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UVa students, faculty named in blacklist, accused of antisemitism without evidence

An anonymous University of Virginia parent has accused two professors and one student of antisemitism for organizing an Israel-Palestine film series.

Organizers, however, say the series was specifically designed to show balanced perspectives. It alternated between screening movies from Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers.

The accusation is one of many listed in a document compiled by multiple UVa parents, which outlines a wide range of reported antisemitic incidents they say have occurred on UVa Grounds since Israel’s war against Palestinian terrorist group Hamas began in October of last year.

That conflict has killed more than 34,000 people to date, an overwhelming majority of them Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled territory of Gaza, and an overwhelming majority of those women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

In the States, college campuses have become ideological battlegrounds. The war being waged by the world’s only Jewish nation-state has coincided with a spike in reported antisemitism on campuses nationwide while at the same time spurring mass protests calling on Israel to lay down its weapons and colleges to divest from the country and companies that do business there.

The list of accusations against UVa students and faculty includes unverified but disturbing allegations, such as one Jewish student being spat on, two others being called kikes and one student telling others that he supported Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Some of the other alleged offenses on the list: the aforementioned film series, a student losing friends because he supports Israel and a food truck offering discounts to customers “if they supported the Palestinians.”

The 11-page document was published by the Jefferson Council, a conservative UVa alumni association whose co-founder, businessman Bert Ellis, sits on the school’s governing Board of Visitors. The group purports to fight against so-called cancel culture, advocating for “the free exchange of competing ideas and intellectual diversity.”

In the more than 30 alleged incidents described in the document, only one student is named: Ali Jarrah.

“The week of March 11th, a student and RA, Ali Jarrah, sent an email to many professors promoting a 6 week movie and discussion series. The series is sponsored by MESALC [Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures] and UVA Jewish Studies,” reads Item 26 of the document.

It claims that two films in the ongoing series, “The Present" and "Born in Gaza,” are “anti-Israel” and that it was an “antisemitic/anti zionist event.”

“The Present” is a short film that received an Academy Award nomination. The International Movie Database describes the film thus: “On his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his young daughter set out in the West Bank to buy his wife a gift. Between soldiers, segregated roads and checkpoints, how easy would it be to go shopping?”

“Born in Gaza” is described on the same website as: “Filmed shortly after the 2014 Gaza war, this documentary examines how violence has transformed the lives of 10 Palestinian children.”

In the email sent from Jarrah — which the anonymous parent refers to in the document — he alerted a professor of the film screenings, encouraging students to attend and adding that each would be followed by a faculty-moderated discussion. He noted that it would be the first event of a running series.

“Given that this is a wonderful opportunity for students from all backgrounds to engage on what is a pertinent, but often very charged topic, I hope that you’ll consider sharing this information with your students,” Jarrah wrote.

Weeks later, Jarrah was “shocked” to see himself mentioned in the document, in part because no other students were named.

“I’m very surprised that they would not name the people who they claim used antisemitic slurs or hit people, assaulted people, which are very concerning incidents of antisemitism,” Jarrah told The Daily Progress. “But they would name me and they would name these two faculty members for simply having a wonderful discussion around this very important issue in an academic setting.”

Moreover, Jarrah couldn’t believe that a film series he says was designed to offer balanced perspectives and foster dialogue was being labeled antisemitic, as were the two Jewish professors who helped facilitate it.

“My idea as head of a department that is fundamentally a language and literature department is to draw on the things we teach, to have dialogue not just about current events but the cultural and historical background of each side, to increase understanding of where the two groups are coming from as they encounter each other in this very tragic warfare,” professor Daniel Lefkowitz told The Daily Progress.

Lefkowitz chairs the Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures. He’s also a faculty member of the Jewish Studies Program, as is professor Caroline Kahlenberg.

The document accuses both of being “pro-Palestinian and antisemitic and therefore unlikely to provide a balanced view.” It does not offer any evidence for the claim.

The selected films in the series, from both Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers, were chosen by a group of students and faculty members.

“We wanted to present films that taught people who are curious about the region, about Israelis, about Palestinians, about the conditions they exist in. The cultural ideas that lead Israelis on one hand and Palestinians on the other hand to engage in activities and statements that we’ve seen blasted on the news in the past six months,” Lefkowitz said.

Lefkowitz hoped that people would attend the entire film series instead of individual screenings.

Elizabeth Wittner, an academic director at the university, personally knows both Jarrah and Lefkowitz. She and Lefkowitz both raised children at the same local synagogue and carpooled their children to soccer practice together.

“I have known [Jarrah] only to be kind, ethical, caring, interested in other cultures and, in fact, the last I heard from him was a very sweet happy Passover note,” Wittner said.

“That both Dan and Ali are being accused of antisemitism for organizing an academic event to further understand the Israeli conflict is absolutely absurd to me and is a signal to me that this conversation has gotten completely off the rails,” she wrote. “When there is real antisemitism in the world, this is a distraction and a political ploy by extremists to silence debate.”

Jarrah was born in New Jersey and his family is Palestinian. He does not know who authored the document, why he was named or how the author knew he is a resident adviser.

He didn’t know the document existed until he saw it published by the Jefferson Council.

“I think they’re hypocrites to dox people this way and to publish this document without context,” Jarrah said. Doxxing refers to the publication of private or identifying information about an individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent.

The Jefferson Council published the document in a blog post which mentioned eight of the allegations. It did not mention the film series.

Asked about the document, Jefferson Council Executive Director Jim Bacon noted that the document was authored by a parent, not anyone on the council, and that the organization “has no opinion on whether the film series or individuals involved are antisemitic.”

“I have no way of knowing whether it was designed to facilitate dialogue, or what the tenor of that dialogue was, or whose characterization of the event was the most accurate,” Bacon wrote in an email to The Daily Progress.

After Jarrah and others raised concerns about the document, the Jefferson Council appears to have removed some links to it. It still remains published on its website, though.

For more information on the allegations, Bacon suggested contacting Julie Pearl, a parent who sent the document to UVa Rector Robert Hardie.

Hardie is facing a campaign calling for his resignation after telling the Board of Visitors at its March 1 meeting that conversations regarding antisemitism on Grounds should be held in closed-door sessions because they involve matters of student safety. His remarks were prompted by Ellis, who criticized the school in open session for not being more responsive to allegations of antisemitism. The two had a heated exchange, and days later a mobile billboard was spotted driving around campus calling for the rector’s resignation. Around the same time, ads began to run online calling for the same thing. While the sponsor of the billboard truck remains unclear, the ads explicitly say they were paid for by the Israel on Campus Coalition, a pro-Israel nonprofit organization with ties to Hillel, a Jewish campus organization that can be found at UVa and colleges nationwide.

The incidents described in the document she sent to Hardie are ones “we’ve observed and been told by students,” Pearl told The Daily Progress.

But she could not speak to Item 26, which describes the film screening as a “disgusting” and “one-sided presentation.”

A number of parents contributed to the document, according to Pearl, and it was not her who added the film series to the list. Pearl did not provide the name of the parent who she says authored the item, but said she’d inform the person that The Daily Progress was seeking more information. That parent still has not reached out.

In her letter to Hardie, Pearl wrote, “Emails and letters sent to UVA administrators from concerned parents have been met with generic replies leaving the hostile environment unaddressed.”

UVa spokesman Brian Coy said the university’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights has worked to gather all information possible from the individuals who have reported antisemitism on Grounds.

“So far, and despite comprehensive investigative efforts, neither EOCR nor University Police have identified evidence that would support additional adjudication, including disciplinary actions or criminal prosecution,” he told The Daily Progress in a statement.

“We take very seriously the experiences of individuals who make reports: we continue to gather details, to offer them supportive resources, and to ask members of our community to provide additional information if they have it,” Coy added.

On April 3, the Jewish Leadership Advisory Board, the largest Jewish student organization in Charlottesville, penned a letter to the Board of Visitors. It came in the wake of the March 1 Board of Visitors meeting.

In the letter, first obtained by the Cavalier Daily student newspaper, the students wrote that Jewish and Israeli students must have their culture respected and that they should feel supported by university administration. It would be a disgrace, they wrote, if Hardie was forced to resign “as a result of deceitful politics.”

Additionally, they were “disheartened to see members of the University faculty doxed.”

“We acknowledge that antisemitism is a top concern at UVA, especially among parents, although it is not as widespread as some outside of the University community believe,” they wrote. “It saddens us to see concerted efforts to exploit Jewish students as pawns for political agendas. Such efforts threaten the safety and well-being of Jewish students.”

Jarrah said he has not faced much backlash for being named in the document published by the Jefferson Council, saying that most of his peers have found the allegation “ridiculous.”

“But just having your name in such a PDF without any context could be harmful. It’s part of your digital footprint. It’s part of my digital footprint now, and part of the professors’ digital footprint. And it’s not a light thing to be accused of antisemitism,” he said.

“I am worried that if they continue to do this, it could really harm faculty members and students,” he said.


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