Letters to Editor, Opinion

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Beyond budget reports and meeting minutes: silencing political expression under false anti-Semitism claims

Letters to the Editor do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.

Last night, BU Student Government held an impeachment trial for both Marwa Sayed and Kimberly Barzola, claiming that they did not “fulfill their duties” as Vice President of Internal Affairs and Vice President of Finance. After the trial, senators voted and more than two thirds were in favor of impeachment in both cases. As a result, many BU students are outraged by the vote and the decision to impeach them. A recount of the events leading up to the impeachment was missing from the discussion during the trial. Would Marwa and Kim have been impeached without a petition made by the anonymous BU group, “Terriers Against Discrimination,” calling for their resignation based on anti-Semitism claims? Was their “neglect of clerical duties” proportional to impeachment?

In the past few weeks at Boston University, we have witnessed the incredibly powerful demonstrations led by Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine. I have participated in these demonstrations as a member of SJP because as a Jew I believe in the fundamentally Jewish social justice principles, and that it is my imperative to fight these injustices. Following the demonstrations, some students responded by creating a petition calling for the resignation of a Student Government executive board member because they “created a hostile work environment for the only Jewish Cabinet member” and “threatened to take away Hillel House Senate seats”. In addition, they claimed that the VPF “practices systemic racism against BU’s Jewish population.” Soon after, the Judicial Commission investigated members of the Executive Board and while they found the discriminatory claims to be inconclusive, they did find conclusive evidence for the claims of “inadequate performance of their constitutionally mandated tasks.” Although the Judicial Commission stated during the impeachment trial that the vice presidents were not being tried based on discriminatory claims, the formal accusations of neglecting their duties came as an after-thought to these discriminatory claims.

These claims are based on a conflation of Judaism with Zionism, which is neither accidental nor passive. This kind of rhetoric permeates many spaces such as BU Hillel and creates a narrative that conjoins Judaism with unrelenting support for the state of Israel, even in the face of the undeniable human right violations committed against the Palestinian peoples. As a result of this dominant discourse, all denouncement of the crimes of Israel are seen as an attack on the Jewish identity. The conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism arises in part from the“working” definition of anti-Semitism primarily created by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia in 2005 and later adopted by the U.S. State Department. The relatively new definition becomes problematic when it equates anti-Semitism with “demonizing Israel,” “applying a double-standard to Israel,” or “delegitimizing Israel.” The largest problem with this part of the definition proposed by the U.S. State Department is that it contradicts the First Amendment. Even below the definition itself, it states, “However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as Anti-Semitic.” In addition, in 2013, the EUMC then dropped this new definition further delegitimizing the definition.

This article is not meant to be an academic discussion on the semantics or the political agenda behind the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, but rather is meant to also reflect real life experiences that are nothing short of oppressive and harmful. In fact, the silencing of dissenting voices happens across U.S. campuses. Palestine Legal recently released a report depicting stories in which dissenting Jews are bullied and pushed out of their communities, faculty supporting Palestine petitioned to resign and student government members falsely accused of anti-Semitism. According to the report, 50 percent of incidents they responded to in 2014, “involved accusations of anti-Semitism based solely on speech critical of Israeli policy.” Fifty-nine percent of incidents in the beginning of 2015 “involved false accusations of anti-Semitism.”

The impeachment of Marwa and Kim is yet another example of harassment, personal attacks, and defamation on the basis of false anti-Semitism accusations on U.S. college campuses. As a leading progressive campus in a prestigious academic context, we need to make sure that we do everything in our power to allow students, staff, faculty and all stakeholders in this institution to express themselves freely and without fear of persecution. We, as members of the BU community, must acknowledge that these claims of anti-Semitism are based on a false conflation and hold all responsible institutions accountable. Additionally, the claims upon which the trial was called for cannot be separated from the highly inflammatory context discussed above. The Daily Free Press poll showing that more than 70 percent of those who voted do not support the Senate’s impeachment decision illustrates that our Student Government no longer represents us. If there is anything that this debacle has shown us, it is that we must demand the complete dismantling and restructuring of our governing bodies.

Marlene Kalb, mkalb@bu.edu

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  1. ” the incredibly powerful demonstrations led by Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine.”
    In reality they had about ten people who shouted at students and pretended to die in support of terrorists who openly and proudly stab Jews for the mere fact that they are Jewish. You clearly don’t believe in Jewish social justice principals for this very reason. Your implication that Zionism and Judaism are separate is only an excuse for you to convince yourself that you are not an anti-Semite. If you were actually a practicing Jew you would know that a common phrase said by our people at some of out holiest holidays is “Next year in Jerusalem.” This is not a new phrase created 67 years ago, rather it is a hopeful dream that Jews have repeated for thousands of years following their exile from the land of Israel. One can be critical of Israel and demand change, but to openly call for its destruction and continue telling blatant, heinous lies about the one democracy in the middle east and the one country in which its Arab citizens (20 % of the population) have more rights, freedoms, and safety than any other country in the region exposes your anti-semitism. Instead of the demonization the Jewish people, like in times before Israel, you demonize the Jewish state. You have found nothing more than a way to be anti-semitic without feeling like the racist, hateful person you are. Anti-zionism is anti-semitism. And no, you are not excused from this category simply because you are Jewish. Israel will continue to live on a flourish and you will continue to cry. Have you ever stopped and wondered, “Hey, why the hell do we always lose?” Maybe its because instead of being productive and genuinely seeking peace, you continue to incite violence and hatred against a country and people stronger and more united than you will ever be.

  2. Someone With A Brain

    So you admit the trial was about budget reports and minutes, but then blame anti-semitism? No matter your opinion, that by definition makes no sense. Also, there were three allegations towards the student government representatives, one of them being for discriminatory behavior and THAT CLAIM WAS REFUTED.

    Someone With A Brain

  3. The author of this article clearly presents a mendacious one sided argument to justify her racism and anti semitism. I do not find anything progressive about her attempts to erase history and context to justify her own racism.

  4. I’ve heard this person say that “the Zionists” were behind the impeachment. Not very credible.

  5. Solomon Silverstein

    Great job Marlene!

    As a BU alumni, and a fellow Jew, I am very dissapointed with the attitudes that the Hillel community (that is not getting any further donations from me) has taken against you. I’ve been reading about the situation and even though I don’t think the students for Justice in Palestine create the most inclusive climate, I am very happy to see you concerned and involved to make this community a better place.

    Please don’t mind the hateful comments of people trying to bring you down. You are doing great and me and my wife are very proud of you. We’d love our kids to grow up with your same enthusiasm!

    • We don’t need your money. And if your kids grow up to be like her that means you’ve raised them to be hateful people who join aggressively anti-Semitic organizations. Don’t comment on the events or environment of BU when you have no idea what your talking about. Honestly, its sad that you’re Jewish.