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The Aftermath of BDS at USF

Pro-BDS students gather in the Marshall Student Center holding big cloth signs and covering their faces.
Pro-BDS students gather in the Marshall Student Center holding big cloth signs and covering their faces.

Boycott. Divest. Sanctions. At the University of South Florida, these words have come to mean more than the sum of their parts.

 Last Tuesday night, we sat for seven hours in the student center’s student government senate chambers as our very existence as Jews was trivialized, mocked, and discussed casually. We spoke at length about the issues our community faced on campus. About the physical assaults, the threats both verbal and digital. About the rallies and the 24/7 police protection on our only Jewish space on campus.

At one point, after we had been sitting in the Q&A for at least an hour, our fear for the safety of Jewish students (given a statistical and well-documented rise of antisemitic behavior, rhetoric, and violent incidents after the passing of BDS resolutions) was deemed overdramatic. At another, the want for ‘transparency’ of funding was compared nonchalantly to a senator’s utility bill. We were grilled for hours on end about how this bill was antisemitic when we had written and eloquent and joint statement that it seemed apparent a majority of the senators had not read. In the second hour of the Q&A portion, we asked the authors of the resolution if Israel had the right to exist and, along with a subtle shake of the head, it was then and only then they were reminded that they could abstain from any question– something we had not been told up until that point. Microphones were passed around like hot rocks and we answered question after question, dealt with the berrating on Teams and in real life when one of our students was harassed in the bathroom. 

We sat in there begging a group of students to understand the statistics: where BDS goes on campuses, violent antisemitism follows. There seemed to be no words we could say to help them empathize. We exhausted every possibility. 

In the end it passed. 16 to 15 because of a tie-break. The reason some senators voted no was because the bill was “poorly written”, not because we had sat for hours explaining why this would directly hurt us and further marginalize our community on campus. We had a senator – not Jewish– tell us that this resolution was not antisemitic. As if he had any right to define our oppression. 

And this is something we see often on our campus. Time and again we seem to be the only group whose existence is up for debate. The only group who can’t define our own pain. But we are also the only group who would show up to student government two hours before and stand in line. We mobilize like no other. We defied all odds and came together to resist those who attempt to silence us. So in all of that pain, Tuesday made me more proud to be the president of Hillel than I ever have been. We broke that day, yes, but we held each other up in a way that told me we will never stop putting ourselves back together. 

About the Author
Though originally from London, Ilana resides in Florida and is a sophomore at the University of South Florida, as well as the Student Body President of USF Hillel. Ilana is a Jewish student on the front line fighting to combat antisemitism and support Israel. She loves to read and to write, and is the author of her Hillel's weekly column, 'B is for Boobah'. She is an Emerson Fellow for StandWithUs and is very passionate about being Jewish!
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