Scientists Against

Genocide Encampment @ MIT

Press Release from organizers of SAGE @ MIT | Published Tuesday, May 21 @ 8:00AM

May 21st Statement from MIT Scientists Against Genocide Encampment Activists

On May 17, MIT’s administration narrowly survived a de facto vote of no-confidence in its decision-making. Tenure-track faculty voted on a resolution calling on administrators to drop interim suspensions against us, concerned scientists active in the anti-apartheid, anti-war movement for Palestine at MIT. The vote reveals that faculty are split, with 45% to 55% calling for an impartial faculty-led disciplinary process that does not prejudge students as guilty until proven innocent. The narrow margin demonstrates the growing disunity between faculty and the administration.

The suspensions are inordinate punishment imposed without due process. Qualifiers like "interim" or "temporary" do not ameliorate the immediate harm that the suspensions have brought upon our lives. MIT has arrested us, evicted us, banned us from campus, barred us from graduating, and rescinded our funding and wages for our labor without a single disciplinary hearing; we were guilty before we even heard our charges. These harms fall with greater impact on students of color, who represent about 80% of those suspended. The legitimacy of the suspensions are deeply questionable. They violate state law, disregard MIT's own policies, take a shredder to grad workers’ collective bargaining agreement which protects concerted action in the workplace, and flout greater principles that MIT claims to hold dear. With regards to state law, Massachusetts tenant law applies to campus housing: landlords like MIT cannot evict tenants or licensees without a court order and without due process. Yet, five students have been summarily evicted from campus housing.

MIT also violates its own policies. First, students who face disciplinary action have the right to confront the evidence against them; that right was denied to us. The dismissal of four cases that were based on dubious information and racial profiling is a clear admission by MIT of the lack of rigor put into issuing initial suspensions. Second, according to MIT rules, sanctions are supposed to be gradual, measured, and proportionate. Yet they have reached for the most severe punishment first by banning us from campus on the premise of ‘safety’ when we all know their decision is about power and ideology. This is a highly political, arbitrary, hasty, vague, and frankly racist attempt at silencing young scientists who recognize that MIT’s collaboration with the Israeli military is immoral and must end.

Presumption of innocence until proven guilty is fundamental to a just society, yet MIT’s administration has flagrantly violated that principle. To convince faculty and the public, administrators spin a web of lies; they mis-translate our chants and cherry-pick images to suit their narratives. The enforcement of interim suspensions was originally intended as a mechanism to protect reporters of sexual assault from their alleged perpetrator. In communication to faculty, provost Cynthia Barnhart explicitly drew that analogy to us in their statement on Wednesday. MIT administrators are saying in effect that we threaten the MIT community at the same level of a sexual predator. This is a heinous abuse of campus safety rhetoric to punish political speech and non-violent civil disobedience. If the administration truly cares about sexual violence, we invite them to investigate the many counter-protestors, including MIT students, who have screamed variations of “Get raped in Gaza!” to our faces. Even then, we are doubtful that our reports on these incidents submitted to MIT’s official report system (IDHR) will do anything but languish for months until they’re eventually dismissed. In fact, we are aware of a number of cases of repeated sexual harassment and assault that MIT has quietly swept under rug – the perpetrators given paid leave, their funding preserved, and no interim suspension imposed. The hypocrisy is insufferable.

Of course, we have seen these tactics before. In the 1980s, there were similarly heated faculty meetings about MIT’s decision to tear down shanty-town structures on Kresge Lawn built by students protesting MIT’s complicity with apartheid in South Africa. In 1970, at the height of the anti-Vietnam War movement, MIT targeted student-leader Michael Albert with expulsion for “rude and divisive language”, even as the Union of Concerned Scientists and Social Action Coordinating Committee fought to get MIT out of the business of dropping napalm on the Vietnamese. We join our predecessors in demanding that MIT research affirm human life, not build dystopian and militarized futures. As our colleague Ira Rubenzahl (SACC student leader) told The Tech in 1969: “One doesn’t have the right to build gas chambers to kill people.” To that we add, “One does not have the unqualified right to build drones to kill people.” Academic freedom must have limits; scientific institutions and laboratories do not have the right to collaborate with génocidaires.

We as young scientists at MIT are not risking our livelihoods for the hell of it. We have material demands. These demands are rooted in the deepest principles of human morality and international law. MIT should immediately end its research ties with the Israeli military and stop taking Israeli funding for weapons and surveillance research. This funding is a minuscule fraction (only .03%) of MIT’s 2023 allocated research sponsorship. If MIT actually adhered to its own rules, as detailed in the 2020 Suri report, this funding would be immediately rejected on the grounds that the Israeli military is “directly engaged in gross violations of political, civil, or human rights.”

There is recent precedent for such divestment. In 2022, MIT voluntarily ended its collaboration with Moscow-based Skolkovo Institute following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. MIT administrators now spin an Orwellian fiction, claiming that Skoltech was an “institute-level programmatic commitment” while the IDF-sponsored grants today are “independently sought by laboratory heads” and purportedly protected by academic freedom. A quick look at MIT’s financial records expose this hypocrisy: in 2022 at least 26 PIs took funding from Skoltech, representing 45 grants and nearly ten times the amount currently sponsored by the Israeli military. Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Skoltech funding at MIT was immediately and unilaterally ended mid-stream without PI input, and transitional funding was made available. Similarly, in 2019, MIT publicly condemned the killing of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and unilaterally ended millions of dollars of lucrative research grants sponsored by the Saudi state-owned oil giant ARAMCO in 2020. There is no excuse for refusing to similarly condemn the Israeli government and cut research ties.

The difference between these cases is not legal or technical; it’s political. By equivocating, the MIT administration asserts that some human beings matter more than others and that the prejudices of its donors and trustees trump Palestinian life. We reject this assertion. There are now the human equivalent of 35,000 Jamal Khashoggis dead in Gaza, including over 100 journalists. More than twice as many civilians have been killed in Gaza over the past 6 months than have died in Ukraine over the past two years. This week, the International Criminal Court announced its intent to issue arrest warrants for Israeli cabinet officials, characterizing the siege on Gaza as a starvation campaign. The scale of famine is reminiscent of the Srebrenica massacre.

In January 2024, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s conduct in Gaza plausibly constitutes a genocide in intent and effect. Yet Israeli media and cabinet officials continue to relentlessly pump out Radio Rwanda levels of dehumanizing propaganda about Palestinians. For more than half a century, Israeli laws have enshrined a regime of apartheid – the domination of one ethnic or national group over another – present in all aspects of non-Jewish Arab life: voting, marriage, property rights, habeas corpus, civil liberties, internal movement, and rights to water, food, and shelter.

As young scientists, we recognize that polite emails and clever arguments alone do not convince institutions to change when they have stakes in the status quo. We must fight in every avenue–in the streets, in the press and with our labor. It was under popular pressure that administrators walked back their illegal eviction of a suspended student’s family this week. In fact, the whole toolkit of civil disobedience and disruptive protest – sit-ins, vigils, encampments, flyers, chants, and peaceful arrests – is part of the political tradition of students in this country. They may try to bury us under red tape and throw us in bureaucratic limbo; they may try to put us on the defensive with suspensions and inflict violence on our bodies. But they cannot suspend the movement for Palestinian freedom.

Our arrests and suspensions have called MIT’s bluff, exposing the ugly, naked face of power. We have ripped away the thin veil of their cliches about safety, diversity, inclusion, ethics, and critical thinking. When forced to choose, the administrators would rather inflict state violence on their own students than follow the principles of the MIT mission: to work “for the betterment of humankind.” Here MIT administrators have made a critical misstep. Sally Kornbluth, Melissa Nobles, David Randall, Suzy Nelson and the police who follow their orders believe that through suspensions and arrests, they can deter or demobilize us. Instead, MIT has radicalized us more deeply for the cause of Palestinian freedom. We will continue to agitate because we recognize there is no alternative. As the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said in 1857:

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Free Palestine.

Today at 4 AM, more than 200 armed riot police came to dismantle and destroy our protest encampment, and continued to arrest MIT students and workers engaging in peaceful protest. This was the second instance of violent arrests following the May 9th nonviolent protest, during which nine students engaged in peaceful civil disobedience against our institution’s participation in the slaughter of over 40,000 people. Despite 2 weeks of negotiations that we approached in good faith, MIT administrators and President Sally Kornbluth have decided to respond to us with physical assault. Just one day earlier, the Kornbluth administration suspended over 20 students and workers, including our entire negotiation team, and sent eviction notices to them, revoking their student housing and access to food.

History will remember today, and history will vindicate the students and workers who spoke truth to power, just as it has for the American invasion of Vietnam and MIT’s investment in South African apartheid. MIT’s administration claims that these historic parallels cannot be drawn, and that our movement is simply against another group of students on campus. This is a transparent attempt at deflection of responsibility by President Kornbluth and the MIT administration. We acknowledge that there are students and faculty on campus that disagree with our criticism of the Israeli military and government, but our fight is not with them. Our fight is against the continuation of unethical research and development happening between MIT and Israel’s military.

The MIT President and administration would have you believe that we are not representative of the student body; that we are aggressive, violent, and bring chaos to campus. However, we stand here as a multi-ethnic, cross-faith coalition of students and workers representing the democratic majority opinion of our campus. Over 70% of MIT graduate student-workers and over 60% of MIT undergraduates have voted definitively for MIT to get out of the business of genocide. This matter does not stop with students: we have a broad base of support from faculty, staff, alumni that are calling for MIT to stop research for the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Over 70 faculty and over 700 alumni have released statements in support of our demands.

The encampment is just a symbol of our movement, and the movement cannot and will not be arrested. As a collective of students, workers, faculty and staff across MIT, our organizing capacity remains strong to continue to advocate for our reasonable and moral demands.

We will not stop, we will not rest. MIT: disclose, divest.

Statement read by Samuel Ihns, graduate student | MIT Jews for Ceasefire

The administration wants the world to believe that we are campaigning against the interests of Jewish students. That this is an issue of Jews versus Palestinians, Muslims, or Arabs. This is a lie. This lie causes unnecessary division and endangers us more. A large group of Jewish students, representing the MIT Jews for Ceasefire, myself included, and more Jewish staff, faculty, and alumni have all been an integral part of this protest from the beginning. Our Jewish values guide us in this moment to act, because we know that we are only safe if our Palestinian siblings are safe. We are only safe if we are all safe.

As scientists and engineers studying, working, and teaching at one of humanity’s most famous and prestigious scientific institutions, we believe that the goals, means, and ends of scientific and technological research must be guided by, and accountable to, the democratic views of those who do this work.

Our request has precedent. After Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022, MIT divested from research with Russia overnight. Our demand is simply that MIT be consistent in its ethics. While Israel bombs, tortures, and starves children and adults to death, MIT tells the world that what we are asking for is impossible, citing the “academic freedom” of professors to decide where they take research funding from. To quote our predecessors during the 1968 protests on MIT's campus: “the principle that people should not kill other people is more important than notions of freedom to do any kind of research one might want to undertake.[1]”

Instead of divesting from Israel’s genocide dropping research funds that are only 0.03% of total MIT research funding, and 0.2% of MIT’s defense funding, the administration has chosen to pay for countless staff and police officers to surveil, intimidate, harass, arrest, and brutalize its students. This is supposedly done for the sake of “student safety”. The only thing making us materially unsafe on this campus is the intense police state that this administration has constructed around us. The only physical violence that we have experienced since the erection of the encampment is from the police invited to it. We keep us safe, but the school has shown us time and again that it puts the interests of a foreign government above the interests of MIT students. MIT, there are 40,000 people dead, you’re arresting us instead!

Our encampment has been a peaceful and beautiful testament to the diverse community of MIT. We’ve held shabbats and a Passover Seder. We have danced, gardened, read, written poetry, and made art together. We have provided food security and community for MIT students in a way that the school has never done for us. And yet. MIT overtly prefers to arrest pro-peace students rather than enact disciplinary action on pro-war student groups and professors, who have intimidated, harassed, and doxxed us, who have blasted genocidal songs on campus calling for Palestinians to be “shot like rats.”

We call on MIT to stop using our intellectual power to develop weapons and tools for the Israeli government in violation of international law. The International Court of Justice ruled more than three months ago that Israel’s war on Gaza plausibly constitutes an act of genocide in both intent and effect. It has ordered Israel to immediately cease military operations that kill Palestinians. The Genocide Convention of 1951 itself criminalizes a secondary party’s complicity in genocide. Meanwhile, the international human rights community, including Israel’s own veteran human rights groups, have characterized Israel’s laws and institutions as enshrining a regime of apartheid – the domination of one group over another on the basis of a racial or ethnic identity. Israeli apartheid has become horrifyingly clear in the laws of Israel that restrict Palestinian rights to internal movement, marriage, habeas corpus, immigration, work, housing, free speech, voting, and water.

By providing both material and symbolic support to the Israeli military, MIT is violating the Genocide Convention. It is also violating the Geneva Conventions, the Apartheid Convention, and federal bans on providing material support to abusive militaries and state sponsors of terrorism. For political reasons, our national governments and university institutions have manifestly failed to hold themselves accountable to these obligations. It thus falls to students of conscience in the anti-war, anti-apartheid movement to pressure our institutions through peaceful but disruptive acts of civil disobedience. That is why we are here. We believe Palestinian life in Gaza is worth fighting for.

MIT now has an opportunity to lead by example: stop brutalizing your students. Show the world that you stand by your own mission to “work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”

Statement read by Professor Erica Caple James | MIT Alliance of Concerned Faculty

I am here on behalf of more than seventy concerned faculty who are encouraging MIT's administration to come back to the table and negotiate to arrive at a positive solution regarding the conflict between academic freedom, freedom of speech, and campus safety. We faculty are here as educators; we are here because we believe that we are obligated to support and ensure fair treatment of our students; we are here because our students are here and have been here, peacefully protesting the war in Gaza and challenging us to think constructively about the issues of our time.

This must begin with a full and honest account of how MIT is not centering the needs of its students, staff, and faculty.

We are concerned that the administration has consistently refused to acknowledge the immense pain and suffering of Palestinian members of our community alongside the pain of many Israeli and Jewish students. They have lost loved ones, homes, and so much else over the past seven months, and the refusal to recognize their grief is an immense moral failure.

We are concerned that our own administration seems to have circumvented due process. They have short-circuited the standard Committee on Discipline process, issuing "interim suspensions" that are, in practice, functioning as full effective suspensions. Therefore, we ask the administration to rescind all interim student suspensions until many urgent questions regarding due process are addressed.

This concern about due process extends to the methods used to target students for suspension, a list that now, we are told, includes 75 students. Of the 23 we identified earlier in the week, a vast majority of thos targeted are students of Color, among them, Palestinian students. As we speak, we are circulating a letter that has garnered over 135 signatures from MIT faculty and academic staff that demands answers to these concerns regarding due process.

We are deeply worried about the well-being of our students. Students are being forced out of their campus housing and we have had to scramble to locate adequate housing to keep roofs over their heads (including at least one student with a 5-year old child).

We are concerned that the administration has primarily disciplined pro-Palestinian students, despite consistent aggressive behavior and agitation from pro-Israeli students and faculty. Similarly, we are concerned that the Institute seems intent on framing the issue as one that pits Jewish safety against pro-Palestinian speech. This is despite the leadership of Jewish students advocating for Palestinian rights who have been participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Despite all of this, we know that there is a way forward - to come back to the table, to negotiate, to rescind the interim suspensions, and commit to dialogue going forward.

“The protest started peacefully as we linked hands in front of the parking garage of the Stata building, which is where much of the research for the Israeli Ministry of Defense is conducted. Within minutes, the MIT police turned things violent and attacked us, injuring several students. I was violently shoved and grabbed multiple times by the police before they arrested me.” states one of the arrested students, Ruth Hanna, MIT Graduate Student Union Vice President.

Today’s violent escalation in response to the anti-genocide student protesters follows the MIT administration’s decision to issue interim suspension notices to 23 participants in the MIT Scientists Against Genocide Encampment (MIT SAGE) encampment. In many cases, suspension notices directed students to “leave campus immediately” and barred them from housing, food, employment, extracurricular activities, and participating in commencement, without any form of due process.

Zeno of MIT Graduates 4 Palestine, who received a suspension notice and is being evicted from their housing, stated, “I have a wife and child. Leaving immediately is impossible for us and puts my child’s well-being at risk.”

Quinn Perian, student organizer with MIT Jews for Ceasefire stated, “It is clear that MIT is using its leverage over students’ well-being to shut down speech that threatens to expose its continued complicity in genocide.”

Students, faculty, and alumni have organized to document arrests, advocate for students’ rights to engage in nonviolent protests, and offer support, including meals and housing, to suspended and evicted students. The MIT administration is actively causing harm to peaceful protesting students while claiming that the suspensions are for “the safety and well-being of the MIT community”.

The context

  • SAGE has a clear and focused demand to MIT: end all research contracts sponsored by the Ministry of Defense of Israel.
  • Since 2015, MIT has received over $4 million in authorized research funding from the Ministry of Defense of Israel. This research is for the material benefit of the Israeli military and their war crimes against Palestinian civilians.
  • These funds are only 0.03% of total MIT research funding, and 0.2% of MIT’s defense funding.
  • There is broad support for SAGE’s demands across MIT. Both the undergraduate and graduate student bodies have passed resolutions via democratic election calling to cut research and financial ties with the Israeli military. 40+ faculty and 700+ alumni have released statements in support of SAGE’s demands.
  • Hundreds of MIT alumni have signed a pledge to withhold donations from MIT until MIT makes substantial progress toward meeting SAGE’s demands.

MIT precedence

Nonviolent protests against collaboration with entities engaged in human rights violations and war have precedence at MIT.

In the late 1960s, MIT students protesting the Vietnam War engaged in nonviolent protest actions, including occupying the student center for 10 days and doing a sit-in at MIT’s Center for International Studies.

In the late 1980s, MIT students built a shantytown encampment in the same location as the current one to call upon MIT to divest from companies doing business in South Africa.

On February 25, 2022 — the day after the invasion of Ukraine — MIT cut funding ties with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), a Russian university, stating “This step is a rejection of the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine.” This precedent demonstrates that MIT can act decisively and quickly when it sees moral clarity.

Who we are

MIT SAGE is a coalition of students, researchers, faculty and staff who are organizing to demand that the MIT community immediately end all research ties with the Israeli military.

For more information and requests for interview, comment:

SAGE Media Liaison


Please include: preferences for the individual you would like to speak with (ex: a graduate student, a member of a particular organization), a question list and a timeline for your piece to be connected to the appropriate folks faster.

Immediate support for the affected students

Light Weight Sleek Arrow

Contribute to the MIT SAGE mutual aid fund to support bail funds, housing costs, and other expenses faced by suspended / arrested students as well as supplies for the encampment.

We have many at-risk students, and support is critical.

At the end of the encampment, if there are any excess funds, we will donate them to two fundraisers to support known families evacuating Gaza to seek medical treatment.