Attempt to Deny William His Yale Degree for His Wesport Protest Fails

(and note our financial appeal after Greg's article)

from Greg Williams

Friends, I can now report that, as of today, I am a graduate of Yale Divinity School.

On 12 May, I participated in a nonviolent direct action against a fundraiser for the Israel Defense Force (IDF) at Temple Israel in Westport. The Friends of the IDF, the organization holding the fundraiser, responded both during and after the event by falsely accusing me and my colleague, Dan Fischer, of being "terrorists" and even made the false police report that we were armed, which in turn endangered our safety. Much of the public reaction was extremely racist, seeking to equate the assertion of Palestinian humanity with violent terrorism, and even going so far as to claim that the action was carried out by people "wearing head garbs."

After the action, in addition to publicly denouncing us, members of the Friends of the IDF, some of whom are significant donors to Yale, contacted Yale Divinity School and exerted serious political and financial pressure to convince Dean Gregory Sterling to defer awarding my Masters of Divinity Degree and initiate a disciplinary process to investigate whether or not to terminate me as a student and to withhold my degree. He did this in spite of the blatant racism of the Friends of the IDF's response to this nonviolent direct action, and even as other educational institutions involved refused to even consider the requests for a disciplinary response. In particular, Senator Toni Boucher (R) of Westport, whom anonymous sources say is a significant donor, spearheaded the campaign to have me expelled.

The response from the activist community was exemplary. In addition to establishing a legal fund, the Middle East Crisis Committee (MECC), led by their stalwart chairperson Stanley Heller, bore witness to the nonviolence of the response. Joe Foran, Ailedene Cruz, Barricada Wpkn and other members of New Haven Workers Association - Unidad Latina en Acción gathered signatures on a petition to the Academic Dean's office and turned out to support me at the hearing, together with Joel Avery, Joel Arthur Eaton, Rachelle Eaton, Eric Martin Feltham, Seth Eric Auster-Rosen, Josh King, John Selders, Rosalyn Fullerton-King, Mark DiPaola, and Karléh Ashanta Wilson. Peter Goselin, NLG legal extraordinaire, represented me through the disciplinary process. Barbara Fair submitted powerful testimony asking "where is the humility?" in the process. Many professors also submitted testimony, as did many students and alumni, but Tisa Wenger deserves special mention for writing the most bad-ass one I saw, and Kate Ott talked me through the difficult process of reading the institution and its "lived ethics" (policies) both creatively and judiciously. Dan was the best eye-witness I could have asked for at the hearing and, in addition to showing up for it, Rose, together with her husband-to-be Ed Watson, talked me through the stress of preparing. I could not be more grateful to all of you.

In the end, thanks to overwhelming legal, political, and moral pressure from this great cloud of witnesses, the committee members returned a favorable decision. They did not find any "compelling evidence of serious moral misconduct" and voted to give me my degree without any reprimand or suspension.

I draw two lessons from all this. First, from the reaction of the Friends of the IDF, I have learned not to underestimate the virulence or the strength of Zionism in this country. We must never forget that Zionism, a pernicious, racist, and whtie supremacist ideology, is one of the most powerful foes that social movements for peace and justice face in this country and it must be battled bravely and carefully, by dedicated activists who are ready for a life-long struggle and who should never get careless or let their guard down for even a moment.

Second, I have been reaffirmed in my faith in the practices of solidarity, mutual aid, and direct action by locally gathered, autonomous communities as a praxis capable of creating real justice. We live in a world that is characterized by a fundamental conflict between organized money and organized human beings. Today, at Yale Divinity School, the human beings won a small victory in preventing the power of racialized capital from governing the disciplinary process of this institution. We can continue to win, if we stay strong, stay unified, and never lose sight of a vision of the world as it could be and really should be from the perspective of the love and justice of a God who exercises a preferential option for the exploited and the oppressed.

Comrades, we share a long march and a hard struggle towards a new heaven and a new earth. Please know that I am still marching with you. "Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." Amen.

But the Fight Isn't Over

There's still the criminal case against Williams and Fischer. We have collected a good deal of money for their defense, but more could very well be needed. We'll know more July 21.

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