An email sent out by Reed College’s Student Body President has provoked allegations of anti-semitism. On the evening of Sept. 21, Lucas Binion ’17 sent an email to all 1,394 Reed students with the subject line “SB Info: ‘Hasidic Jews are like the Jewish version of ISIS.’” The text of the email, a standard student government update, was unrelated to the subject line. Two hours and 23 minutes later, in the early morning of Sept. 22, Binion sent out a second email to the student body, at the urging of other members of Reed’s student senate, with the subject “Apologies — [sic] though it is much too late.”
“Often I solicit titles from my friends, and the quote from the title of [the previous email] was one of the sort,” Binion said in the second message. “I apologize — profusely and extensively — [sic] though I know the repercussions of my thoughtless actions will not be so easily or maybe ever remedied. I have no other words, I am sorry.”
However, Binion’s apology was insufficient for some. Samantha Nunberg ’19, a student leader with Chabad, a Hasidic organization and Reed’s only Jewish student group, was hosting prospective students when the email was sent out and did not see the messages until the following morning.
“I had just told [the prospective students] about how I loved Reed for being such an inclusive community, and for understanding people’s difference,” Nunberg said. “And then in the morning I opened the email before I had to take them to breakfast, and I felt like I couldn’t have honestly shared those words with them the night before.”
Nunberg was upset that the email could have been offensive to both Jewish and Muslim students.
“Not only was it very offensive to Jewish students, it’s very possible that Muslim students could feel ostracized by a statement like that, when they have to wake up to an email that says ‘ISIS,’ and then perhaps worry that their fellow students could be associating them with an extremist organization,” Nunberg said.
Nunberg drafted a response to Binion and attempted to send it via email to the student body using the email list operated by Reed’s student government. Emails sent to that list are first screened by Binion before being sent. Binion rejected the message. Nunberg then posted her response to Facebook. In it, she said that Binion’s quoting of a friend did not justify the error.
“Blaming your friends for the title of the email is irresponsible,” Nunberg said in her response. “Scare quotes don’t exempt you from backlash or criticism.”
Her post went on to clarify that she was not accusing Binion of being anti-semitic but hoped that the controversy would spark discussions about the ways in which marginalized groups are treated.
“I hope this can turn into a productive conversation about the way we intentionally or unintentionally treat groups within our community,” Nunberg wrote in the post.
Rabbi Dov Bialo and Chani Bialo, co-directors of Chabad at Reed, echoed Nunberg’s feeling that Binion’s email was an affront to the Jewish community and invoked the traditional Jewish teaching of standing up to injustices.
“The Torah teaches us to pursue peace,” Bialo and Bialo said in a joint statement. “The Torah also teaches us to stand up for ourselves when we are being wronged. The email that went out a week ago was wrong. It was Anti-Semitic and all the students were ‘forced’ to see it. The fact that this happened is an indication that there is a need for change.”
Like Nunberg, they also suggested that the email should stimulate conversations about marginalized groups, imploring students and community members to question the way in which they interact with their community.
“As a community I think it’s time to question our ‘Liberal Safe Haven,’” Bialo and Bialo said. “Do we really love everybody, or do we get away with that claim by surrounding ourselves with similar minded people? Do we really call out ‘evil’ when we see it, or do we only call out those things that are ‘in style’ to call out?”
Chabad held a unity Shabbat dinner on Sept. 23 for community members to come together and discuss how the incident had effected them.
On Sept. 26, Binion sent out a second, longer apology email. He accepted blame for the incident and apologized for the way in which he depicted both Judaism and Islam.
“I would also like to apologize for the way that my careless words may have impacted any and all people who are in any way connected to the religion and/or Nation of Islam, and for the unjust and apparent conflation that it may have appeared I made between such a faith and the militant group ISIS,” Binion said.
He also included a number of statements which he had solicited from community members. Binion did not acknowledge Chabad in the apology.
At Lewis & Clark, Adam Fractor ’17, President of the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC), was angered that his counterpart at Reed would choose to send the message to his constituents.
“It is perhaps the worst thing you could do, to make an offensive comment about any group of people on campus,” Fractor said. “I think that if you are going to make that type of claim, you are trying to be offensive. I don’t see how that would be acceptable on any level. It is just wrong, and very surprising, and somewhat appalling, for someone who’s supposed to represent all groups of individuals on campus to single out one and to make such a gross claim like that.”
One of Fractor’s campaign promises was to increase communication between ASLC and Reed’s student government. He expressed disappointment that Binion’s statement may be detrimental to fulfilling this goal.
“I think it’s just a shame that, especially this early in the year, our relationship could be harmed with Reed,” Fractor said.
Rhonda Kruschen, director of Greater Portland Hillel, a Jewish student group with chapters at LC and Portland State University, also expressed disappointment in Binion’s decision to use that subject line.
“Hate and hate speech should have no place on or off campus,” Kruschen said. “It’s even more important that student leaders recognize that they represent something bigger than themselves, and should be extra careful with the words they choose.”
Reed Dean of Students Dr. Bruce Smith said that the school quickly took action to address the email and emphasized that they will strive to maintain a safe and inclusive environment.
“[M]y colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time … working with student leaders and others on responding to this incident,” Smith said. “Please know that our response has been swift and that engagement with affected parties is ongoing. We will continue to work with all of our students and other members of the Reed community so that Reed will remain an inclusive and supportive place for everyone.”
On Sept. 28, the Reed Senate held a session where they invited the community to discuss their reactions to the email. A number of students expressed their thoughts, including the student who made the comment that Binion quoted. The student apologized for any harm it caused, but claimed that it was part of his stand-up comedy routine and stood by his decision to make the joke.
Binion’s email reflects a recent trend of anti-Semitic and pro-Palestinian sentiments on college campuses. Last Fall, a man was arrested for using anti-Semitic slurs and threatening members the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity at the University of Oregon. In addition, earlier this year at Portland State University, filmmaker and satirist Ami Horowitz drew attention to this pattern by asking students to donate to a nonexistent pro-Hamas organization. He amassed around $300 in pledges in less than an hour.
Binion declined to comment. Quotes from Binion are taken from public statements via email. Screenshots of Binion’s emails (Original Email, First Apology, and Second Apology), as well as the full text of Nunberg’s response and the statement from Rabbi and Mrs. Bialo of Chabad can be found here on the Pioneer Log’s website.