This weeks events at UC Davis highlighted the increasingly shrill intolerance of anti-Israel activists and their efforts to drown out opposing voices on California campuses. The exposure of the anti-Semitism at the heart of the BDS movement, the taunts of "Allahu Akbar"directed towards Jewish students and the poisoned campus climate have had a chilling effect that extends well beyond the boundaries of the bucolic Davis campus.
No, Davis is not alone in this struggle.
Tyler Gregory, the Director of Programs and Development at A Wider Bridge was recently invited to UC Santa Cruz by the staff of Hillel. The program was scheduled for the Lionel Cantu LGBT Center on campus. According to Tyler, his objective was " to engage LGBT students with Israel through the experiences of Israeli LGBT people – their challenges and victories, their fight for equality, and their desire to live and to love."
Tyler Gregory has documented how "students and faculty, unsuccessfully attempted to use intimidation to cancel the event", and failing that, threatened to drown out their voices.
No, it was not the Westboro Baptist church trying to silence the voices of LGBT activists. It wasn't a far right homophobic group, motivated by religious fervor. It wasn't a neo-fascist group.
Had it been, perhaps this story would have been more widely heard,
It was anti-Israel activists that threatened to silence LGBT voices at UC Santa Cruz
The day of the program, Israel's detractors at Santa Cruz began contacting the LGBT Center to demand that the program be canceled and then to threaten that they would block students' entry to the event. The environment in and around the LGBT Center, intended to be a safe place for students, became so hostile and threatening that the program was relocated. With the leadership of Cantu Center Director Deb Abbott, Hillel Director Jim Atkins, and UC Santa Cruz Provost Elizabeth Abrams, the program moved forward successfully at the campus' Merrill College.
What is it about what I had to say that so angered or threatened the protesters that, rather than simply not attend, they seemed determined to deny interested students the opportunity to learn, engage, and come to their own conclusions? Our nuanced message about Israel and its LGBT community — thriving, yet still yearning for equality, doesn't fit well into their black and white world, in which Israel is nothing more than a pariah state. The students who came to the program that evening learned that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly since 1993, the same year Bill Clinton signed "Don't Ask Don't Tell" into law. They discovered that LGBT Israelis have been protected from workplace discrimination since 1992, while the US Congress in 2015 has still failed to pass ENDA. At the same time, I didn't shy from sharing that same sex marriages are not yet legally performed anywhere in Israel and that beyond the gay "mecca" of Tel Aviv, homophobia is still widespread. Why? Because these realities aren't about promoting or rejecting Israeli governmental policies – they're about relating shared experiences to build understanding and connection.
Read it all here.