By Damon Krane
September 7, 2014
The Ohio University Post (published September 8, 2014)
The Athens News (published September 11, 2014)
Mondoweiss (quoted in articles September 9 and September 16, 2014)
*Updated with afterword, 9/16/14*
Ohio University Student Senate president Megan Marzec clearly stated her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It speaks volumes about her opponents that they’d rather silence her than attempt to argue against that position. From the online death threats to that masterpiece of passive aggressive condescension Rabbi Danielle Leshaw authored for last Friday’s Post, those demanding Marzec’s resignation from Student Senate (and/or her head on a platter) don’t seem to want to talk about the issue at hand any more than they want Marzec to talk about it. That’s because Marzec’s detractors aren’t “supporters of Israel.” They are supporters of ethnic cleansing. And ethnic cleansing is a hard thing to advocate openly, especially if you want to keep fooling Americans into paying for it.
Israel was established as an ethnic and religiously Jewish state in 1948 in an area primarily inhabited by Palestinian Muslims and Christians. To make way for a Jewish majority, 700,000 Palestinians were pushed out of Israel – many to the West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel then conquered in 1967. Ever since, Palestinians there (now numbering 4 million) have lived under Israeli military occupation. While continuing to expel Palestinians from the West Bank and incorporating more of their land into Israel, Israel has turned the less desirable land of Gaza into an overcrowded, open-air prison where Israel controls the borders, imposes an impoverishing trade embargo, and routinely attacks trapped Gazans with the world’s 4th most powerful military – attacks Israeli military strategists callously refer to as “mowing the lawn.”
During Israel’s latest attack on Gaza this summer, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis, including 61 soldiers, three adult civilians and one child. Israeli soldiers, meanwhile, killed over 2,000 Palestinians, an estimated two thirds of whom were civilians and 30 percent children. ( Note: The most reliable figures to emerge since this article was published place the Israeli death toll at 72 and Palestinian dead at 2,100.) After Israel had finished bombing Palestinian hospitals, schools, shelters – even children playing soccer – the U.S. Congress followed up on the Senate’s unanimous declaration of support for Israel in July with its early August decision to increase funding for improvements to Israel’s missile defense system. No one in Congress suggested giving any missile defense system to Palestinians.
For decades Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. For the past 20 years, the U.S. has given Israel between $2.5 and $4 billion annually – including $8.5 million in military aid each day of fiscal year 2014. The US gives more money to Israel than to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined, even though Israel is a country just one fifth the size of Ohio whose citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and longest life expectancies.
There are several explanations for the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. Political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt focus on the power of the Israeli lobby. I think U.S. elites want a well-armed, non-Arab, oil-free dependency in the world’s most important energy producing region. But there’s also a natural cultural affinity.
Israel and the U.S. are both settler colonial states founded on ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians of today are the Native Americans of 200 years ago. Just as Columbus “discovered” America and our slave-owning, Indian-killing, “religious freedom-loving” forbearers “civilized” this country, Israel was “a land without people” (because Palestinians don’t count) just waiting for “a people without land” to “take the desert and make it bloom.” Or, as an Israeli-funded subway poster campaign in major U.S. cities put it recently: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.”
Yet as much as our shared national mythology might appeal to the Fox News demographic, young Americans just aren’t buying it anymore. A recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans age 65 and older supported Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza, the same was true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29, 51 percent of whom opposed the offensive. So when OU’s supporters of ethnic cleansing say Megan Marzec doesn’t speak for most of her fellow students, remember this: Megan Marzec speaks for most of her generation.
And when Leshaw and company have the audacity to attempt to speak for all Jews on campus, remember not only all the members of Jews Against the Occupation and Israel’s own Peace Now, as well as prominent Jewish commentators like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Max Blumenthal and the late Howard Zinn. Think also of OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz. With regard to Marzec’s detractors, Schwartz has stated, “I’m named after two great Uncles killed in Auschwitz… I say unequivocally that those who threaten anti-racists in the name of ‘THE Jews’ do not speak for me, and they dishonor my ancestors. I say unequivocally that those who support the murderous state dominating the territory of Palestine do not speak for me.”
Think about all of this and recognize that people like Leshaw (so hip because she texts swear words just like a student!) are trying to hijack the horrific history of Jewish persecution in order to use it for their own racist political agenda. Keep that in mind, and you’ll never fall for their attempts to portray long-overdue criticism of Israel as unconscionable hatred of the Jewish people.
And finally, if you’ve ever wished you could undo the horrors of America’s own settler colonial past, remember that you have the power to stop history from repeating itself in Palestine. It is your government that is spending your fellow citizens’ tax dollars on Israel’s murderous ethnic cleansing campaign. It is your university and those like it that are invested in Israeli companies. You have the power to change all of that – just like the student activists before you who helped end U.S.-backed apartheid in South Africa. Realize that, and you’ll come to see that the real goal of the effort against Marzec isn’t to silence Marzec, it’s to silence you.
Stand up for Marzec, and you stand up for yourself. Stand up for yourself, and your generation can bring hope – and possibly even justice – to the people of Palestine. Now is your chance.
[Update: 9/16/14 — In addition to those threatening Marzec’s life, her detractors reportedly also have included people threatening to rape her, others sending astoundingly racist and misogynistic emails, and the student group Bobcats for Israel, four of whose members were arrested September 10th and charged with disrupting a lawful meeting after they tried to shut down a Student Senate meeting in order to force Marzec’s resignation. (For additional accounts of Bobcats for Israel members’ behavior at this meeting, see this letter and this blog post from OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz, whose powerful response to Zionist hardliners attempting to speak for all Jews on OU’s campus I quoted above.)
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, mentioned above, is heavily affiliated with Bobcats for Israel. Leshaw works for the Ohio University chapter of the group Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Hillel is an international organization active on college campuses which attempts to re-define “Jewish” as Zionist. Leshaw administrates the Facebook page of Bobcats for Israel and accompanied the group to its action at the September 10 Student Senate meeting. After tweeting live updates in support of the action, Leshaw accompanied members of the group placed under arrest to the police station. However, there are no reports of Leshaw participating directly in Bobcats’ September 10 action, nor was she arrested along with the students she mentors.
As the progressive Jewish American Middle East news blog Mondoweiss pointed out, Bobcats for Israel’s logo features a map of Israel which includes the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all territories illegally occupied by Israel. Consequently, if these Bobcats are for an Israel that is both Jewish and incorporates these territories, then they are necessarily for massive ethnic cleansing. The demographic consequence of incorporating into Israel all of the non-Jews who inhabit these territories would be a Jewish State with a Jewish minority. Thus if Bobcats are for a Jewish Israel that incorporates these territories, the group should be more forthcoming and change its name to Bobcats for Ethnic Cleansing, or perhaps Bobcats for Genocide. (For her part, Rabbi Leshaw responded to Mondoweiss’s reporting with typical decorum by calling Phillip Weiss a “douchebag” and “asshole” on her Twitter feed.)
With regard to this group’s action at the September 10 student senate meeting, Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut (who was chancellor of OU’s Board of Regents from 2007 to 2011) wrote OU president Roderick McDavis to express his support for Leshaw and his disbelief that members of Bobcats for Israel were “actually booked and charged with criminal conduct.” According to Fingerhut, “These students are owed an apology from the university.”
As if the history of settler colonialism needed any more evidence of the shameless arrogance of the racist colonizers! I remember when I was arrested at OU (and on public property immediately adjacent to the campus of Kent State University) for committing civil disobedience in opposition to a massive crime against humanity (the U.S. invasion of Iraq) instead of in support of one (Isral’s U.S.-backed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians). In the case of my arrests, I don’t recall any present or former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents demanding that the president of either of these schools apologize to me for their failures to intervene to prevent my arrests, even after I was among the plaintiffs in a successful wrongful arrest lawsuit against the City of Kent. I do remember a letter from the Ohio University Judiciaries expressing the university’s desire that I “act more responsibly” in the future. So cry me a river, Eric Fingerhut.
Yet despite –or perhaps because of— the repugnant audacity of Marzec’s detractors, there are substantial signs of support for Marzec at Ohio University, including a letter now signed by over 50 OU professors; statements by Graduate Student Senate President; a petition to defend Marzec and all OU students’ rights to advocate for Palestinian human rights being promoted by the OU Women’s Center, the student group Fuck Rape Culture, and the OU Student Union (as well as explicitly Palestine solidarity groups on campus); an editorial by the student-run Ohio University Post newspaper; and many letters to Athens media, including this one from OU film professor Tom Hayes, in which Hayes mocked Rabbi Leshaw’s call for Marzec to resign.
“I call for unelected Rabbi Leshaw to resign and find a position at an institution with a less robust tradition of advocacy for the dignity and freedom of humankind. Perhaps she can find an institution where students are required to check with the campus Rabbi, or Imam, or Minister before taking a principled position. A segregated Jews-only university in an illegal Israeli settlement might be a good fit. The disgusting barrage of defamation and abuse directed at President Marzec makes one wonder if some people on this campus think that this is also Israeli occupied territory.”
Along similar lines, OU history professor Kevin Mattson told the Ohio University Post that while he isn’t in full agreement with Marzec, it was Rabbi Leshaw’s “very condescending and unthoughtful letter” to The Post calling for Marzec’s resignation that led him to join the group of faculty expressing its support for Marzec.
“When you ask a person to resign from an office they were elected to, you are basically asking for a reversal of the election,” Mattson said, calling Leshaw’s rationale behind her letter “faulty logic.”
Thus while the backlash to Marzec’s “blood bucket” action has been as repulsive as you might expect of people who do, after all, support a murderous and racist U.S.-Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, the backlash to that backlash continues to inspire hope — hope for a sustained and powerful Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement that might finally bring justice to Palestine.
[Update: 9/30/14 — Electronic Intifada on September 24 published an interview with Megan Marzec accompanied by a good brief summary of this story. Also, the Ohio University Post and Athens News recently reported on a coalition of right wing campus groups, including Bobcats for Israel and the OU College Republicans, organizing a petition drive to recall Marzec from office for her support of Palestinian human rights.]
Editor’s note: Damon Krane lived in Athens, Ohio from 1999 through 2009, during which time he attended Ohio University, edited The InterActivist magazine, contributed to The Athens NEWS, wrote a column for The Post, ran the high school journalism education project Free Student Press, directed the local center for progressive activist development People Might, and was active in numerous social justice groups.