Community Responses to War in Gaza

27 February 2024

As we approach the end of the term, I know many on campus are balancing the need to focus on their academic work with deep sadness and anger about the ongoing death, displacement and suffering taking place in Gaza. The fate of the remaining Israeli hostages, and concerns about rising antisemitism and Islamophobia nationwide, are also on many minds. At a time when it is easy to feel paralyzed by a sense of helplessness, we look for ways to take meaningful action.

As an academic institution, Carleton contributes to our understanding of critical issues by bringing community members with varied backgrounds and experiences together, and encouraging dialogue and debate, both in our classrooms and through sponsoring lectures, panels and discussions. We support the right of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to share their beliefs, voice their outrage, or engage in activism, while encouraging them to do so in ways that are respectful of community members who hold views different from their own.

The resolution passed by CSA last week, following the dissemination of a petition initially circulated by Carleton Students for Justice for Palestine (SJP), reflects an understandable desire to see Carleton take action in the face of this ongoing crisis. The resolution asks that the Carleton Responsible Investment Committee (CRIC) review the entirety of Carleton’s investments in order to learn where, and how, they are tied to Israel. CRIC played a key role in the years-long debate that culminated in last year’s decision to divest from direct investment in fossil fuels, and that experience will provide a valuable context for their discussions about how to respond to the CSA resolution. I do know from my work with all of the groups that weighed in on that issue that many who supported divestment from fossil fuels viewed it as a singular decision, reflecting a unique and existential threat directly traceable to specific products. 

The CSA resolution also raises concerns about the Jonathan Paradise Israel Scholarship, an endowed scholarship that provides funding for students to study in Israel. As an academic institution, we send students to study in many different parts of the world, just as we welcome students from many countries to our campus. Allowing students to travel for educational purposes to a particular country or area does not imply endorsement of the actions of that country’s government. The Jonathan Paradise scholarship is not associated with any specific program—it simply funds Carleton students on the basis of proposals they submit for a proposed course of study in Israel, which might involve an academic program, internship, or volunteer experience.  We are currently reviewing language describing the Jonathan Paradise scholarship to ensure it is clear that the scholarship does not mandate any particular perspective, and can be used to support education related to Palestine as well as Israel. Carleton also has an endowed fund, the New Opportunity Scholarship Fund, that provides financial support for Palestinian students to study at Carleton, and its donor has recently added to their gift in light of the current crisis.

Over the past several months, our efforts at dialogue about the Israel-Palestine conflict have taken a variety of forms: personal conversations between college leaders, chaplains, and some of our most deeply impacted students; intentional gatherings of Jewish students and members of the Carleton Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to foster dialogue and connection; and a panel by Israeli and Palestinian parents from the Parents Circle organization, followed by small group dialogues; and other activities. I and other members of the administration have engaged in conversations with Jewish students, Muslim students, and students from the SJP, both individually and in groups. 

I am proud that members of our community are eager to find ways to make a difference. I believe that a combination of campus education, and individual action, will allow Carleton to have the greatest impact. We will continue to work at deepening our collective understanding of the history, culture, and politics surrounding the current conflict, and we welcome your suggestions for programs and events that will help accomplish this. And we will continue to support members of the community in their own advocacy and activism – whether that means sending letters to local, state, or national legislators, traveling to protest at the nation’s capital, fundraising in support of humanitarian needs, helping to educate the Carleton community, or something else. I hope that the education we provide can empower these actions, and believe that the collective impact of these individual actions can be meaningful.

Featured in Carleton Today, February 29, 2024