoke out on both sides of the bill but always remained cordial towards each other. Despite USG’s majority voting on one side of the issue, the need to be respectful and civil was constantly reiterated due to the nuance of the situation. President Kaler did not follow that standard.

The next day on Nov. 9, President Kaler sent out an email to the CWRU community titled “Supporting informed debate, but rejecting hate.” Yet, ironically, Kaler’s email was not at all informed and ignored the purpose and the language of the USG “Students for Justice in Palestine” resolution that was passed the night before. He called clauses of the resolution either “irrelevant” or “anti-Israel,” and called the resolution itself “naïve” and inherently hateful towards the Jewish people. He explicitly said that if a USG member voted “yes,” their vote was “clearly a vote against Israel and an aggression toward the Jewish members of our community.” Beyond that, he also characterized the actions called for by the resolution as “hate” towards specific groups, implying that those in support were hateful towards the Jewish people—a very serious label, especially considering the vast majority of our USG voted to pass the bill. This is extremely irresponsible and inflames tensions across campus. It ignores the situation in Israel and Palestine and discounts the moral reasons our USG representatives may have had in voting the way they did.

The Observer has gone into the specifics of this resolution and its purpose in other articles. However, to give an overview of the bill, here are some specifics to combat Kaler’s misinformation.

First, the bill is entirely investigatory in nature, asking the university to see what portions of its endowment are invested in companies within the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex and any other organization that supports the Israeli government causing human suffering—and there is a lot of suffering. Between causing the displacement of populations, enforcing extrajudicial killings, implementing a system of widespread segregation and creating the world’s largest open-air prison through the restrictions placed on Gaza, much can be criticized about Israel’s government. USG is not the only group to call Israel an “apartheid” state; human rights groups such as Amnesty International have used the same language when describing the government. Palestinians and any other Arabs living in Israel are essentially living like second-class citizens—a fact, not an opinion. The USG resolution outlines these and other international law transgressions and essentially asks why our university should invest in corporations and a system that causes such human suffering. To point these things out isn’t “anti-Semitic” or “irrelevant,” as Kaler says, nor are they necessarily anti-Israel. Nowhere in the resolution does it deny Israel’s right to exist; instead, it decries the suffering that its government is causing. To that point, multiple Jewish students who spoke out against the resolution during USG’s GA acknowledged that the content of the bill itself wasn’t antisemitic. Rather, they were worried about the division that the bill might create and the consequences of that division.

To be against the actions of the Israeli government does not necessarily mean that one is antisemitic, as President Kaler suggests. Being against a government that discriminates against much of its population is a moral stance, just as being against corporations that build weapons, private prisons and illegal settlements that harm and displace any human population is. It is not a statement against the people who live within the governed area, nor any particular ethnic group. The Jewish people and the people of Israel have gone through much suffering—which should not be disputed and must be acknowledged. It is true that there are some who support the people of Palestine because they are antisemitic and wish harm upon the Jewish people. However, not everyone who criticizes a religious state is criticizing the religion itself, and we must make that distinction to have a healthy debate. President Kaler says he supports “informed debate,” but how can we do that when students cannot voice their views without being labeled as “hateful”? 

If the fear is that the resolution may cause divisions on campus and increase tensions, causing Jewish students to feel like targets, that is completely understandable. We should not discount the fears of any student at CWRU and should work to make everyone feel supported. However, President Kaler did not diffuse the situation with his statement. If anything, he has further fueled division on this campus. Let us be honest and admit that the CWRU student population is not the most politically engaged. Most CWRU students probably did not even know that USG was voting on this resolution. By spotlighting the resolution and labeling those who voted to pass it as inherently antisemitic, Kaler has caused groups of students to feel targeted—not just by fellow students but by their own university’s administration. Palestinian students already felt a lack of support on campus and have faced many instances of discrimination and microaggressions. To discount their experiences is to discount a portion of our student body that needs support just as much as any other group, if not more. Now they feel all the more targeted, at the expense of protecting a different group of students. This behavior is unbecoming of a university president.

Beyond the falsity surrounding the resolution in Kaler’s email, his statement truly illustrates how the administration is willing to brush off genuine concern from the student body. Furthermore, Kaler disguises that disregard through a righteous perspective by stating his “disappointment” in the student support of this USG bill, especially since he regards us as “among the brightest, most compassionate, welcoming and dedicated individuals.” Well, considering that we are “compassionate” and “dedicated,” Kaler conveniently forgets to mention that our compassion is for those being hurt and killed in Palestine; the thousands of individuals being affected by the travesties committed by the Israeli government. Furthermore, his personal disappointment in our student body is not only conceited but also hypocritical.

President Kaler did not even pretend to acknowledge both sides of what, in the end, is a very nuanced situation. He has a clear political and financial agenda, and impressing that onto the student body while labeling many students, including our student leaders, as hateful and antisemitic is reckless and ill-considered. Perhaps one could discount this as a rash decision made in the heat of the moment to support a group of students he felt was being discriminated against. Maybe one could say that he was simply misinformed about the contents of the bill and the debate surrounding it. But no—Kaler has continuously made statements like this throughout his career, having denounced anti-Israel sentiments as the president of the University of Minnesota following a campus-wide vote to divest from the Israeli government. He also condemned the American Studies Association for boycotting Israeli institutions as being against the values of “academic freedom.” He further discounted community members who pointed out that Palestinians face a lack of academic freedom due to Israeli institutional constraints on their movement, and instead doubled down by saying in response that boycotts, no matter what, “undermine academic freedom.” 

Continuously suggesting that students must live with the consequences of being labeled as antisemitic due to their stance on Israel illustrates his close-mindedness on the subject. Additionally, the fact that President Kaler felt it necessary to meet with members of Cleveland Hillel and heed the concerns of our Jewish students, while not deeming it necessary to meet with and hear the concerns of our Middle Eastern Cultural Association nor our Muslim Student Association about their very real fears of discrimination on CWRU campus, shows where his priorities are.

We, as students, deserve better than this. We deserve to feel supported by our university—yet time and time again, we are ignored, placated and given false assurances and meaningless actions. Finally, in this instance, we have been berated for voicing our beliefs surrounding an issue that deserves more tact than President Kaler’s less-than-300-word email that alienated an entire population of community members. Kaler “[pledged] that Case Western Reserve will continue to be a place welcoming to all,” yet his words demonstrate the opposite of that sentiment. His statement was a clear attempt to strike down any civil discussion between students and the administration and was full of misinformation and ignorance. President Kaler and CWRU’s administration had an opportunity to make sure multiple community perspectives were heard and seen. Instead, President Kaler decided that sending out a hostile email would be the best solution, creating more mistrust. 

If President Kaler is so worried about how resolutions like the one USG passed will cause division on campus and cause students to feel discriminated against, he should look in the mirror. His one-sided and inflammatory statement did far more harm than any USG vote ever could.