Response to Community Forum on Anti-Semitism

10 Jun
In the May issue of the Jewish News, we asked the question: What are your thoughts on the current state of anti-Semitism? We received response from those letters, including the following:

Sue Jacobson

The “Community Voice” section of May’s Jewish News on the current state of anti-Semitism included a segment by a New College student. I understand that these segments were offered as the authors’ opinions and reflect their perceptions of their experiences.
It goes (or should go) without saying that everyone is entitled to express their opinions.  However, the student’s article offered up, as factual, a number of statements which were simply incorrect. I am writing to set the record straight and to offer a bit of my own opinion.
The author states that New College funds a “Daughters for Life” program which includes every country except for Israel. This is not true. The scholarship program for women from the Middle East is open to women from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria.
This year’s class includes five women- from Jordan, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and, yes, Israel. The program is open to women of any and every religion and ethnic origin. The scholars are selected for, among, other qualities, their commitment to improving the lives of others in their communities. The scholars, their families, the Daughters for Life Foundation which created the program with New College, New College, and the broad range of members of our community who support the program believe in the transformative power of education for women to serve the greater good, and to improve their lives and, through them, the lives of others.
It was also intended that their presence at New College would help the other New College students prepare for life in a multi-cultural world, where the life experiences, backgrounds and opinions of people they meet will doubtless differ from their own.  The existence of the program has also already catalyzed positive multicultural relations in our own community.
The photo prominently shown at the top of the Community Voice segment purporting to show a pro-Israel student arrested for speaking out against BDS at a student government meeting, placed near the article, implies that the photo was taken at New College. It was not.
Previous Jewish News articles about the Daughters for Life/New College program, and publicly available information about the program, make clear that Israeli women are eligible and included.
The lack of fact-checking by the author and the paper, coupled with an unattributed photo that was implicitly falsely attributed to New College, would lead one to conclude that the News was trying to be, at best, provocative.  Provoking discussion is laudable.  However, it is irresponsible to do so by spreading and implying falsehoods which are hurtful to people and damaging to the reputation of a respected local institution.
In my experience as a volunteer for the New College-Daughters for Life scholarship program, I have never witnessed anti-Semitic or ‘hate speech’ on or from the campus.  And the statement that New College funds talks that imply that Israel should be abolished is, again, simply not true.
A number of the observations cited by the student of expressions of opposition to Israel’s policies are, uncomfortable though they may be to witness, expressions of people’s opinions.  Learning to express and listen to opposing viewpoints, and to think critically about them, is part of what a liberal arts college education is intended to provide.
I had the privilege of attending a Shabbat dinner hosted by Hillel on the New College campus recently during which a dialogue among students holding opposing views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took place.
This conversation included some of the Daughters for Life students and some Hillel student members.  It was mutually respectful and clearly opened the eyes of students on both sides of the debate to the views of those on the other side.  These conversations are not always comfortable. But someone disagreeing with and challenging a pro-Israel student’s views about Israel, is not ipso facto expressing anti-Semitism.
The Community Voices pieces contain some truly inspirational statements. Nelle Miller says “I like to believe that it is our basic differences that make us all the same.  I like to think that we are the same in our uniqueness, our desire to survive, and live a meaningful life.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Those beliefs are, for me, at the foundation of the Daughters for Life program — that we are more alike than different and that empathy and respect for the “other,” rather than fear and hatred, will help us find the common ground from which we can move forward together toward a more peaceful world.

One Response to “Response to Community Forum on Anti-Semitism”

  1. Iris S Nahemow June 10, 2015 at 2:30 pm #

    I am replying to the comments left by Sue Jacobson. Let me begin by saying that she is a woman who has worked hard as a volunteer in the Jewish Community of Sarasota and I therefore want to recognize her efforts and know that she is sincere in her goals of making this community and the world a better place for all.

    Since Ms. Jacobson questioned the clarity of facts presented by the New College student in an earlier column, I hope she will allow me to also question some of her facts in the interest of making the atmosphere on the New College campus a safe, comfortable and civil one for all students.

    First, I note that you mention that one of the students in the Daughters for Life program is an Israeli. In the spirit of clarity, it should be noted that she is an Israeli Arab. This is, of course, not a problem but it doesn’t create the kind of inclusiveness and diversity in the program that using just the word “Israeli” might create in a readers mind. I would need to meet her and speak with her to know if her opinions expressed in the group really does bring diversity to the program. I’d like to add here that many Israeli Universities, including the prestigious Technion University, have large numbers of Israeli Arab students. Presently, it is about 25%, representing the percentage of Arabs who are Israeli citizens with full rights of citizenship.

    Second, you mention instances of civil discourse between students of varying opinions about Israel. I am sure they exist. But, perhaps you are not aware of an instance of most “uncivil” discourse that occurred on your campus in April when a representative of AIPAC was meeting with students on your campus. The meeting was angrily disrupted by a group of students, including several members of your Daughters for Life group, in a manner that prevented any discussion. Your President is aware of this incident and you might discuss it with him if you are unaware of the disrespectful manner in which your students behaved.

    Ms. Jacobson, I have no doubt that you and I both seek a world in which our differences can be dealt with fairly, respectfully and productively. We must be able to see the situations on campus today in all their complexity and admit that problems exist which must be addressed. That is the reason for my extensive reply. Your students need you to be a partner in solving the problems that exist on your campus and that requires seeing them clearly. I look forward to working with you toward this result.

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