The Conspiracy

Two Student Censorship False Alarms

http://newvoices.org/2014/06/19/two-student-censorship-false-alarms/
Maryland AEPi house. | CC via Wikimedia Commons.

Maryland AEPi house. | CC via Wikimedia Commons.

Kate Jacobson, the former Israel chair at the University of Calgary, recently bowed to pressure from other students and resigned her post due to her highly controversial views on Israel, as reported by the Calgary Jewish News. The most important thing to note here is that she was not told to leave by Hillel— upon learning more about her views on Israel, the same student body who voted her in now felt she should step down. Explaining the situation from Hillel’s point of view, Kira Blumer, the director of Calgary Hillel said that while her Hillel “embraces diversity and encourages debate among our students,” Jacobson “appears to be subscribing to a particular political belief and if she is representing all Jewish students on campus, it’s going to be hard for her to do her job effectively.”

Since Jacobson is still on the executive board, I see no reason not to take Blumer at her word. It was right of Jacobson to resign that post, not because of her views, but because a Hillel Israel chair should represent her constituents’ views on Israel. I applaud Jacobson for not turning this into something it doesn’t appear to be, and I applaud Calgary Hillel for letting students decide their own views viz. Israel. Just as it would be inappropriate for a ZOA member to be made the Israel chair of Swarthmore Hillel, so too, a blatantly unrepresentative person shouldn’t be made Israel chair in Calgary or anywhere else.

***

Ever since the results of the Conference of Presidents vote on J Street were made public in early May, I have been looking for an AEPi brother to write about his dissatisfaction with the decision on this website. I had a few leads, but, for whatever reason, no one was following up. Then, on June 2, AEPi brother and National President of the J Street U Student Board Jacob Plitman of UNC Chapel Hill published a fantastic editorial on the Times of Israel that you all need to read right now if you haven’t already in which he takes AEPi to task for rejecting the input of progressive brothers while embracing Sheldon Adelson and the evangelical, pro-settlement Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Shortly after running the piece, the Times of Israel took it down without Plitman’s consent. Outrage ensued. I immediately posted J Street U’s Tweet breaking the news to Facebook, sent Plitman an email offering to run his editorial here if ToI wouldn’t, then promptly began stringing together theories of who could be responsible for this craven act of censorship and why. Plitman responded that he appreciated the support but was waiting for more information before deciding on a course of action. As I waited, I started gathering my thoughts for a scathing editorial calling out the Times of Israel, CUFI, and AEPi for being party to student censorship. By this week, I felt enough time had passed, so I finally began pouring my outrage out onto digital paper. Sometime in the middle of writing, I decided to actually check the Times of Israel again just to make sure the article was still down. It wasn’t. It’s now back up in all its glory, with only the change being someone previously misidentified as a board member of CUFI is now correctly tagged as a major donor.

To be clear, the AEPi part of this story is far from a false-alarm—as Plitman says, the brotherhood still needs to do a lot more to open itself up to the progressive views of a large number of its brothers; I have heard some voices from the inside telling me that the J Street vote was a wake-up call for them, and we will be following this story as it develops. The Times of Israel, however, was right to make this correction (though they should have warned Plitman first) and I almost made a very big mistake.

 
Moral of the story: Breaking news isn’t nearly as important as actual news.

 

Derek M. Kwait graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and is editor in chief of New Voices.

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