A coalition of students at St. Olaf, a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has demanded the removal of Arne Christenson, head of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, from an advisory board at the school due to his association with the pro-Israel organization.
Former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber, who was Christenson's boss from 1990-1992, told the College Fix that the demand from a coalition of "marginalized students of color, multicultural and international students" is "insane."
The demand, the College Fix reports, comes in the wake of racial protests that shut down classes at St. Olaf on May 1. The protests were sparked after a student found a racist note on her car which was later confirmed as a hoax.
The group of students who call themselves "A Collective Change on the Hill" has since sent a list of demands to St. Olaf leaders aimed at curbing "institutionalized racism." Among the demands is a call for the ouster of Christenson who currently sits on the advisory board of The Institute for Freedom & Community.
"We demand the removal of Arne Christenson from the advisory board of The Institute for Freedom & Community. Given Mr. Christenson's position as the managing director of policy and politics for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, St. Olaf College risks his influence upon the speakers brought to the school, the educational offerings, faculty development workshops, and scholarships sanctioned by the Institute," the students argue.
Their opposition to Christenson is further explained in a Change.org petition.
"We doubt Mr. Christenson's capacity to exert the objectivity needed to accomplish the goals of the Institute's advisory board due to his continued leadership in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee," the petition says.
"No individual should be appointed to a non-faculty advisory position when their primary means of employment is established to be an advocacy or policy position on any side of a decidedly divisive public issue which is or might reasonably be construed to be a conflicting interest which could inhibit in any way the aims of the college or its subsidiary institutes and programs," it continues.
AIPAC endeavors to "strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel," according to the organization's website.
The petition argues that no one affiliated with organizations such as American Life League, Answers in Genesis, Focus on the Family, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Rifle Association, as well as AIPAC should be sitting on advisory boards at St. Olaf.
The students further claimed that having anyone associated with AIPAC on the board is "objectionable" because the organization supported the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.
"Several issues particular to AIPAC ... make the presence of one of their executives on the advisory board especially objectionable. AIPAC has a history of actively lobbying for the passage of legislation that aims to limit freedom of inquiry and expression on college campuses. The most recent example of this pattern comes from 2016, when AIPAC supported the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (H.R. 6421), which was deemed unconstitutional by multiple sources," the petition argues.
In an interview with the College Fix, Weber said he found the students' initial description of Christenson as a "Christian Zionist" in the petition to be offensive.
"I don't immediately describe people in terms of their religious beliefs and that's really the only description they gave of him — a Christian Zionist," he said.
"It's insane to me. It's not just unfair. It's insane," he added, noting that Christenson is someone with deep roots in Minnesota, who's devoted to St. Olaf College.
"People who know Arne Christenson without exception would say he's one of the very finest people they've known in their entire lives."