Bethany Koval, a remarkably brazen and aware 16 year old teenage activist from Fair Lawn, New Jersey studying at Fair Lawn High School was targeted for her political activism yesterday. What began over Koval’s commentary of the Gaza beach bombing: “I spoke of the death tolls and called Israel’s govt a terrorist“, resulted in her being called down to the principle’s office, intimidated, threatened with legal action, and coerced into signing a statement.
As Koval tweeted her experience all day throughout the process, activists on social media swiftly rallied in support and started a hashtag, #IStandwithBenny. News of her harassment spread like wildfire nationally and internationally. It’s already gone viral.
“I have a right to speak” begins Koval’s coerced written statement, photographed (below), and tweeted out to the world. “Mr. Guaginino intimidated me into writing this without an attorney”, referencing Fair Lawn High School Assistant Principal, Frank Guadagnino.
She’s smart and defiant. “I expressed my political opinions online recording the Israeli government, and I will continue to do so. I will not be silenced by fear. I will not be intimidated into submission.”
Eleven days before on December 27, Bethany Koval started an extended information thread on her twitter feed consisting of numerous tweets explaining in simple clear terms why Israel is an apartheid state. She began somewhat benignly, like this:
No slouch, Bethany’s opening tweets responsibly quoted Oxford Dictionaries:
“Apartheid” can be defined as segregation on grounds other than race. Some say this term doesn’t apply to Israel due to fair voting rights. But “segregation” can be defined as “the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment”.
Then she linked to the Times of Israel‘s Ex-Shin Bet chief calls for West Bank road segregation, articles in Haaretz, as well as the horrendous and now infamous settler wedding knife dance video exposing the stabbing of Ali Dawabshe’s image, the 18-month old Palestinian baby burned alive on July 31. The entire extended thread is available here and Muftah republished many of the tweets in How a New Jersey Teenager Was Railroaded by Her School for Being Pro-Palestine.
Here is the full statement she was coerced into writing after clearly stating “I don’t want to make a statement” and stressing “I believe I have a right to an attorney“.
I was denied my right to an attorney. I was forced to make a writer statement, but I begged them to revoke it. pic.twitter.com/izgyLANgMJ
— benny (@bendykoval) January 6, 2016
Here he intimidates me into making a statement without legal presence. pic.twitter.com/P9q6zzRPcV
— benny (@bendykoval) January 6, 2016
During her holiday break on December 22, Koval was engaged in a conversation about Palestine/Israel and the viability of a 2 state solution, the discussion turned to Hamas. Koval tweeted she didn’t think Hamas was extreme; “Hamas is just painted that way Hateful rhetoric against Hamas is what allowed the Gaza bombing”. Another student at her school took offense to her tweets and began discussing them with friends. It occurred to Koval she could get in trouble and that her opinions could be construed as “hate speech“.
She explained in her statement to the authorities “A girl…told her friends I had no right to speak on this, and erased my Jewish ethnicity”. Unfortunately challenging the ethnicity of Jews who expose Israel’s atrocities is not uncommon. Koval wrote she retaliated by writing a tweet about it, a “general message”. Hence, students reported her and she was accused of being a bully, a charge that is punishable by suspension and/or expulsion (pdf) in the state of New Jersey.
“Why I am accused of “bullying”, I think because I wish for a Free Palestine. The freedom of speech is chained and beaten in this school.”
Renowned scholar Steven Salaita tweeted out “Zionists are now going after teenagers. No surprise.” News of her predicament was translated into Arabic and spread fast through social media:
Activist from all over the world inundated the school and the district communicating their displeasure, resulting in Koval requesting all communication to the school stop.
Although support has been pouring in from all over the world. Benny tweeted her parents didn’t support her views.
After reading an alarming tweet that her parents were “REALLY mad” and concerned about her situation at home, I spoke with Bethany Koval. She’s now retained New York attorney Stanley Cohen and evidently Cohen has put her nervous mom at ease, “He spoke with her and she really calmed down”.
It’s a lot to handle having your child the focus of so much attention over such a heated controversy, but her mom’s warming to the situation, somewhat.
I asked Bethany if she was prepared for celebrity.
“No, not really. I don’t want to be the face of the movement, I want Palestinians to be the face of the movement. It’s not right when privileged people get credit for what under privileged people have been saying for a long time.”
Have you been contacted by any mainstream publications?
“The New York Times”
Do you feel like you are raising the consciousness around you, at school perhaps?
“It’s going to be odd to go back, I see the divide between friend groups. Some students in my school have contacted me and let me know they’re listening, letting me know they are supportive. I didn’t expect, I didn’t see this coming.”