On the evening of March 23, amidst a contentious and emotionally charged debate over Resolution 48-R-43 at Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government’s General Assembly meeting, a senator gave testimony in which she stressed the incivility of both sides and argued that the resolution was bringing about a culture of divisiveness. As part of this testimony, she made the following claim:
“Yet today, I saw offensive, anti-Semitic and charged comments toward Jewish students on our campus from members of OSU Divest.”
The senator’s comments concerned me, as I am a Jewish supporter of OSU Divest. I emailed her asking for more information, with the intention of starting a dialogue within OSU Divest to make our campus a safer place for Jewish students. The senator’s response shocked and disappointed me. She refused to name the students who allegedly made anti-Semitic comments, citing concern for their personal safety and an unwillingness to “single anyone out.”
Although confused about why she would be so reluctant to “single out” anti-Semites, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, asking instead for a general description of the content and context of the comments. Not only was I denied this information, she completely refused to respond to me, instead having another member of USG email me back. The member repeated that it would be “inappropriate” to answer my questions and claimed that USG was in touch with the organizers of OSU Divest directly regarding this issue. After consulting with those organizers, I found that this was not true — while USG members had been in contact with them, they had not given them any information about anti-Semitism from members of OSU Divest.
The bizarre evasiveness of the USG members involved in this exchange led me to suspect that the senator had fabricated the claim. Of course, because she refused to give me any information, I have no way of confirming my suspicion. Regardless, her refusal to be accountable to the students affected could mean only one of two things:
1) She made it up. The incidents she referenced are entirely invented either to serve her own rhetorical agenda, or because she made a racist assumption that anti-Semitic comments MUST have transpired, and therefore didn’t think it was necessary to find specific examples to substantiate her claim. I don’t know whether she consciously made this up to further legitimize her attempts to stay neutral, or whether she unconsciously assumed it to be true because of her latent racism.
2) She is unconcerned with the safety of Jewish students. If her claim is true, why is she protecting the identities of anti-Semites so fervently? Her refusal to compromise at all, provide any information, or even continue a dialogue shows that she is not concerned for my safety as a Jewish student within the accused group. If she were truly concerned about anti-Semitism on campus, why would she refuse to give Jewish students the tools to combat it? I can only conclude that the safety of Jewish students means so little to her that she would rather take her avoidance to extreme lengths than have a slightly uncomfortable conversation.
I write this not to single this senator out, as I witnessed similar behavior from many people in the OSU community on that night. I chose to center her comments because they provide a clear example of how the divestment conflict is co-opted by third parties in a way that harms both Jewish and Palestinian students by deepening divides and preventing meaningful dialogue. Furthermore, if the senator fabricated the claims, she is placing the safety of every Jewish student at risk by providing ammunition to those who would deny our experiences of discrimination. Whether she knew it or not, when she took the risk of her lies being exposed, she took the risk of giving those who deny the existence of anti-Semitism an air of credibility. She took the risk of providing a socially acceptable, ready-made excuse for the OSU community to take the easy road of denial that bigotry exists, rather than the difficult path of identifying, combating and healing from it. If she was telling the truth, her willingness to allow anti-Semitism to go unchecked makes her complicit in the maintenance of a culture where anti-Semitism is acceptable. Either way, she has jeopardized the safety of Jewish students, and for that she should be held accountable. With our votes, we hired you to advocate for us, and we have the right to know if you’re doing your job.
Third-year in economics and political science
Active member of Jewish and LGBTQ on-campus communities