By: Madeline St. John
In the days following the screening of Assi Azar’s documentary “Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You,” many students expressed different opinions and feelings about the film as well as the “pinkwashing” protest that occurred at the same time.
Those who protested expressed generally positive feelings about the protest itself.
“The protest was very organized,” said Eliezer (EC) Cartagena ‘18, who was one of the protest organizers. “We had a good group of dedicated students.”
Mairead Collins ‘18, a student who participated in the protest, commented on the conduct of those with whom she protested: “Most of [the protestors] were with knowledge and understanding. With me and my friends, these were things we’d been talking to each other about and not knowing how to express them.”
“It definitely got a lot of people talking about pinkwashing,” Cartagena added. “Professors are talking about it in their classes; newspapers are talking about it.”
Jordan Johnson ‘18, another one of the protest organizers, also commented on the protest’s effect on the wider public. Johnson said that the event “has brought a lot of awareness around ‘pinkwashing,’ and students [and] faculty now see it as something they can do their own research on,” Johnson said.
The Baltimore Jewish Times and the Times of Israel both published articles about what happened, and Azar’s Facebook post about the event was shared more than 290 times. As Azar wrote in his Facebook post and Hillel Board pointed out in their email to students involved with Hillel, a number of students were upset by what transpired during the event.
“[The protestors] came in with tape over their mouths, which visibly disturbed the speaker, and their chant had pangs of anti-Semitism,” said Max Adelstein ‘17. “Administration’s response has been somewhat lackadaisical… [the protestors] were kind of bullying the speaker. More should have been done to condemn this because we’re a campus about dialogue.”
A member of Hillel, Adelstein is actively involved in Israel advocacy and is part of an off-campus group, Young Professionals Against the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). He stated that he “has pretty extensive training in the conflict.” Regarding the event, Adelstein said, “Hillel tried to be very even-handed. They told the protestors that they were still welcome to come to the event. But the protestors did interrupt.”
Adelstein was especially bothered by the way that some of the protestors treated community members who were present at the event. “There was a woman there who was gay, married to an Israeli, and she had lived in Iraq and Afghanistan and she stood up and told people to think about the double standard put on Israel,” he explained. “After she spoke, one of the protestors looked at her and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ To do that to a member of the armed forces who had shared her very personal story…It showed such a lack of a respect that a student had the audacity to do that to a woman who has more life experience than we can ever hope to have,” Adelstein said.
Jewish student Samantha Meir-Levi ‘19 said, “On a campus that claims to be so social justice minded, I found myself confused when I heard that a group was trying to silence the ability of one person to tell their story.” Meir-Levi spent two years serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Israel before enrolling at Goucher. Although she was not present at the event, Meir-Levi had something to add to the conversation. “Many of the conversations here at Goucher surround[ing] the role of LGBTQ+ individuals in Israel seem to imply that Israel is presenting a false image of acceptance and tolerance… as someone who lived in Israel for two years, I feel confident in my ability to say that the experiences of my friends who identify as LGBTQ+ in Israel were extremely positive,” she explained.
At the screening, students in the audience voiced a variety of sentiments. “I understand where they [the protesters] are coming from but I think they are mixing up issues,” Tamar Reisner-Stehman ‘18 said. Reisner-Stehman said that the film screen “is one guy’s story and it doesn’t need to be about the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Olivia Dickert ‘18 found the protestors’ actions offensive. “This is cultural appropriation at its finest,” Dickert said. “They [the protesters] are appropriating not only Palestinian culture, but also their hardships…They are taking their own misfortunes and mistreatment and trying to mirror them with the Palestinians when they are two different things entirely. [There’s a] lot of misinformation and rage,” she continued.
Other students looked for future solutions. “I think there should definitely be a conversation,” said Asya Yukhananov ‘16. “The biggest problem is that the filmmaker and many of the people attending weren’t prepared to have a dialogue.” Yukhananov also reflected on part of the Q&A session: “[Azar] told that girl she was going back on the Jewish people. That’s not okay. As a Jewish person, I feel like that’s something you get too often.”
“That girl” would probably have agreed. Camille Muson ‘16 was not a part of the protest. She described herself as a sort of “lone crusader” who is “very aware of pinkwashing” and said that she would be attending the event to “ask critical questions.” Over the summer, Muson interned at the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit that, according to their website, “conducts and supports programs that foster connections between people,” with an “initial emphasis” on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Rachel Corrie was an American pro-Palestinian activist who had been killed by an IDF bulldozer while nonviolently attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes as part of an Israeli operation to reduce arms smuggling.
Before the event, when Muson saw the event’s Facebook page, she posted, “Will the speaker be talking about pinkwashing?” The following day, Muson’s post was removed by page administrators. She posted it again, and again it was deleted. The next day, she wrote, “Why are my posts concerning pinkwashing being deleted? They are not hostile, [sic] they are merely questions.”
Muson then received a reply from Adelstein, who wrote, “If you have a question for the speaker, I am sure he will be willing to answer it….If your question has been deleted, it is more than likely because the event organizers just want to keep this page for the event itself.”
Muson advocates for Goucher’s Hillel to become an “Open Hillel.” Open Hillel is a student-run campaign to encourage on-campus Hillels to partner with groups that do not fit the national Hillel organization’s “standards of partnership.” These standards state that Hillel will not partner with any groups that “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel” or “exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”
The recent email statement from Goucher Hillel Board regarding the documentary screening encouraged Hillel students to “negate the effects of anti-Israel activism” through the education and engagement in dialogue.
“Hillel is supposed to be a welcoming space for Jewish students,” Muson pointed out. “But I don’t feel like Hillel is a welcoming space for Jewish students who are not Zionist,” she added.
Students have also expressed concerns about TALQ BIG’s inclusivity because of the LGBTQIA student group’s association with the protest. “What about students who are Jewish and identify as Queer?” Reisner-Stehman questioned. “They [TALQ BIG] are shutting out all of those people.”
During an interview, Cartagena, one of the leaders of TALQ BIG, stated, “We’re [TALQ BIG] still here for Hillel students. It wasn’t a TALQ BIG protest, because not everyone in TALQ BIG agreed with it…We didn’t put the name on the flyers.”
Despite this claim, many community members on campus associated the protest with TALQ BIG. Three of the “pinkwashing” protest leaders—Johnson, Cartagena, and Anthony Perdue ‘18—are also leaders of TALQ BIG.
In response to the statement that TALQ BIG is excluding queer Jewish students, Johnson said, “Just because you talk about one thing doesn’t mean you are excluding another. Saying queer Palestinian lives matter doesn’t mean we’re saying queer Israeli lives don’t matter.”
“People have this thing about safe-spaces,” Johnson continued. “There are no safe spaces. Israel is not a safe space. We need to debunk the idea that TALQ BIG is a safe space for queer people. It is a brave space. There are norms, of course. There is not any kind of offensive language…but we have serious discussions.”
Johnson further explained, “TALQ BIG’s image has been completely destroyed. We’re going to go reform the organization.” One step in this process is an improvement survey that was emailed to club members. Questions included, “What would you like TALQ BIG to start doing?” and “What would you like TALQ BIG to stop doing?”
Other issues besides “pinkwashing” have come up in discussions concerning this event. In the words of both Perdue and Cartagena, a lot has been “swept out from under the rug.”
Other students who participated in the protest also talked about the “backlash.”
“People who weren’t even at the event were bashing us,” Collins said. “The backlash was mostly negative. There was more separation rather than ‘let’s have more dialogue,’ which was the goal.”
“One student [who participated in the protest] told me others called her a ‘disrespectful Jew’ in class, and harassed her,” Cartagena said.
According to students who were present during the screening, Assistant Director of Public Safety Rebecca Dietrich reminded a transgender student that Public Safety has the power to control their pronouns. “She [Dietrich] said, ‘I’m the one who controls your pronouns,’” Johnson said. “So much intimidation happens behind closed doors.”
Protestors discussed the “power dynamics” on campus. “In terms of organization, Hillel has a lot of money,” Perdue pointed out. “A lot of us [protestors] were from TALQ BIG, but it wasn’t a TALQ BIG protest, so we had really no funding for that. We were using our own printer points. They have full-time staff.”
Responding to the questions that were raised about Hillel’s funding, Adelstein said, “While it is a legitimate grievance, it is no fault of Hillel’s that it has this funding…I’m glad that other groups are getting spaces on campus, but Hillel still needs this space. Hillel was created because of anti-Semitism on college campuses in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and we still need this space.”
Anti-Semitism has come up frequently in these conversations. “[The protesters’] flyers, saying that Israel propagates apartheid…were anti-Semitic, because [they] harken back to Nazi Germany, which is something that is often used against Israel, comparing it to Nazi Germany,” Adelstein explained. “Whether protestors understand that, I don’t know, but that is anti-Semitic. One of the protestors brought up the boycott and divestment campaign, which has been called anti-Semitic by the U.S. State Department.”
In response to the label of anti-Semitism, Cartagena said, “We [the protestors] are not anti-Semitic. A lot of people are misconstruing that.”
Johnson also expressed her view with regard to the topic. “We can challenge Israeli policy without being anti-Semitic,” she said. “People have connected Israeli policy with identity, but that’s not everything about Jewishness.”
Adelstein concluded his point with the following statement: “Do I believe that Goucher students are actually anti-Semitic? No, they just don’t know the roots of where some of this stuff is coming from.”
Meir-Levi shared her view on where Goucher should go from here. “Intimidating and making other students feel uncomfortable will not create world peace,” she said. “I think we need to take our energy and passion and create an environment where we can really listen and learn from one another.”
Collins expressed her appreciation for the college environment as a place for learning from disagreement. “I’ve come to appreciate dialogue, discourse, being a little uncomfortable,” she said.
Collins added that she thought it was good that the protest made students feel a level of discomfort. “This campus prides itself on being diverse and having everyone’s voice being heard and I think we really need to question if we’re having that,” she explained. “It is important for people to feel discomfort, process it and not just push back…I am privileged, and being called out on it is uncomfortable, but it is a learning experience…If we’re not uncomfortable, what are we going to do? Become complacent?”
Currently, the students’ understanding of diverse perspectives is increasing with continued conversation.
“I talked to a Hillel student and he told me about intergenerational trauma…about having family who were in the Holocaust,” Cartagena said. “If we’d had critical dialogue at the beginning, a lot of that would’ve been cleared up.”
Cartagena, however, also commented that students are not quite ready to have that dialogue. “We’re all coming from a very emotional place,” he pointed out. Both Cartagena and Perdue are “diversity practitioners,” meaning they are “trained to have those difficult conversations.”
In order to work towards those difficult dialogues, students from Hillel and those involved in the protest are planning community-bonding events, like LGBT Shabbat and movie nights. When both sides feel ready to have the dialogue, Luz Burgos-Lopez, Assistant Dean of Students for Race, Equity and Identity, will facilitate the conversation.
“We’re planting seeds…We’re going to continue the conversation next semester,” Cartagena said. “I am excited, because I think everyone is coming from a good place in their heart.”