One of the leading figures in the controversy over Ohio University Senate president Megan Marzec’s blood-bucket challenge for Gaza is Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, the executive director of the Hillel on campus. Leshaw wrote that Marzec’s dramatic statement for Gaza and in support of BDS made Jewish students on campus feel “unsafe” and she should step down.
I saw Leshaw at J Street last year and was impressed by her speech criticizing Birthright, saying Jewish students need to see the occupation in all its gory. She teaches her own children about the occupation, in the hope that “damn separation wall” will come down.
I don’t want my kids… [b]elieving that the land of Israel is our sole birthright and nobody else has ever laid claim to these sacred spaces. I want my kids to grow up believing that they can dismantle that damn separation wall.
During the recent Gaza slaughter she wrote:
Will we ever end this occupation? It all feels hopeless right now.
But Leshaw is the administrator of a pro-Israel group on campus called Bobcats for Israel, four members of which were arrested last week during a demonstration against Megan Marzec at the Senate. Leshaw tweeted often in solidarity with the arrested students. During their action, she did so in rah-rah terms: “The filibuster has begun. And it’s not going to stop.” Later from the courthouse, as she helped with their defense.
Now look at the logo of Bobcats for Israel. You will see there is no occupation: the “Israel” these students are for includes Gaza and the West Bank and the Golan Heights. And don’t forget East Jerusalem. Where do they draw the line? At the Jordan. If you think this is just a symbol– it’s a very conscious symbol of a rightwing settler Israel. That map is painful for Palestinians, because it removes Palestine entirely. Some would call that map racist.
It’s hard to see how Leshaw can reconcile her opposition to the occupation with her leadership of a group that denies it exists.
Leshaw is getting support to take on Marzec from the Jewish establishment: Eric Fingerhut, the national head of Hillel, has celebrated her. He and Leshaw represent the rigid orthodoxy that the dissident Jewish group Open Hillel is taking on in its conference next month— which will feature appearances by Rebecca Vilkomerson of JVP, Sa’ed Atshan, Rashid Khalidi, Peter Beinart, David Harris-Gershon, Shaul Magid and Judith Butler. Several of the speakers support BDS. They’ll have a real conversation about the issue. And Open Hillel’s invitation to Students for Justice in Palestine to attend the conference means it doesn’t want red lines on what it can and can’t talk about. I bet that everyone at the Open Hillel conference would condemn the Bobcats for Israel symbol.
Leshaw has been challenged in her claim to represent Jewish student opinion. One former student blasted Leshaw for “the audacity to attempt to speak for all Jews on campus” and in support of ethnic cleansing. Another alum, educator Matthew Farmer wrote, “In her position as a leader, I worry @RabbiDanielle’s letter to @ThePost [saying Marzec made Jews feel “unsafe“] marginalizes and silences Jewish students who support Megan or BDS.”
Leshaw wrote later on twitter: “I speak for the majority of J. students at OU b/c that’s part of my job description. Sorry if that bothers you.” I bet a majority of Jewish students at OU are opposed to the occupation, and to the Israel group’s denial of it.