Opinion: An Open Letter Responding to the Indiana University Administration’s Grievous Targeting of Pro-Palestinian Voices and Speech

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA – JANUARY 26: Protesters fill the atrium at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art: Indiana University to protest against the cancellation of an upcoming exhibit for Palestinian artist Samia Halaby on January 26, 2024, in Bloomington, Indiana. Halaby, 87, has been outspoken in her support of Palestinians. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

The following was sent to the Bloomingtonian by Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana:

January 29, 2024

Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana writes with grave concern about two recent actions taken by the Indiana University administration: the irregular and arbitrary sanctions imposed upon tenured political science faculty member Abdulkader Sinno and the cancellation of the exhibit of Samia Halaby’s artwork at the Eskenazi Museum of Art.  The details of each incident have been spelled out in several other sources, including this IU faculty letter regarding the administration’s trampling of academic freedom and shared governance in its sanctioning of Professor Sinno, and this petition demanding an end to the IU administration’s censorship of Samia Halaby’s exhibit.  

There is no reasonable dispute over the facts in these cases, so we will not rehash them here. 

But we must be clear: these are acts of bigotry that target and inflict harm upon Palestinians and Arabs more generally.  We know that bigotry against any group or community is abhorrent. And we understand that far from protecting Jews, these acts of bigotry by the IU administration make Jews less safe—and for two reasons.  First, hateful conduct targeting one group can never be confined to the initial target: such conduct normalizes hate and thus fosters more hate, leaving all of us less safe.  And second, the dishonest weaponization of concerns about Jewish safety, in which these administrative actions participate, undermines the urgent struggle against antisemitism by sowing confusion about what antisemitism is. Antisemitism is hatred of Jews and/or Judaism: it is not support for Palestinian freedom and equality; not the presence of Palestinian and Arab voices, or the voices of their allies, at the university; and not criticism of the Israeli state or of its government and policies.

We thus stand proudly in solidarity with Professor Sinno and his students who are being deprived of the urgent education he provides, and also with Samia Halaby, whose stunningly brilliant explorations of color, light, and form enrich all of us. 

Regarding the conduct of the IU administration in these two cases, Jewish Voice for Peace-Indiana also thinks it is crucial to call attention to the frightening parallels between (i) the widespread attacks on Palestinian and other Arab voices in US higher education (including, notably, at IU) at the same moment that the Israeli state is engaged in genocidal acts in Gaza and (ii) the de-Judification of German universities during the 1930s.  If you believe the historically earlier case of repression at universities is the worse of these two, you are of course right.  But that is a baleful defense.  And we know that when we wait for the worst, rather than responding fiercely to unethical conduct at the first moment it occurs, great harm will have occurred. Right now is the right time to call out the IU administration’s bigoted actions and demand they cease and be remedied. As Masha Gessen has argued, it is precisely by pursuing nuanced analogies with the Holocaust and its histories–rather than by refusing those comparisons–that we have the best chance to diminish the frequency and intensity of such horrors.  

Finally, the immediate, prevalent, and widespread opposition to the administration’s conduct in these two cases–locally on campus, nationally, and internationally–makes clear that the current IU administration has inflicted severe reputational harm on the university.  On this ground alone, the administration’s conduct amounts to malfeasance.  We also call your attention to the fact, as outlined by UCLA law professor Noah Zatz, that such discriminatory acts of  silencing of pro-Palestinian voices by the IU administration may expose the University to serious legal risks. And drawing on Professor Zatz’s article, we  remind the IU administration that it has an inescapable responsibility to all of its students, with no exception for those who are Arab, Muslim, and/or Palestinian Arab. And there can be no doubt that this administration has failed in this regard.

On behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana, we thus urge an end to the sanctions and censorship: Professor Sinno must be fully reinstated in all his roles as a tenured IU faculty member and the exhibit must proceed as planned with no further delay.  

These breaches of the administration’s ethical and legal obligations must not recur. To that end, we also demand accountability for each administrator who bears responsibility for these two incidents of bigotry, through a process that must be (i) determined and overseen by the established faculty governance bodies at Indiana University and (ii) firmly grounded in the principles of both the  American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Palestine Legal’s analysis of “the Palestinian Exception to Free Speech.” 


Malkah Bird

Katie Blum

Robin Briskey

Jon Chaconas

Karisa Cole

Iris Cushman

Lindsay Littrell

Maria Robles

Daniel A. Segal

Members of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana

Contact: [email protected]

Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana is the Indiana state chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which is the world’s largest progressive, anti-Zionist Jewish organization and the fastest growing Jewish identified organization in the United States.  With more than 700,000 supporters taking actions, Jewish Voice for Peace supports the struggle for Palestinian freedom and equality, as a crucial element of our collective liberation.

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