Student leader avoids issue of Palestinian human rights

Tracy Frydberg’s editorial response “BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community” entirely avoids the points that my original article makes. I make two key points: First, that Unify Texas is not open about its pro-Israeli politics and that prevents an honest campus debate; and second, that Palestine is a relevant issue of justice and human rights for students and UTDivest is a way to get involved.

For the first point, I explain that they are run by Texas Hillel, which announced Unify Texas in an email to its supporters and said they “must speak with one voice” that is pro-Israel. This is an explicitly political position. Neither Hillel nor this position is acknowledged by Unify Texas, and repeated requests about this from the author were ignored. To elaborate on why Hillel’s politics matter, I discuss the Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students. In short, the movement calls on Hillel chapters to reject the restrictive political standards of the organization and engage in dialogue about Palestine.

For the second point, I quote famous activists like Dorothy Zellner and Nelson Mandela, who argued that their work for civil rights and against apartheid rests on a principle of justice which should be extended to Palestinians. I explain that Palestine is particularly an issue for UT students because our University and our government support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine with various investments. UTDivest and BDS are a way to fight against the occupation by ending our institutional complicity. I cite Martin Luther King Jr. and how white America hated him to show that we have to fight for justice even if it’s divisive.

Frydberg does not address any of these points. She argues that UTDivest activism will promote anti-Semitism and that I have already done so through my article. Her article contains no citations and makes verifiably false claims.

Frydberg says that I have “refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.” There is no citation. This is false and is particularly odd because I have never even been approached. On the other hand, I recently contacted Jewish student groups like Open Hillel to discuss Palestine and Hillel.

Frydberg says Texas Hillel is non-political. This is false, as repeatedly stated by Hillel itself. They openly advocate pro-Israel politics in the Unify Texas email and on their website. On their “About Us” page, they proudly say that they won the “Best Campus Political Organization” award for work that included “Texans for Israel advocacy.”

Frydberg accuses me of “insidiously” going from being “anti-Israel” to “anti-Semitic.” There is no explanation for how I or my article does this (because, again, she does not address anything I actually say). Perhaps the accusation is because I support UTDivest, which she says decided to “single out one Jewish state for its vitriol.” Readers should read the UTDivest resolution and my original article (and others I have written), all of which is on the basis of human rights. As such, I agree that the same standard should be applied to other companies and other countries.

Frydberg says that Israel and the Jewish people are “intertwined” and “inseparable.” It’s not clear what this means, but it’s clear after the recent Israeli elections that an increasing number of Jewish Americans do not agree with this. This is especially true for those who are in organizations like Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace, which explicitly reject the idea that Israel has a monopoly on Judaism.  Frydberg claims that UTDivest has “slapped away” invitations from the “Jewish community” (again no citation). It’s also unclear what this means, especially because Austin Jewish Voice for Peace and Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights are members of UTDivest and have been publicly speaking at events.

Frydberg then makes a series of accusations about BDS and anti-Semitism at various universities with no citations. Moreover, she doesn’t actually state who is supposedly being anti-Semitic or what their relationship is to UTDivest. I can’t respond to these accusations without knowing this information.

Frydberg then repeats accusations that UTDivest is anti-Semitic and does not actually care about human rights because they are singling out Israel. Again, the reader should review UTDivest and see for themselves that everything is based on human rights, and that they are fully supportive of other such initiatives. As mentioned, BDS is modeled on a similar campaign conducted on US college campuses against South African apartheid.

UTDivest provides an opportunity for students to act on UT’s core values of Freedom and Responsibility with regards to the Palestinians. This requires open debate on the actual issue and honest politics. Students who are concerned about human rights and justice should take this debate seriously rather than avoiding the issue and relying on non sequiturs and baseless accusations.

— Mukund Rathi, computer science honors junior, in response to Tracy Frydberg's Wednesday Firing Line titled "BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community."