Adam Cook, president of the Sigma Pi chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, asked that his response be removed from the site. He said he wants to make clear that that post below only represents the views and opinion of Benjamin Lawrence, and doesn’t represent the Sigma Pi chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi at American University. Lawrence stands by the facts in his post.
The date is November 14, 2009 as I wait patiently during initiation to approach my future fraternity brothers of the Sigma Pi chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi at American University. It has been a long-time ritual that as part of entering the brotherhood, one must declare their undying support for Israel. Standing quietly, I wait for my turn to put my hand over my heart and say, “AEPi stands with Israel” As I wait patiently, I think to myself, “Do I support everything Israel does?”
As my pledge master started to say the blessing over the candles, I began to think to myself, “What does it even mean to stand with Israel? Does that mean supporting Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank?” Prior to entering the ceremony, I had never talked about Israel with any other members of the fraternity, and did not find this to be the opportune time to do so. Finally, the ceremony began and I started to think about Israel’s most recent war in the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009. I did not support Israel in its offensive in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Kadima was responsible for a massacre that killed 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis (4 of the Israelis were killed by members of the Israel Defense Forces.) Prior to Israel’s assault on Gaza, Israel had launched an offensive attack on Lebanon in 2006. I began to realize that I did not stand with the Israeli government’s latest wars and unjust policies. Finally, it was my turn to put my hand over my heart and say, “AEPi stands with Israel.” I did it.
As time went on, the Jewish majority that our chapter once held began to change rapidly. Most Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapters have a ratio of 90 percent Jewish members and 10 percent non-Jewish members. Our chapter at American University is about 60 percent Jewish and 40 percent non-Jewish. With a more diverse crowd of brothers in the fraternity, suddenly the discussions on Israel were growing more intense and I began to be exposed to racism and intense debate. As I debated with various brothers on Israel/American politics I became aware that a handful of brothers were openly racist, and that there were people who were not afraid to hang their Confederate flags next to their Israeli flags in their room. This only re-instilled in my mind the notion that Zionism was indeed a form of racism, and that any plan that puts Jews over Arabs is racist.
The last initiation that I would witness was for the spring class of 2012. As I stood waiting for the class to be initiated, I heard a brother shout that we must include the ritual passage of “AEPi stands with Israel.” The room fell silent and suddenly the Pledge Master raised his voice and said, “We do not say that anymore.” I began to feel my heart pounding faster because I knew during my initiation that I felt uneasy about saying “AEPi stands with Israel.” Suddenly an argument had broken out and the fighting began. People started pointing fingers and calling people “bad Jews” for not standing with the State of Israel or for not observing certain aspects of the Jewish religion. Does standing with Israel mean supporting the settlers’ movement? Does it mean supporting the discriminatory laws within the Green Line that favor Jews over Arabs? Does it mean supporting Israel’s illegal occupation, blockade, and oppression of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank? The answer is that I DO NOT stand with Israel as it continues practicing apartheid within the Green Line and beyond.