Co-author Maxwell Adelstein is a senior at Goucher College in Baltimore. He hails from Los Angeles CA, and has nothing but undying love and support for the Jewish state of Israel. He is the grandson of a Holocaust Survivor, a Hasbara fellow, a proud Jew and proud Zionist.
We never expected our college to be one of those anti-Israel schools. Our school, Goucher College in Maryland, was around 30% Jewish. We had a very active Hillel on campus and many students were openly Zionist. We’d never really had a problem, that is, until two years ago.
The Goucher College chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was founded in 2014. They sponsored an event for the hate-mongering anti-Israel movement “Existence is Resistance,” among others. They sent the campus Public Safety after Max because he dared to call them out for their lies and propaganda. They curtailed free speech and made life difficult for Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus for a year.
By 2015, it seemed as though things had died down. Or so we thought.
Our campus had a very high percentage of LGBT students. Many of these students were also Jewish. The Queer Student Union on campus at the time, TALQ BIG, was founded in part by two gay Jewish students. In November 2015, the Israel Committee at our college decided to bring gay Israeli filmmaker Assi Azar to our campus in order to screen his film Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You and discuss the realities of being gay in a Jewish society. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Well, we were about to get a nasty shock.
We reached out to TALQ BIG so we could plan the event together. They initially agreed, but suddenly they withdrew their support and demanded we cease planning the event. We were baffled. They cited anti-Israel propaganda from websites like Electronic Intifada in their decision. We told them that we were going to continue planning the event. They didn’t like that one bit.
They began plastering the school with posters bearing buzzwords such as “apartheid,” “colonialism,” and of course, “pinkwashing.” What is pinkwashing? Essentially, it’s the idea that Israel’s only identity is defined by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s the idea that speaking about gay rights in Israel, the struggles and the successes, is simply a distraction from the conflict. It’s the idea that Israel markets the achievements of the Israeli gay rights movement in order to make Israel attractive to the West. The accusation of “pinkwashing” is a common tactic used by the anti-Israel movement to silence gay Israelis, negate their struggles, spit on their successes, and turn LGBT people against the only state in the Middle East where they would not be treated as criminals. An anti-pinkwashing protest shut down an American-Israeli panel/Shabbat service at the National LGBT Task Force’s Creating Change Conference in Chicago this past January. To accuse gay Israelis of “pinkwashing” is like saying that the LGBT movement in the US shouldn’t be allowed to exist because of injustices at Guantanamo Bay.
Israel is constantly demonized in the West, and anything good that happens in Israel does not fit the agenda of the anti-Israel movement. This negatively impacts Jewish students on college campuses, where organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine lure unsuspecting students into actively hating the Jewish State. The two Jewish students on the board of TALQ BIG were Zionists. They expressed their support for the event, and immediately were mercilessly attacked and bullied by the other board members until they quit the organization in fear. One of the students said, struggling to hold back her tears, that she felt like she had lost the support network of the queer community on campus. She was forced to choose between her Jewish identity and her queer identity, and as a result of choosing to honor the former, she was ostracized by most of the LGBT students on campus.
We tried time and time again to reason with TALQ BIG. We set up a mediation session with the campus Center for Race, Equity, and Identity, only to be told that the leaders of TALQ BIG “don’t dialogue with racists.” As if supporting gay rights in Israel made people racists. They tore down our posters, hung a huge pink banner smearing us in the library, and drove apart the Jewish and LGBT communities on campus with their propaganda and unwillingness to listen. They demanded that we cancel the event. We refused.
The night of the event came. Around 100 people showed up, both students and people from the greater community. Then the protestors marched in, their mouths taped shut with duct tape. Some of the protestors were Jewish. They took their seats. They were warned that if they protested during the screening of the film or disrupted the event, they would be forced to leave. So they sat through the film, thankfully. But upon its completion, they stood up, removed the tape from their mouths and chanted awful things at us. They yelled and stormed the stage, screaming about “oppression,” “solidarity,” “brown bodies,” and for some reason, black slavery in America. They held their handwritten signs up high, so very proud of themselves. They argued with the speaker, they shouted down members of the audience trying to express support for the film and ask questions about it. Eventually, it got so heated that the event had to be shut down early. The protestors were escorted out, and to our knowledge, were never punished for breaking the school’s protesting rules.
The community members exited, leaving only the Jewish students and Israel Committee. Many of them were in tears. They expressed fear at attending classes the next day. They felt powerless against the rage of the anti-Israel presence on campus. All they had wanted was to watch a movie and hear an Israeli man speak about gay rights. But the anti-Israel hatred that poisons our campus had defeated them. While the protestors celebrated, the spirits of Jewish students shattered.
Goucher College, like many American colleges and universities, is an echo chamber. Ideas get repeated and recycled at such a high frequency that it is often hard to stand. If you diverge from the common belief thread, your opinions are discarded. So what does this have to do with Israel Advocacy? In short, everything. At such a small school, and even in larger ones, you have nowhere to hide. You are either silent, or as vocal as they come. Those in the middle are almost always pushed to one polar end or the other. This is how the campus climate operates in regards to Israel.
Unfortunately, the pendulum of opinion has swung abruptly in favor of hate that masquerades as Pro-Palestinian advocacy. What can be done to curb this dangerous change? The only answer we know is to actively build coalitions and bridges among campus groups. It is unfortunate that some minority narratives have been hijacked by groups using the pro-Palestinian position to target Israelis and Jews. Even so, we must engage with them. Those of us who support Israel are isolated, and we face great obstacles reaching those who could support our cause, but we need to overcome the barriers.
Future Goucher students must also recruit more inspiring and electrifying pro-Israel voices to come speak on campus. If the, dare I say, evil shill for all things anti-Semitic Norman Finkelstein can come speak at Goucher, then we in the pro-Israel camp should present voices like the brilliant black Zionist Chloé Valdary, or the brave and exuberant Muslim human rights activist Bassem Eid to the Goucher student body. We can curtail the incoming tsunami that is BDS by no longer being afraid of politics.
Life is political. There is no way around it, and the more that Hillel and the dormant pro-Israel Goucher student body accepts and legitimizes anti-Israel hatred, the harder Jewish students who choose to attend Goucher College will have it in the near future, and some will even feel that they have to side with those who hate them. Jewish students and Zionists, take heed. You have to fight for your voice, your faith, and your right to be recognized. It’s an uphill battle, but the cost of losing is one that we cannot afford.