Johns Hopkins TA tweets poll on failing ‘Zionist’ students

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Google Maps screenshot of The Johns Hopkins University.
Google Maps screenshot of The Johns Hopkins University.

By Jesse Berman and Cnaan Liphshiz | JTA

Jewish organizations are condemning social media posts from a Johns Hopkins University teaching assistant and graduate student, who tweeted about giving Zionist students lower grades.


On Nov. 15, 2020, the teaching assistant, under the Twitter account “immalreesh,” tweeted, “ethical dilemma: if you have to grade a zionist students exam, do you still give them all their points even though they support your ethnic cleansing? like idk.” Attached to the tweet was a poll that included two choices: “yes rasha. be a good ta,” or “free palestine! fail them.”

Other tweets from the same account — shared in screenshots in a BZD Facebook post — included a Nov. 20 tweet that read, “we had an undergrad in lab who had been on birthright and had one of the street signs to tel aviv on her laptop. it stabbed me every time she opened it. if i had been paired to one of them or one of these conceited white boys i would have lost it.”

The “immalreesh” Twitter account appears to no longer be listed.

BZD and Stop Antisemitism identified the TA as Rasha Anayah. A LinkedIn profile bearing Anayah’s name lists her as a JHU graduate student and a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, with much of her listed coursework focusing on chemistry, biology and mathematics.

“I have always acted with the utmost integrity and fairness. I am a dedicated teacher and scholar with a commitment to social justice and to my role,” Anayah said in an email to the Forward. “My record as a teaching assistant is a testament to these facts.”

Hopkins Hillel has called on students to step forward if they believe that Anayah had lowered their grades unjustly. Faculty at Johns Hopkins are looking into the case, the Forward reported.

Howard Libit, the executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told the Forward that he was unaware of any student who believes Anayah has unjustly lowered their grades.

On Jan. 5, the Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore released a statement condemning the tweets. Their statement also noted that both federal law and JHU policies are meant to protect students from discrimination, including on the basis of religion and race, and that it is unacceptable for Jewish students to be threatened with academic punishment due to their religion. In addition, they urged the university to resolve the matter with urgency and transparency, stating that, if the allegations prove true, there should be clear communication from university leadership to its Jewish community that such behavior comes with consequences.”

A “threat to fail a student solely based on their religion or ethnicity is a clear sign of antisemitism,” BZD wrote on Facebook. “Jewish and Israeli students should not have to be subjected to a TA who intends to fail them for this reason. We are counting on JHU not only to hold this TA accountable but to release a statement condemning this horrific act of Antisemitism immediately.”

Upon request for comment, the university forwarded an email they stated they had sent to the Hopkins Hillel on Dec. 23. In it, Sunil Kumar, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, and John Toscano, interim dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said that the administration was “aware of an incident of alleged anti-Semitism and potential abuse of authority in the discharge of academic responsibilities on our campus.

“We wish to assure you that we take seriously any and all allegations of discrimination, harassment, or other misconduct — including anti-Semitism. Any link between grading and bias runs counter to our values and policies, and we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that does not occur,” they said.

Noam Bentov, the executive director of Hopkins Hillel, said in a statement that they have been engaged with administrators to ensure the matter is investigated and that the appropriate actions are taken.

“We are also working together with our community partners to ensure Johns Hopkins University remains a safe and welcoming campus for Jewish and Israeli students,” Bentov said.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Andrew Busch, who previously served as co-chair of the Baltimore Jewish Community Task Force on Anti-Semitism, said he believes that Johns Hopkins is taking the matter seriously.

“We believe that Johns Hopkins University can be a wonderful place for Jewish students, has a strong Hillel, and any Jewish students, now or in the future, should understand that the Baltimore Jewish community is aware and concerned about what happens on our university campuses,” Busch said.

 

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