A Response to BDS – Experiential Education

Janet Mock, a native Hawaiian transgender woman of color, was set to speak at Brown University in an event sponsored by Moral Voices. Moral Voices is a privately funded offshoot of Brown RISD Hillel “whose mission is to raise awareness and support addressing an annually chosen issue of social justice” write its student co-chairs Natalie Cutler and Rachel Levy. This year the issue of violence against LGBTQ+ individuals and communities was selected. Other event sponsors include the Brown Center for Students of Color, Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center, Sexual Assault Peer Educators, Swearer Center for Public Service, Office of the Chaplains, the Rhode Island School of Design’s Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, among others.

An online petition through change.org put forth by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Brown University, called on Janet Mock to cancel her speaking engagement on the basis of its tacit support for the Jewish State of Israel.

That’s right – the event against violence towards members of the LGBTQ+ communities was sabotaged based on the fact that the event was sponsored by Moral Voices, which is connected to Hillel.

Having trouble making the connection? Let me spell it out for you: an event supported by a Jewish organization for pluralistic Jewish life on campus was boycotted for being Jewish. Hillel has a clear policy of open dialogue on Israel issues, including a chapter of J Street U, a left-wing organization that is known for its heavy criticism of Israel.

In this particular case, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism simply does not exist. This event did not touch the issue of Israel, but instead it was the target of a crusade against its existence for having Jewish roots. This is the very definition of anti-Semitism.

The authors of the petition claimed that Ms. Mock’s speech was an attempt at “pinkwashing.” This is the term anti-Israel activists have invented to delegitimize the very real advancements Israel has made for LGBTQ+ rights in Israel. “When I came to Israel seven years ago, Israel was far more advanced than the US on gay rights and issues,” recalls Adam Moss, Tel Aviv resident and Los Angeles native. SJP’s argument is that showcasing Israel’s progressive LGBTQ+ rights is only to cover up the Jewish nation’s history of human rights violations. This is clearly an attempt to further the delegitimization of the entirety of the Jewish State. However, this is still only tangential to the topic at hand, which is the fact that SJP has attacked and ultimately terminated an event simply because it was sponsored by a Jewish organization.

The association of American Jews with Israel is nothing new. The State of Israel was founded as a Jewish State in which any Jew can become a citizen and live freely as a normalized citizen, not to be discriminated against for his or her Jewishness. Having said that, American Jews are not Israeli citizens, they are American citizens and should be treated as such.

The unfortunate outcome was that Janet Mock canceled her visit to Brown on the basis that it simply was no longer about her intended goal of advancing LGBTQ+ rights awareness, which is sadly an issue that is often overlooked. Nevertheless, the overall acceptance of anti-Semitism growing on college campuses seems to surround the issue. Assumptions based on an American individual’s Jewish heritage have become enough to publically call into question the intentions of the individual or the organizations with which he or she stands.

As an Ivy League alumna, I am proud to see that the level of conversation on campus is high and diverse enough to have Ms. Mock’s event on the agenda. Yet, we somehow have fallen so far that racism and identity politics prevented this important discussion from even reaching a campus dialogue.

UCLA provides a prime example. Last year, a campaign also led by SJP, put forth a pledge for students running for elected offices on campus to swear they would not participate in free trips to Israel. In particular, Jewish students – American citizens, many of whom have never even been to Israel, were targeted for inquisition-style interrogations regarding their personal affinities toward Israel. This is scary. This is the foul face of anti-Semitism once again rearing its ugly head into mainstream discourse.

So what is the solution? How can one respond to this kind of rhetoric becoming the norm on campus? I believe we have developed a response that is proving to be successful.

As an Academic and Experiential Programmer at Israel Experts, I have been designing Fact Finders Missions, educational trips bringing student leaders, by and large not Jewish, to Israel and the West Bank to see the facts on the ground for themselves. I believe that there is no substitute for first-hand experience and I intend to show them reality.

Our second annual UCLA Hillel Fact Finders Mission just left Israel with an experience that challenged beliefs spanning the spectrum and inspired deeper understanding. Twenty student leaders from diverse backgrounds met with representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Knesset, with coexistence groups, human rights activists, military officers, and passed through everyday checkpoints. We work with a Palestinian partner to coordinate our programs in the West Bank and provide alternative perspectives.

As a recent graduate of Cornell University, a campus that has been facing similar challenges, I truly believe that this is the best answer to BDS voices on campus –showing influential student leaders what Israel and the West Bank are really like in a lasting and effective manner. They can meet with top scholars who can answer their tough questions and begin to understand the region and the conflict on a significantly deeper level, all while personifying the fabled Israel into the immensely complex and beautiful place that it is.

About the Author
Melanie, 25, graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University in Near Eastern Studies, Jewish Studies, and Spanish. She also graduated magna cum laude with an MA from Tel Aviv University in Middle Eastern and African History and is Community Manager @Workey, an anonymous social recruitment platform using AI and machine learning. Melanie lives in Tel Aviv.
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