In the days that have passed since the Muslim Students Association sent a campus-wide email expressing concern over Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s planned appearance, some campus organizations listed as signatories have withdrawn their signatures, claiming that they never gave their clear support.
Organizations including the Slifka Center, Yale Friends of Israel, and the Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative said they did not grant MSA explicit permission to use their names. Some of these groups have sent emails to their respective panlists clarifying that they are not, in fact, signatories on the letter. In addition, over the weekend, the MSA sent two correction emails to student leaders of the listed signing groups with updates to the list following the withdrawal of student groups.
The letter began with 35 signatories, in addition to the MSA. Since then, six groups have been removed, while two others have been added.
Interviews with students involved and emails obtained by the News indicated the inclusion of erroneous signatures resulted from vague language, lengthy email chains and late timing. MSA religious chair Abrar Omeish ’17 said she did not intend to misrepresent any groups in the letter.
“I sincerely and honestly put a good faith effort to represent everyone correctly, and it was by no means our intention to try to get signatures that we didn’t fully have even though it would have made us look good,” Omeish said.
In the week prior to the sending of the email, the listed supporting organizations had expressed tentative support for the contents of the letter, and Omeish invited leaders from these groups to a meeting to finalize the letter on Tuesday afternoon. The MSA said in early correspondence that the groups could withdraw their support throughout the process, pending review of the final letter. At the meeting, which had representation from at least 10 organizations, the attendees decided that Omeish would release the final version of the letter by midnight so that the tentative signees could review it and issue their withdrawal within the next hour. Later that evening, Omeish sent an email to all tentative signatories and stated that the MSA would send the final version of the letter to these groups at midnight for review and approval.
Still, leaders from other organizations said they only expressed interest in the idea of the letter.
Stephany Rhee ’16, president of the WLI, said that when contacted by a student on Sept. 4 discussing Ali’s invitation to speak on campus, she did not receive any information about which group the student represented, what the letter would say, when it would be published or when further discussion would take place before the letter was finalized.
Rhee added that she was not included in any subsequent correspondence to discuss the email.
Omeish said that Rhee was included in a follow-up email on Sept. 8, but the MSA could not confirm this claim.
The Slifka Center’s name was also removed from the list of signatories on Sunday.
After reaching out to the Slifka Center with the original invitation to support the MSA, Omeish said she initially received support from Slifka leadership, though she added that she received an email declining to sign the letter, which she said she did not see until after sending out the campus-wide email. Rabbi Leah Cohen could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.
“Because of the countless e-mails we have been receiving, there may have been unintended miscommunication with some groups that had provided tentative signatures,” Omeish said in a statement on behalf of the MSA emailed to the News. “We also heard from some groups after the set time for withdrawal. We are very sorry for any trouble this may have caused and we have already sent out a number of e-mails clarifying to the student body and apologizing to the relevant groups.”
Yale Hillel President Rebecca Bakal ’16 said that the Slifka Center, to her knowledge, did not agree to sign the letter, but added that the situation had since been internally resolved by the MSA and Slifka. She said the Jewish and Muslim communities at Yale have a good relationship and offer support to one another.
Leaders of Yale Friends of Israel claimed that they never gave explicit permission to use their name in any letter condemning the arrival of Ali. On Sept. 5, YFI co-president Josh Feinzig ’16 responded to Omeish’s initial email about the initiative explaining that YFI would be “most likely interested be in co-signing [the letter].”
But Feinzig said this interest did not lead to explicit support for the letter.
“Never at any point did we sign on to the letter,” Feinzig said. “When I expressed interest on the behalf of YFI there was no letter to even reference and it wasn’t clear what the content of it might be.”
Feinzig said the organization was simply looking for MSA to clarify its clerical mistake to the Yale community because there are “powerful implications here to a letter like this one.”
Sam Sussman ’16, co-president of YFI, emphasized that the organization was neither for or against MSA’s letter, but that it was simply not a part of the signing process.
Hirsi Ali — a Somali-born American activist known for her women’s rights advocacy and critical remarks about Islam — is slated to give a lecture titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West” on Sept. 15 as part of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program speaker series.