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How I Spoke Out Against BDS on My College Campus

How I Spoke Out Against BDS on My College Campus

It was only the second week of school at Ohio University when an incident left many of our campus’s Jewish students and Israel supporters – myself included – feeling alienated and appalled by the actions of our own student body president.

When Megan Marzec, president of OU’s Student Senate, was nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – by university President Roderick McDavis, no less – she chose to take her participation to a new level that warped the initiative’s original intentions. In her video, Marzec urged Ohio University to divest from and sever all ties with Israel. By supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which many Jews see as anti-Semitic, Marzec failed in her responsibility to represent the student body. Instead, she used her leadership position to promote a political agenda that directly conflicts with the beliefs of a great many students and left Jews on campus feeling betrayed.

As a freshman, I couldn’t believe that this conflict was already pushing its way to the forefront of Ohio University in just my second week on campus. Though t’s important to recognize when a battle is not worth fighting, this wasn’t one of those times. I felt that I could not allow this incident to happen without protest, and I refused to stay quiet. As it turns out, countless other Jews felt the same way, and many of us showed up to the Student Senate meeting to address the issue and ask for Marzec’s resignation as president. 

Of course, the question remains: What happens next? In fact, that’s exactly what the Dean of Students and the Vice President of Student Affairs asked Bobcats for Israel, of which I am vice president. How can a public university that prides itself on acceptance and “Bobcat spirit,” recover from such a drastic blow? After the student body president suggested that OU divest from Israel, how can the university’s Jewish students possibly feel comfortable here? And what about Jewish high school students who may be thinking about applying to attend college here?                                                                      

Yet, somehow, I feel that we’ve answered these questions in the way we handled the situation. Ohio University can recover from this incident knowing that its Jewish community stood up for itself. Students can feel safe knowing that the administration supports us wholeheartedly.  Furthermore, my message to any Jewish student who wishes to apply for admission is that this is a place every Jew should want to be.

This is a campus with enough diversity to promote the dialogues that need to happen – and so, however ill-advised Marzec’s actions might have been, they were exactly the call to action this community needed.

The best way to understand the current Middle East conflict and to form an educated opinion about it is to discuss it with – and earn the respect of – the people who fundamentally disagree with you. Respect isn’t earned by talking with those who share your opinions.  Rather, respect is earned by hearing different opinions, understanding where they come from, and learning how to live together peacefully with those who hold them – despite the differences.

Ohio University is the place to do that, right now – a place to have the discussions that our greatest world leaders struggle with, a place to make a change. Ohio University is a place for supporters of both Israel and Palestine to gain respect for one another, and I’m proud to be a part of that dialogue – and this community. 

Note: Shortly after this piece was written, four representatives of Bobcats for Israel were arrested in protest at a Student Senate meeting. This essay was written prior to that incident.

Rhys Ivan is a member of Suburban Temple Kol-Ami in Beachwood, OH, and a student at Ohio University, where he is studying music therapy. 

Rhys Ivan
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