Why I Oppose NYU Student Naye Idriss Being Investigated For Antisemitism
NYU graduate student Naye Idriss is being investigated for antisemitism and has lost her job at the library for vandalizing a white “Israel Post Co. Ltd. mailbag, which she came across.
NYU graduate student Naye Idriss was working in the mailroom of Bobst Library last June when she came across a large, white mailbag with “Israel Post Co. Ltd.” written on the front. The bag had been discarded in a trash can.
After seeing it, Idriss, who studies at the university’s Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, wrote “fuck” above the word Israel and “free Palestine” across the top of the bag in red marker. She is now being investigated by the university for alleged vandalism and antisemitism. The graduate student also lost her job at the library.
“All I did was write on a trash bag in the trash can,” Idriss said. “It goes to show how desperate they are when they choose to go after a student just for expressing political speech on a trash bag. It’s absurd to me.”
I believe this is an own goal for us.
Writing “f*ck Israel” and “Free Palestine” is not on the face of it an antisemitic act. It is an anti-Israel act perpetrated by someone who most likely harbors antisemitic views (since Israel-haters are more often than not Jew-haters, with a minority just being complete ignoramuses).
As Israel advocates and fighters of antisemitism, it is not enough if we suspect or even know someone is a Jew hater. We need to show it (which is a main purpose of my anti-Zionist-not-antisemite series). We must always be cognizant of the fact that fighting antisemitism means getting beyond our echo chamber and showing reasonable people how something or someone is antisemitic.
The haters oppose the IHRA Working Definition of antisemitism, and are attempting to influence others to not adopt it, on the basis that it defines as antisemitism mere criticism of Israel. It does nothing of the kind, and specifically provides that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
When we shout out “antisemitic” at an act that looks like an expression of criticism or even hatred towards Israel, we play into the hands of these haters. We play into the perception that we conflate criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews.
Indeed, this is what her representatives at Palestine Legal, are attempting to do.
“It’s ridiculous that it’s even being discussed as implicating a discrimination policy,” Saba said. “Nothing that she wrote or expressed has anything to do with Jews. She wrote a political message on a bag that’s labeled ‘Israel.’ That has nothing to do with anyone’s religion.”
Saba, a staff attorney at Palestine Legal, claimed that Zionist organizations off campus encourage the university to make false allegations that fail to protect Jewish students.
“Due to outside pressure from Zionist organizations following complaints over the past several years, [the university has] entered into an agreement with the Office of Civil Rights,” Saba said. “The fact that they’re even investigating it shows that what these organizations want is just to silence pro-Palestine political speech. They don’t do anything to protect Jewish students from actual instances of antisemitism.”
If someone defaced a mailbag from China with “f*ck China” and “Free Tibet”, would the reasonable person think the perpetrator hated all Chinese people? Or would they perceive this as a political act?
This is the challenge we, as advocates of the Jewish people and the Jewish state, face. We need to show those who are on the fence, or even heavily influenced by the lies of the other side, how something or someone is actually antisemitic.
As I stated above, Naye’s act was an anti-Israel act perpetrated by someone who most likely harbors antisemitic views. I should correct that – it is an act perpetrated by someone who openly expresses antisemitic views.
Screenshots taken of her Twitter feed before she made it private, show her retweeting someone expressing support for the antisemitic Mapping Project, while portraying Zionism as something all powerful and controlling (a classic antisemitic trope).
I have no problem with Idriss being punished for vandalizing the mail bag, since the university does have a vandalism policy. I just wouldn’t have had her charged with antisemitism on the basis of the act, for the reasons outlined above.
Instead, I would have used the opportunity of her being charged with vandalism to bring up her retweeting the support of the antisemitic Mapping Project to show that her ostensibly anti-Israel act was very likely motivated by a real disdain for Jewish people.
As I keep saying, it is better to be smart than to be right. Her act was that of a Jew-hater, but the smart play is not to call it antisemitic and have her punished for it on that basis.