As President Trump made waves with an executive order meant to stifle speech, action, and education that highlights Palestinian rights, a case that might have been affected by that very order was resolved in Massachusetts. The suit, brought by several anonymous students against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, attempted to censure the university for hosting a panel that supported the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to establish that such events were inherently discriminatory and must be forbidden on campus.
The panel, which took place as scheduled on May 4, 2019, featured some of the country’s most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and progressive causes, including former Women’s March Co-Chair Linda Sarsour, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, musician Roger Waters, and Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine, Dave Zirin. All these people are fierce critics of Israeli policies from a progressive viewpoint.
The event, entitled, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” was specifically designed to discuss efforts to stifle criticism of Israel, on campus and beyond. The suit itself, and the effort preceding it to force the cancellation of the event, couldn’t have demonstrated the need for that panel more clearly. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
How has your personal view of Israel changed in the past four years?
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Co-Chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace
I think I’ve shifted from a liberal Zionist approach—viewing the conflict as two peoples who have two legitimate claims to the land and the only way out of the morass is two states for two people. I believed in the importance of a Jewish state and identified with Israel as a Jew; that was my narrative growing up. I have deep familial relationships in Israel, visited there many times, considered moving there…it was a gradual thing, but the breaking point was Operation Cast Lead in 2008 (Cast Lead was the code name given to Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza). I came to realize this was not a conflict between two equal parties but an essential injustice that began with the birth of the state of Israel and continued since that time. It is a case of one very powerful party bending the other to its will.
Once I spoke out about Israel’s outrages in Cast Lead, the dominoes really started to fall for me. At first I didn’t know where that brought me, and wasn’t sure where I stood. As a congregational rabbi I was in a difficult place and people looked to me for guidance. About a year after that, I really reassessed my relationship as a Jew to Israel, to the entire issue, not just Gaza, about Zionism in general. In the blog pieces I wrote for the book I wrote very extensively about my thoughts and my activity during this time. Brian Walt and I started Jewish Fast for Gaza, and we found a number of rabbis who stood with us to launch the initiative to end the blockade of the Strip and search for a just peace. I become more involved in Palestine Solidarity work, reaching out to Palestinians, some of whom were friends and others who were activists in this area, moving beyond my fear of them as “other.” So many of them reached out to me when I spoke out on Gaza, and I wanted to learn from them what their experience of this issue was. Continue reading →