Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hijacks No Red Tape group.
The phrase “All evil in the world must be traced to Israel” is how researcher Nurit Baytch perceptively characterized the propaganda tactics of anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal.
It’s a phrase that increasingly characterizes the anti-Israel campus movement. Every real or perceived problem is either blamed on or connected to Israel.
The concerted effort to turn the Black Lives Matter movement into an anti-Israel movement has at its core the claim that Israel is the root of problems of non-whites in the United States. Thus, if a police chief somewhere attended a one-week anti-terrorism seminar in Israel years ago, every act of brutality by a cop on the beat is blamed on Israel. So too, Students for Justice in Palestine protesters in New York City even blamed high tuition on Zionists, leading to rebukes by administrators against such thinly-veiled anti-Semitism.
The Jew once again is made the source of all evil, the conspiratorial puppet-master controlling all and responsible for all. And Israel alone receives such treatment and is used as the link to connect all injustices in the world. That some of the worst perpetrators are Jewish progressives doesn’t change the nature of the attack.
Jay Michaelson in The Forward looks to the concept of “intersectionality” to understand why the students behind these seemingly attenuated connections view Israel as tied to everything:
Coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, “intersectionality” refers to the way social identities and forms of oppression overlap and intersect. For Crenshaw, it was impossible to understand her black identity without also understanding her female identity, and how the interlocking oppressions she experienced had both common roots and cumulative impact.
Intersectionality is now front and center in the way campus communities are engaging with Israel/Palestine, and linking it to other social issues.
It’s one thing to understand the various aspects of your own identity without walling them off from each other. It’s quite another thing to use intersectionality the way it is used now by anti-Israel activists — to demonize and dehumanize Israelis by exploiting racial and religious tensions.
There may be no better example of how demented intersectionality has become in the service of the anti-Israel movement than the takeover by SJP supporters of the anti-rape No Red Tape group at Columbia University.
No Red Tape was the group of activists formed to support Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a mattress around Columbia after the University exonerated the person she accused of raping her. The case was very controversial and contested, and the accused male student now is suing the university.
Regardless of what you think of Sulkowicz and the role of No Red Tape, at least the group purported to support victims of sexual abuse without regard to politics.
No more. Since the formation of the group, as the founders left, anti-Israel students formed an alliance with SJP.
In the fall of 2014, student Rikki Novetsky notice the partisanship emerging over the Palestinian issue, Conflating Causes:Why No Red Tape’s Partisanship is Stifling:
Based on precedent from other colleges, an alliance between SJP and No Red Tape at Columbia is likely inevitable. That’s okay. But when such a grouping alienates students from a cause that is fundamentally non-partisan, and—more importantly—alienates survivors of sexual assault themselves, we as a community face a serious problem.
I stood at that rally as a woman; rape culture and misogyny are something that I have experienced, and that’s why I feel connected to No Red Tape. Other women at the rally were survivors themselves.
The fact that a man from Students for Justice in Palestine can marginalize a woman survivor of sexual assault at her own college campus at a protest to combat rape culture is completely illogical.
Based on the values of No Red Tape itself, which on its Facebook page says it seeks to find “survivor-centered solutions” to end sexual violence at Columbia, it is deplorable to alienate a survivor from her own cause based on a geopolitical issue that is far beyond the scope of the conversation.
A September 15, 2015 article in The Columbia Daily Spectator explained how it started as the original founders of the group graduated or moved on, and were replaced:
All the while, No Red Tape broadened its approach from examining sexual assault on campus, thinking about the presence of factors such as race, citizenship, and colonialism, as they intersect with sexual violence.
“The way that No Red Tape conceives of sexual violence is as a form of oppression that is related and inextricably linked to other forms of oppression,” group member Michela Weihl, BC ’17, said. “That’s the broad-scale idea that we’re trying to work off of, and we’ve definitely faced challenges in operationalizing that.”
For Weihl, this conception translates to calling for more inclusive resources—ones that cater to LGBTQ survivors or those that don’t speak English, for instance—but it also means opposing what she sees as systems of inequality, such as the prison system and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict….
“Anyone who is interested in doing activism around the issue of sexual violence has to recognize and confront that sexual violence is not in a vacuum,” Officer-Narvasa said. “Sexual violence is a deeper political issue, and it can not be divorced or separated from other oppressed identities,” Officer-Narvasa said.
But this approach has alienated some members of the group. Julia Crain, BC ’18, was once touted as one of No Red Tape’s new leaders, but the rest of the group’s decisively pro-Palestine stance led her to cut ties with the organization this summer.
“One [issue] is between students on a college campus in New York City, and the other is an ongoing geopolitical issue thousands of miles away in the Middle East,” she said. “By taking a stance, they’re alienating huge groups of people because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is arguably the most divisive issue on campus.”
As No Red Tape began engaging in talks with Students for Justice in Palestine about collaborating on activism, Crain—who, even as a first-year, had already taken on a prominent role in the group—said that she felt increasingly uncomfortable with the anti-Israeli direction the group was taking.
“No Red Tape talks about trying to change cultural norms and trying to engage everyone to really take a stance against sexual violence in our community,” Crain said. “I don’t understand how that is compatible with alienating tons and tons of students on this campus.”
No Red Tape now endorses SJP events that are blatantly anti-Israel:
Here is the description of the SJP event promoted by No Red Tape:
The move to inject Palestinian activism into a group that was formed to support sexual assault victims boiled over when No Red Tape asked the student government to endorse a No Red Tape petition.
The petition did not, on its face, address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But asking the student goverment effectively to bless the new anti-Israel version of a rape survivor group was too much for Julia Crain, one of the founders of No Red Tape.
Crain wrote an open letter in the Columbia Spectator, SGA should think twice before supporting No Red Tape:
Beginning this semester, No Red Tape has officially taken on an anti-Israel stance. It publicly denounces Israel on social media and collaborates with anti-Israel student groups, such as Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine. No Red Tape claims that its anti-Israel position stems from commonalities between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—an ongoing geopolitical conflict thousands of miles away—and sexual violence on college campuses. While they may see theoretical strains of similitude, the practical realities of the issues are vastly different from one another.
Ultimately, No Red Tape’s decision to align itself with Students for Justice in Palestine is problematic and destructive to its purported aim of enacting actual changes in response to issues of sexual violence on our campus. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is arguably the most divisive issue on campus; by picking a side, No Red Tape effectively politicized anti-sexual violence work on this campus. Doing so is detrimental to the cause and unfair to pro-Israel survivors.
No Red Tape used to be a safe space for survivors to turn to in crisis, especially if they felt unsupported elsewhere. In the past, a No Red Tape support group open to survivors in the community met regularly. But by making anti-Zionism a primary tenet of its platform, No Red Tape has disqualified itself from being our school’s much needed supportive group and community for students across the board. In elevating its political agenda over the needs of survivors, it’s reneged on its promise to be “survivor-centric.”
When the issue was debated before the student government, over 80 students attended:
Over 80 students from several student activist groups came to debate whether a Barnard Student Government Association endorsement for No Red Tape’s petition for sexual violence policy reform would promote the group’s anti-Zionist stance on the Israeli-Palestine conflict at SGA’s meeting on Monday….
“A public statement of No Red Tape’s effort by Barnard student government, the entity meant to represent the entire student body, would amount to the legitimization of a divisive and alienating student group, one that advocates controversial changes far beyond the scope of ending sexual violence at Columbia,” Julia Crain, BC ’18, a former member of No Red Tape who published an op-ed in Spectator urging SGA not to endorse the proposal, said during the open floor section of SGA’s meeting.
Pro-Israel group Aryeh had also sent out an email to its members on Sunday asking that the pro-Israel community come to support Crain while she spoke at the meeting.
“Sexual assault is a huge problem nationally and on this campus and SGA should increase its work to improve the support structure for survivors, but there is no reason that SGA needs to support anti-Zionism in order to support sexual assault reform,” the email stated.
But once No Red Tape discovered that members from Aryeh would be at the meeting, the group mobilized to draw its own crowd of supporters to the meeting, according to No Red Tape member Lena Rubin, BC ’18.
“We basically called all of our allies and supporters in different student groups to come and sit with us,” Rubin said after the SGA meeting.
I don’t know if or how the student government voted, but that vote is not the issue. The issue is how intersectionality is the favorite tool of anti-Israel activists, particularly faculty.
Brandeis Prof. Janet Freedman wrote of her experience as the National Women’s Studies Association passed an anti-Israel academic boycott resolution:
While I can convey my progressive politics in Jewish groups, increasingly, I do not feel I can express my Jewish voice within the progressive community, including NWSA which has been one of my homes for many years….
The zeal with which many come to their position on BDS is often in contrast with an awareness of history or a respect for the accuracy of information brought to their advocacy.
While professing the challenging of interlacing systems of oppression that must be addressed together, anti-Semitism is frequently unseen or excluded. The Jewish invisibility and anti-Semitism within NWSA that led to the formation of a Jewish Caucus in the 1980s continues to exist. In response to this, fewer Jewish women have sustained their commitment to the organization and there is a paucity of sessions on the varied histories, lives, issues and activism of Jewish women.
The voices of Jews and others whose positions are rooted in the right of Israel to exist as a state have been silenced.
Intersectionality was developed by faculty and is part of the fabric of left-wing faculty organizing and activism in the Humanities and Social Sciences. It’s no wonder that some students adopt the approach, and that those student pursue it post-graduation.
Michaelson, in The Forward article linked above, notes how fundamental the intersectional world view is to the anti-Israel movement:
Awareness of intersectionality is, at this point, woven into the fabric of being a social justice activist, especially among young people…. Intersectionality is part of the zeitgeist.
You may agree or disagree with the application of intersectional analyses to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Maybe there are more differences than similarities. Maybe, in working in solidarity with SJP, No Red Tape has “politicized” its work around sexual assault….
But the “larger umbrella of oppression” is part and parcel of how many justice activists, particularly younger ones, understand their work. It’s how they understand what it means to be a feminist, an anti-occupation activist, a queer activist, or an anti-racism activist.
Popularity, however, is not a vindication of intersectionality. What started as a liberation concept now is a tool of oppression, primarily directed at Israel.
UPDATE 12-12-2015: This apparently is not a new phenomenon, where women who support Israel are not welcome at a rape crisis center run by anti-Zionists. From 2003 (h/t Anarcho-Zionist Twitter):
A San Francisco rape crisis center is asking potential volunteers and interns about their willingness to take a “stance against Zionism” and other political issues.
It was not clear what happens if an applicant at San Francisco Women Against Rape declines the request to participate in the “political education activities.”
But dismayed Jewish leaders want the 30-year-old nonprofit agency to stop the practice….
In a brief phone conversation Wednesday, SFWAR executive director Nina Jusuf refused to be interviewed, wanting any questions posed to her by e-mail.
She sent a statement to a Bulletin reporter by e-mail that read in part: “We believe that ending all forms of oppression is integral to ending sexual assault. SFWAR, after much consideration, has come to understand that the current policy of Zionism is racism. We define Zionism, in its current form, as a political, cultural, economic project to remove the indigenous people from their land and to construct the settlers as the authentic people of the land.
[Featured Image Source: No Red Tape Facebook]DONATE
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.