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Case Western Reserve University's independent student news source

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Editorial: President Kaler’s intimidation of the LGBT Center is a threat to student expression

On Nov. 6, Case Western Reserve University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), as well as several other CWRU clubs and external organizations, organized a walkout in protest of President Eric Kaler and his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Kaler released two statements one month ago, the first expressing his remorse “to all those affected by the tragic loss of life” in Israel and Gaza, and the second condemning the “terrorist violence by Hamas against Israel” four days later.

The weekend before the walkout, the SJP Instagram page posted an update stating that the LGBT Center—whose logo was initially included on the fliers for the walkout as a supporter of the event—was allegedly forced to retract their support after the university intimidated them with “dire consequences” if they did not comply. These consequences were not specified by the LGBT Center or the university.

If true, such intimidation and threat by the administration are far beneath the values of a university that claims to act as a safe haven for “respectfully consider[ing] the things that may divide us,” as Kaler stated in his Oct. 9 email. An official statement released by the university said, “[l]ike every other student affairs organization, the LGBT Center exists to serve all students.” Whether the LGBT Center intended on showing support for this walkout or not does not mean that it only supports Palestine. Prohibiting this expression is only further polarizing the center that serves as a “safe space for community and education.”

The LGBT Center is an identity-based university office and, according to the statement from the university, cannot “endorse campus political activities.” Firstly, as expressed in the flier, the primary purpose of the walkout was to express no confidence in Kaler’s statements—an explicitly nonpolitical objective focused on the president—not for the elimination of Israel or the liberation of Palestine. Secondly, the LGBT Center has been able to support other political causes, having also denounced discrimination and violence against marginalized communities. Why didn’t the university retaliate against the LGBT Center when they publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020? Why is supporting nonviolence against Black Americans not considered political, but supporting nonviolence against Palestinian civilians is?

However, this alleged retaliation should not come as a surprise; Kaler has been firm on his opinions about the State of Israel for years, polarizing college campuses for over a decade. Prior to his presidency at CWRU, Kaler served as president of the University of Minnesota (UMN), where UMN saw many of the same problems that CWRU is currently facing with Kaler. In 2018, when the UMN student body passed a campus-wide referendum to boycott and divest from the State of Israel, former UMN President Kaler expressed concerns about the campus community “unfairly singling out one government and the citizens of the country in question.” When CWRU’s Undergraduate Student Government voted to pass Resolution 31-15 to divest from Israel last year, Kaler reacted in a similar manner, calling the language in the bill “anti-Semitic,” “anti-Israel” and “irrelevant,” also mentioning that the bill was “naïve.”

Furthermore, in 2016, an American-Israeli nonprofit group hung posters around the UMN campus claiming that SJP was “a front for” Hamas, depicting caricatures of men carrying assault rifles and wearing a keffiyeh around their head and face, which Kaler did nothing about. These are the same posters that have been seen around CWRU’s campus, and Kaler once again has yet to denounce them as “anti-Palestinian,” “anti-Arab,” “naïve” or even just heavily-misinformed propaganda.

CWRU’s Policy on Freedom of Expression, which is relevant to all members of the campus community, recognizes that people will inevitably have a difference in opinion about some topics, “[y]et it is not the proper role of the University to exclude or suppress those ideas some may find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive.” The policy also mentions that the university may restrict expression if it is illegal, goes against CWRU policy, threatens or harasses a specific individual, breaches privacy or confidentiality or is “otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.” The LGBT Center’s expression clearly did not violate any of the restrictions regarding legality, harassment or privacy, and its objective was not aimed towards a political cause but Kaler himself. How, then, did its expression harm the university?

There now exists a Petition of No Confidence in President Kaler for his recent actions, citing that Kaler has not lived up to the university’s core values of “civility and the free exchange of ideas” as well as “academic freedom and responsibility.” While this is a heavily emotional topic that understandably upsets people on both sides, it didn’t have to be like this. As reiterated by SJP, the purpose of the walkout was to bring the campus community together to fight against the statements Kaler made that deliberately omitted crucial context to this “not so simple” conflict, in his words. Ted Steinberg, the faculty advisor for SJP, said, “President Kaler has imposed his own politics on us all and that can only work to stifle debate about what is happening in Gaza and Israel. The walkout fought back against the administration in light of the continuing brutalization of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military.”

In closing, he said that “SJP’s goal is to remind us that the Palestinians are human beings and you cannot take away their humanity no matter how hard you pound them militarily.”

Note: On Nov. 10, President Eric Kaler released an official statement acknowledging Palestinian suffering and loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives. The above article was written prior to Nov. 10 and as such does not include these new developments.

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Unsigned editorials are typically written by the opinion editor but reflect the majority opinion of the senior editorial staff.

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