The abuse of power by the student authorities at Columbia University exemplified by the #FreePinocchio scandal has inspired us to raise our voices. The scandal in question involved a group of students were asked to take down their giant inflated Pinocchio by the student council’s president and vice president, clad in a BDS t-shirt and a keffiyeh, respectively.
At the college that will be henceforth referred to as University A, where Sasha attends, the student council has frequently given her pro-Israel group the pariah treatment. They consistently only give her group rooms for events the day before or even the morning they are slated to occur, despite always filling in the paperwork weeks in advance. There was one exception to this trend, which happened when her group featured a reformed anti-Israel speaker, using footage taken before his transformation where he vehemently condemned Israel as “evidence” of their even-handed approach to the event. Their request for a room and a table was immediately granted, and the room was much better than the usual back-alley, seventh-floor closet they give them.
Meanwhile, at University A, BDS-affiliated groups consistently book at the last minute and get the best rooms in the entire school.
At University B, it took the whole semester for their pro-Israel group to get approved. Typically, it takes two weeks. This approval was only granted after Brooke nagged the student council via emails and phone calls once she knew they were stalling.
At University A, a chapter of a national pro-Israel organization tried to get approved a few years back, but they were denied. Sasha’s current pro-Israel group is facing similar hurdles, in addition to the booking issues. When BDS started being promoted on her campus, fliers for a fake pro-Israel organization with a similar name were posted on top of BDS posters, and the organization was accused of vandalism, so its official group status was threatened. Later on, during Apartheid Week, the president of SJP approached Sasha and called her group by the same similar but bogus name that had appeared on the fake fliers. She apologized when Sasha pointed out her mistake.
Pro-Israel students at University B are struggling with similar administrative inertia. When students from Brooke’s group booked an event with an international speaker, they had confirmation of the exact date, time, and place of the event, both via email and face to face meetings with the faculty advisers for campus activities. When it came time for the event, the room was locked. She had the speaker, food, and props and had to wait outside the room until she saw a security officer who was able to help. When he unlocked it, it was bare: it had none of the chairs, desk, computer, projector, projector screen that were requested through all the appropriate channels for the event. She emailed her faculty adviser immediately, and received no response. When she presented her case with its confirmation number at the student activities center, she was told it wasn’t in their system. The speaker, who was flown across the world to speak, was forced to present to an empty room, with the few attendees sitting on the floor.
The similar “room selection bias” that Sasha experiences at University A also applies to University B. Brooke’s university has a courtyard that is the most sought-after spot to hold events. SJP frequently has events there. However, whenever Brooke’s group has tried to request it, she was always denied, even when the courtyard is evidently free. The bias is blatant, with SJP having won the “Most Organized Club on Campus” award at last year’s ceremony.
This bias allows antisemitism to proceed unchecked. When the president of Brooke’s pro-Israel club attended one of SJP’s events wearing a kippah, he was given death stares and made to feel extremely uncomfortable, before he was asked to leave for no particular reason at all when he had raised his hand to ask a question during the question period.
Sasha and Brooke both feel that they are constantly at odds with their student councils. Both can relate to what the students at Columbia had to deal with, as their student councils also have plenty of representation from SJP. They believe that Jewish students need to get more involved in on-campus policymaking, and be more proactive at standing up for their own. Otherwise, SJP’s relative zeal will win.