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Debate at Brandeis not as advertised

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Opinions


As most people probably remember, a few weeks ago, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) created a Facebook event called “Brandeis Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).” The event, simply the Brandeis extension of one that occurs all over college campuses nationwide, went viral in less than a day. Pro-Israel Brandeis students flooded the page with angry comments and accusations of “anti-Semitism,” even going so far as to throw personal insults at fellow students.

IAW’s supporters got just as angry, and the whole thing turned into a flame war between Brandeis students and some trolls who somehow found the page. It should’ve ended when the event’s administrators deleted the harmful comments.

But it didn’t. Pro-Israel students made their own fliers in protest of the event and put them up in East. A couple of Brandeis students used Twitter to gather opposition to the event, and when the keynote by Max Blumenthal finally rolled around, no Brandeis administrators attended any of the week’s events, and Fred Lawrence was at a national AIPAC conference.

A friend stopped talking to me because I argued for SJP’s right to free speech online. The narrative set by IAW’s detractors, that anyone who attended or supported it desired the utter annihilation of Israel and its people and every Jew in the world, became the narrative taken by Brandeis, eliminating the idea of “vigorous debate” on the issue in any substantive way. I can’t say I was surprised.

Brandeis, after all, is “that Jewish school,” as several of my off-campus friends have referred to it. When I call it that, friends on campus and family disagree with the description, but think realistically. Brandeis is 55 percent Jewish, with a very visible Orthodox/conservative population. We have nine actively pro-Israel clubs on campus and hundreds of pro-Israel students. And after all, we go to “that Jewish school,” so why should I be surprised that “vigorous debate” on the Israeli-Arab conflict doesn’t really exist? Whenever I hear a conversation starting up on it, I immediately exit, because I don’t want to have a shouting match.

This is not the Brandeis University I applied to. I did not apply to a place where being critical of a country means that you want to murder an ethnic group. I did not apply to a place where survivors of sexual assault have to create a blog in order to feel like they are not being ignored. And I definitely did not apply to a school that fails to justify why it pays former executives millions while raising tuition and driving out students without the money or scholarships to stay. At least I thought that I had applied, been accepted and ultimately enrolled in an institution that valued all opinions creating new leaders in fields of social justice, not just promoting the concept of it.

Instead I find myself at a school that stubbornly defends indefensible choices with minor concessions—an extra stop on the Bran Van, or blaring music and bad coffee in front of Usdan at nine in the morning. I am “represented” by a student government that holds public forums where they thank the administration for taking time out of its schedule to talk to students and argue against other students. I help pay for my president’s car, but my school cannot justify why, nor can it justify why it does most of the things I have named.

All they can say is “we’re working on it,” and I am left with the fact that the students don’t have much power at all; the fact that some of us get to put on a tie and sit next to this dean and that department head doesn’t mean we have the ability to change much. But hey, “We’re working on it.”

Since coming to Brandeis I have made amazing friends and had amazing experiences with my education and during recreation. I just wish all this didn’t feel like it had conditions, such as supporting Israel or being tenacious enough to get my friends to click my name, just so I can speak with an administrator. Students love being here, but they acknowledge that it is far from perfect. To recognize that, the administration should stop acting as if they know what we want, and come down to earth and have a “vigorous debate.” Brandeis students deserve an administration willing to treat them as equals, but to do that, the administration should first acknowledge that both faculty, students and staff all go to the same school, even if only some of us are enrolled in classes.