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Letter to the Editor: Holding USG accountable

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On the evening of March 23, amidst a contentious and emotionally charged debate over Resolution 48-R-43 at Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government’s General Assembly meeting, a senator gave testimony in which she stressed the incivility of both sides and argued that the resolution was bringing about a culture of divisiveness. As part of this testimony, she made the following claim:

“Yet today, I saw offensive, anti-Semitic and charged comments toward Jewish students on our campus from members of OSU Divest.”

The senator’s comments concerned me, as I am a Jewish supporter of OSU Divest. I emailed her asking for more information, with the intention of starting a dialogue within OSU Divest to make our campus a safer place for Jewish students. The senator’s response shocked and disappointed me. She refused to name the students who allegedly made anti-Semitic comments, citing concern for their personal safety and an unwillingness to “single anyone out.”

Although confused about why she would be so reluctant to “single out” anti-Semites, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, asking instead for a general description of the content and context of the comments. Not only was I denied this information, she completely refused to respond to me, instead having another member of USG email me back. The member repeated that it would be “inappropriate” to answer my questions and claimed that USG was in touch with the organizers of OSU Divest directly regarding this issue. After consulting with those organizers, I found that this was not true — while USG members had been in contact with them, they had not given them any information about anti-Semitism from members of OSU Divest.

The bizarre evasiveness of the USG members involved in this exchange led me to suspect that the senator had fabricated the claim. Of course, because she refused to give me any information, I have no way of confirming my suspicion. Regardless, her refusal to be accountable to the students affected could mean only one of two things:

1) She made it up. The incidents she referenced are entirely invented either to serve her own rhetorical agenda, or because she made a racist assumption that anti-Semitic comments MUST have transpired, and therefore didn’t think it was necessary to find specific examples to substantiate her claim. I don’t know whether she consciously made this up to further legitimize her attempts to stay neutral, or whether she unconsciously assumed it to be true because of her latent racism.

2) She is unconcerned with the safety of Jewish students. If her claim is true, why is she protecting the identities of anti-Semites so fervently? Her refusal to compromise at all, provide any information, or even continue a dialogue shows that she is not concerned for my safety as a Jewish student within the accused group. If she were truly concerned about anti-Semitism on campus, why would she refuse to give Jewish students the tools to combat it? I can only conclude that the safety of Jewish students means so little to her that she would rather take her avoidance to extreme lengths than have a slightly uncomfortable conversation.

I write this not to single this senator out, as I witnessed similar behavior from many people in the OSU community on that night. I chose to center her comments because they provide a clear example of how the divestment conflict is co-opted by third parties in a way that harms both Jewish and Palestinian students by deepening divides and preventing meaningful dialogue. Furthermore, if the senator fabricated the claims, she is placing the safety of every Jewish student at risk by providing ammunition to those who would deny our experiences of discrimination. Whether she knew it or not, when she took the risk of her lies being exposed, she took the risk of giving those who deny the existence of anti-Semitism an air of credibility. She took the risk of providing a socially acceptable, ready-made excuse for the OSU community to take the easy road of denial that bigotry exists, rather than the difficult path of identifying, combating and healing from it. If she was telling the truth, her willingness to allow anti-Semitism to go unchecked makes her complicit in the maintenance of a culture where anti-Semitism is acceptable. Either way, she has jeopardized the safety of Jewish students, and for that she should be held accountable. With our votes, we hired you to advocate for us, and we have the right to know if you’re doing your job.

 

Elaine Cleary

Third-year in economics and political science

Active member of Jewish and LGBTQ on-campus communities

11 comments

  1. The USG is neither a representative arm, nor a fairly elected body. The organization serves to monopolize the student voice, divert funding from student organizations who actually make enriching discussions happen, and train another group of pseudo-politicos. We shouldn’t have to pay money to support these supposed policymakers who both claim to have so little control and yet so much control over student issues. Student organizations would better discuss the divide between these sides, and have done so historically.

  2. Considering you and your group actively THREATENED the lives of senators, I can imagine why this senator was reluctant to name names. If anything were to happen to these alleged students, it would be because she gave out their names. If anti-Semitic comments were made, this is obviously unacceptable, but NOT in a senators job description to be doling out names for people to target. Any kind of bigotry should never go unnoticed/unaddressed, but it is NOT this senator’s job to put names out for people like you to target. Maybe you all should be concerned with the members of Divest who tweeted (and then quickly deleted) that they were coming for the lives of anyone who messed with the resolution. End the BS “it’s slang” response (that one of your members also tweeted, and then deleted) because it’s far past that. Putting people’s lives in danger and dragging their names on social media is not the ‘open and respectful dialogue’ you pretend to promote. Lose the moral high horse and take this issue through an avenue of real change, like it deserves.

    • You make a serious allegation that members of OSU Divest “actively THREATENED the lives of senators.” Do you have any actual proof that that happened? I’m not just talking about a supporter of divestment, but an actual member of OSU Divest. Would love to see it.

  3. Ms. Clearly, I admire your passion, but I suggest you try a little harder to see things from another perspective. I am not in USG. I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian. I do, however, see why many USG members struggled with this decision. They were elected to serve their constituents and their constituents were divided. How can they possibly try any harder than they did to learn and make an informed decision? If you have a Twitter account (my sources say you do) then it isn’t hard to see that there was anti-semetic AND anti-Palestinian rhetoric from all sides of the issue. USG is not the devil. They are students trying to achieve The Best of Both Worlds for others, and that isn’t easy.

  4. Ms. Cleary, I admire your passion, but I suggest you try a little harder to see things from another perspective. I am not in USG. I am neither Jewish nor Palestinian. I do, however, see why many USG members struggled with this decision. They were elected to serve their constituents and their constituents were divided. How can they possibly try any harder than they did to learn and make an informed decision? If you have a Twitter account (my sources say you do) then it isn’t hard to see that there was anti-semetic AND anti-Palestinian rhetoric from all sides of the issue. USG is not the devil. They are students trying to achieve The Best of Both Worlds for others, and that isn’t easy.

  5. As someone who so sweepingly advocates for the safety of victims, it would be in your best interest to respect this senator’s confidentiality of the victims of these comments. Truly hypocrisy in this op-ed, but I don’t expect much else from this writer anymore.

    • The senator made the comments in a public forum which she knew was being recorded. Her remarks are easily found in the minutes from the general assembly meeting. As a senator, she should well know that what she says at a general assembly meeting are for public consumption. By speaking and making these allegations, she opened up the possibility that her comments would be closely scrutinized.

  6. Go to law school Ms. Clearly and learn about the liability associated with providing personal information to threatening parties.

  7. At some point you get out of USG, or OSU, or OSU Divest, or Hillel or whatever and you realize that none of this stuff matters on the larger scale and all of you are literally just wasting your time. I GUARANTEE the average student doesn’t give any thought to any of this, and more than that I can GUARANTEE the rest of society doesn’t lose any sleep over this meaningless drama.

    Have a beer or smoke a joint, get your degree and get on with your lives.

    • Single handedly the greatest post of all time. If the whole purpose of the Divest controversy is to get OSU students to read this post, it was worth it.Thank you Real Person.

  8. RAQUEL DIAZ-SPRAGUE

    ON THE CONTRARY Real Person and Juris Doctor — students getting a higher education have not only the right but also the responsibility to look after not only their private interests – degrees, job prospects – but the public interest, on a national and global scale as well. Our nation under God, with Freedom and Justice for all was funded not only on the principle of citizens rights, equally important but often unmentioned is the notion of each citizen’s responsibilities to strive constantly to build a more just, a more perfect union. Advocating for the brightest and best young people who are fortunate to be college students to ignore their responsibilities and go “have a beer or smoke a joint, get your degree and get on with your lives” is antithetical to the principles under which this nation was founded.

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