BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community

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Mukund Rathi’s editorial “Support for BDS is support for justice and open dialogue,” published on April 14, is particularly ironic considering that Rathi has previously refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.

Is this what we’re calling open dialogue these days? Refusing to talk to those we disagree with? Or is open dialogue calling out Texas Hillel for being associated with Unify Texas, a grassroots campaign highlighting the divisive and alienating nature of BDS?

Texas Hillel is a nonprofit, non-political Jewish student center on campus open to individuals of any belief and background. Anyone who has ever walked into this building or met its student leaders and staff, knows that Hillel is an open, loving, morally conscious community. Rathi’s non sequitur attacks on Hillel International and UT Hillel clearly illustrate that while being anti-Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, the former can insidiously and seamlessly transform into the latter.

Perhaps the reason that Unify Texas is associated with Hillel is because Jewish students — a religious group, not a political one -- on this campus are concerned with UTDivest’s decision to single out the one Jewish state for its vitriol. If the UTDivest campaign were truly about social justice, one would imagine it would also be calling for an end to investment in companies that function in countries such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. But that’s not what is happening.

Israel and the Jewish people are intertwined; we are inseparable. There’s a reason Jews are called the people of Israel. In the Passover haggadah, the holiday’s storybook that Jews around the world read last week, we end with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem,” reminding us all of our deep-rooted, unconditional ties to the land and its people. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every Jew agrees with every decision made by Israel’s government or supports every policy that affects the region.

I’ll speak for myself: As a Jew, deeply committed to my people and to fighting for a more just world, BDS is frightening. It isolates the Jewish community and its student center, by focusing on the Jewish state — while ignoring other gross human rights violations around the world. The Jewish community has no outlet to create dialogue with UTDivest since our invitations, our outstretched hand, was slapped away.

Let’s not be naive. Just as Hillel does not exist in a vacuum, neither does BDS. At Stanford University and UCLA this year, two different Jewish students leaders’ judgment and abilities were called into question for no reason other than the fact they are Jews. In the fall at Emory University, swastikas were spray-painted on the walls of the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and last year at New York University, fake eviction notices were slid under the doors of Jewish students. As anti-Israel activity rises, so does the demonization of Jewish students on college campuses.

UTDivest’s cleverly disguised campaign, drenched in the rhetoric of human rights and social justice (normally very worthy aims) exposed itself in this paper for its true intentions by calling out Hillel, the center for Jewish life on this campus and a model for what any open community space should aspire to be.

If this group is so concerned with human rights, I suggest participating in this week’s Human Rights Symposium — an event sponsored by Texas Hillel’s White Rose Society, an organization committed to Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention or Hillel’s Latino-Jewish Student Coalition, which is currently organizing efforts to keep in-state tuition for undocumented students.

No one is making excuses for the problems in the Middle East. Both Palestinians and Israelis are suffering in very real ways. But my problem is that UTDivest has taken a conflict in the Middle East as an opportunity to bash the Jewish community — and my community — at Texas Hillel.

— Tracy Frydberg, Middle Eastern studies and journalism senior, in response to Mukund Rathi’s Tuesday column titled “Support for BDS is support for justice and open dialogue.”