Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UDems discuss Israeli-American politics in current U.S. democracy

Civility in discussion was emphasized
Will Katcher/Collegian

At the UMass Democrats’ event, “Discussion on Israel and its Role in Democratic Politics,” there was an air of anticipation in the room as students and campus community members filed in. The topic, with its potential for lively debate, brought roughly 30 people to a small room in the Campus Center basement on Wednesday night.

The event was sparked by a series of Israel-related incidents within the Democratic Party, notably Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar’s tweet last week that appeared to suggest that Jewish money influenced members of Congress, which many people called an anti-Semitic trope.

The discussion’s moderators, Tim Ennis and Carla Montilla, sat at a table facing the attendees, seated in a half-circle of chairs. To open the forum, Ennis gave a presentation on the history of Israel and the United States’ relationship with the country. As the presentation continued, Ennis and Montilla asked questions to the audience and moderated the ensuing debates.

“We want to keep it civil,” said Ennis, a sophomore political science major, before he opened the floor to discussion, referring to the likelihood that people would hold strong opinions about the topics being brought up.

Ennis brought up the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement early in the event. The movement, which advocates for companies and organizations to remove their presence in Israel, is considered controversial and anti-Semitic by many people.

Jack Eccles, the president of the UMass Dems who was one of several main speakers during the debate, expressed his disapproval of BDS but affirmed that he believes it has a right to exist. This was in response to questions about a piece of congressional legislation that would allow states to punish companies that engage in the BDS movement.

Speaking in support of the legislation, which is part of S.1, the Senate’s first bill of its new session, was Andrew Abramson, a freshman economics major. Abramson drew a distinction between a company advocating for a cause and consumers doing so. He used the example of a bakery refusing to service a same-sex wedding, saying that it was wrong for companies to discriminate on who they sell to, but that consumers could decide who they buy from.

Also speaking against BDS was Assaf Elroy, an Israel Fellow at Hillel. Elroy, who is Israeli, lived in Israel for a significant amount of his life and served in the Israeli Defense Force, said that BDS causes Israel to step back from good-faith negotiations with its neighbors and harms the peace process. Though he said that boycotts are “totally alright,” Elroy called BDS problematic, saying that it is about “denying the right of the Jewish State to exist.”

When Ennis brought up Omar’s tweets, several people used the term “tone-deaf” as a description. But multiple people, including senior public health major Aron Unger, claimed that reaction to Omar’s comments would have been different if she were not Muslim.

Lucas Harrington, a political science major, agreed that the tweets were tone-deaf, but asserted that “they do this s*** all the time,” referring to Republican politicians posting similarly anti-Semitic tropes on social media. He cited a tweet by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy which claimed that three billionaires – all of whom are Jewish – were buying an election, as well as one by then-candidate Donald Trump which displayed Hillary Clinton next to a Star of David labeled “Most corrupt candidate ever” with money in the background.

Eccles also noted that there was a legitimate concern of anti-Semitism on the political left, citing prominent party members’ connections to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been widely condemned as anti-Semitic. He also described the “actual security threats” facing Israel, which he said the discussion had not covered in depth. There are “a lot of actual people in the world who want to wipe Israel out,” he said.

Toward the conclusion of the discussion, several people voiced more general beliefs about Israel’s situation. Kevin Casey, a senior political science major, made the claim that “the solution of Israel was the best we could do” at the time in light of the Holocaust and World War II.

“It’s hard to support some of their more dicey actions,” added Nina Donaldson, a sophomore political science major, saying that “it’s hard to be critical and not be called anti-Semitic.”

Wrapping up the meeting, Elroy said that he saw “a lot of nuance” in the discussion. “It’s important, what you’re doing right now,” he concluded.

Will Katcher can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @will_katcher.

View Comments (3)
More to Discover

Comments (3)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • N

    NITZAKHONFeb 21, 2019 at 6:50 am

    The vast majority of the Arabs in Israel came in thanks to the jobs and economic boom created by the Jews returning to their ancestral homeland. A quote from RFK:

    “The Jews point with pride to the fact that over 500,000 Arabs, in the 12 years between 1932 and 1944, came into Palestine to take advantage of living conditions existing in no other Arab state” — Boston Post, June 3, 1948.

    And if we’re going to discuss the Arab refugees who fled Israel at the urging of the attacking Arab nations, surely we need to address the 800,000+ Jews stripped of their property and expelled from Arab countries after Israel was founded? This, by the way, is discussed in meticulous detail in the book “Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight”

    Compare and contrast. Israel took these Jews in, which more than doubled the population of Israel… meanwhile, the Arabs could have taken in their fleeing compatriots. Instead, they stuffed them into camps and held them in limbo as a weapon against Israel. Even today, Palestinians are slaughtered in Arab countries, e.g., Syria, and there’s nary a peep about it. Just recently, Egypt flooded a smuggling tunnel with gas, killing those inside. Not a peep. It’s not about “human rights”… it’s about JEWS having the temerity to have a country in their indiginous home.

    • C

      CollegianOct 11, 2022 at 6:37 pm

      Thank you so much for this comment, I had never before thought about the fate of Jews living in Arab countries. Looks like more Jews fled from the Muslim world than Arabs fled Israel in the Nakba. Interesting that major movements don’t really advocate for justice for those Jews…

  • N

    NITZAKHONFeb 21, 2019 at 6:43 am

    Omar’s statement about Jews and “benjamins” did not APPEAR TO SUGGEST anything; it was open, overt anti-Semitism. But that’s not surprising coming from a Muslim whose very religion and holy book say that Jews are the worst of peoples.

    BDS openly advocates for the elimination of Israel. This is easily findable through a few simple searches. BDS is not worried about the 1967 “occupation” but reversing the very existence of Israel. Furthermore, the BDS legistation that has been proposed does not punish companies for supporting BDS, it simply states that companies that support it cannot do business with the government. Ironically, that legislation was patterned strongly after similar legislation that forbids companies that discriminate against homosexuals from doing business with the government. So why is it OK in one instance, but not in another?

    Negotiations and a peaceful resolution only work when both sides have a common goal, e.g., coexistence side-by-side, even if the path there and details are not determined yet. When one side, the “Palestinians” (who by the way were a Soviet creation), have as their goal the destruction of your nation and a second Holocaust… just what is there to negotiate?