Monday, November 23, 2009

Goucher College Doesn't Want Us (unless you ask the students)

Hide all of your impressionable students, folks: the US Campaign is here to corrupt the youth. Or at least that's what you'd think from the reaction of Goucher College president Sanford Ungar, who last week blocked an invitation that Goucher students had extended to US Campaign National Advocacy Director Josh Ruebner and Rabbi Brian Walt of Jewish Fast for Gaza. Ungar is apparently terrified that students--who supposedly cannot be trusted to think for themselves--might be tainted by a "pro-Palestinian" (read: pro-human rights, international law, and equality for all) perspective. Or maybe it has nothing to do with that. Here's Ungar, quoted in the Goucher College newspaper, The Quindecim:
"We don't want Goucher to end up on a list of schools with a reputation of bringing vehemently pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli [sic] speakers to campus," said Ungar. "I don't think it would be good for enrollment."
Goucher students are understandably upset at this infringement on their right to invite speakers to campus. They held the event anyway, without official school sanction, attracting a standing-room-only audience of 75 students shoved into a tiny classroom, and proceeded to file official complaints to the school. Cecilie Surasky of US Campaign member group Jewish Voice for Peace describes the incident as the "latest dumb act of McCarthyism, aka Deploying Israeli-Exceptionalism While Claiming That It’s Everyone Else Who is Singling Out Israel" and points out the irony of Ungar's position on free speech:
"Sanford Ungar, Goucher’s president, and a former journalist and All Things Considered host, actually teaches a course this semester called, natch, Free Speech, in which Ungar promises to “examine constraints on free speech in our daily lives, and the debate in this country over what it means to be patriotic and whether patriotism requires us to, or prohibits us from, saying certain things.”"
And Philip Weiss writes at Mondoweiss that "students will lead us on this issue." That's for sure. The Electronic Intifada is carrying a story, entitled "Palestinian students cross barriers to discuss boycott," which covers a video conference held between students in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that focused on the right to education. And this past weekend, our National Organizer Katherine Fuchs joined students from over 40 campuses across the United States and Canada at the National Campus Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Conference held at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. US Campaign Steering Committee member Adam Horowitz reports on the conference at Mondoweiss:
"The students I met at Hampshire didn’t amaze me by how idealistic they are, but by how grounded. Yes, they are casually comfortable with ideas that are considered kryptonite to the the mainstream discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - namely equality and justice for Palestinians - and to these activists those values are simply common sense. But what really stood out was how strategic, mindful, and smart these leaders are. This is a movement prepared to win. And they know how to do it."
You can watch the keynote address by Ali Abunimah courtesy of Palestine Video. Keep an eye on the website and blog for more information about the conference and how you can get involved in BDS work in your community! Educational and governmental institutions might be holding on to the old "defend Israel at any cost" consensus, but the discourse among students and grassroots forces is quickly outdistancing them. The students who gathered in the classroom at Goucher and the conference at Hampshire are demanding that their educational institutions stand up for justice and accountability. It won't be long before institutions will have to alter their stances to keep up with the changing discourse--or become obsolete.