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, [email protected]