Ohio University filibuster: harangue or free speech?

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Reaching Wednesday’s Ohio University Student Senate meeting minutes before the scheduled 7:15 start (after a 90-min drive stretched to three hours by traffic), I saw a packed room with a speech already in progress.  As I edged forward, I tripped on a step hidden by the crush of standing onlookers, and landed–Plunk!–on the floor.

A kind student checked that I was okay, and, fearing I’d be embarrassed (as I inwardly mocked myself for being oblivious to essentials like footing) assured me, “Don’t worry, no one noticed because the speaker’s Out-of-Order.”  The woman talking turned out to be Bobcats for Israel President Becky Sebo, who’d apparently interrupted as soon as Senate President Megan Marzec called the meeting to order, cutting off her first announcement. Marzec had started to condemn the threats against “Rabbi Danielle,” the very OU Hillel Executice Director who helped ignite a furor against Marzec by demanding that she resign because of her “Blood-Bucket Challenge.”

But, at that moment—I learned later–, this very Rabbi Danielle Leshaw tweeted in quick succession: “Meeting in order. But students are speaking out. Not in turn”; “Bobcats for Israel leader @BeckySebo calls for Megan’s resignation”; and–seeming to rejoice in a good plan well-executed– “The filibuster has begun. And it’s not going to stop.”

I alternated between taking photos and notes about the stand-off, in which much happened at once, so I apologize if I mangle people’s names or the order of events.  Students videoed throughout, but I’ve yet to find an entire recording; The Post yesterday published a longer excerpt than before, “Video: Student Senate Full”–an absurd title for 12 minutes of clips from a roughly 90-minute meeting.

Sebo read from a lengthy script, but most disturbing was how she seemed to try to make Marzec feel guilty: “Megan, I even stood up for you….That’s right, the President of Bobcats for Israel who called for your resignation stood up for you, because I care about your safety on this campus.”  These too-personal jabs replicate Rabbi Leshaw’s reproaches: “And so when I tell people that I think you’re wonderful, and smart, and that you likely had no idea what your video would spur, they’re surprised, because how could you possibly do such a thing if you have a relationship with the campus rabbi?….if you’ve got university partners that care about you?”

As Sebo continued, I couldn’t hear all the words, but the gist was that, after vowing not to stop until Marzec resigned, Sebo quoted many condemnations of the academic boycott of Israel, which Marzec had endorsed in making her blood bucket action in the first place. Marzec and others asked her to abide by the rules and allow the Student Speakout meeting to proceed, but Sebo simply droned on without seeming to hear.  Senators resorted to a “mic check” to reclaim the meeting, calling out lines like, “Free exchange of ideas,” “Others have the right to speak.” But Sebo’s monologue drowned out discussion. Group replies thundered. Clapping and stomping echoed.

Sometime in the hubbub, a big man in a blue shirt and tie joined Sebo in strolling around the pit reading. I later learned that he read his lines directly at Megan Marzec, towering over her in a way others saw as threatening. By that time I had moved across the room to photograph the audience, to a spot where I could no longer see Marzec. However I snapped a photo of some observers lining up to shield Marzec.

IMG_1355Marzec and others walked over to Sebo, asking her to let others speak. Sebo ignored them.  Soon more Bobcats for Israel strolled about and read too. I scrudged together courage to step on to the floor to take pictures that had a better chance of being in focus (my camera’s slow). Marzec stood on her desk to speak over the Israel-defenders’ clamor. A woman nearby, whom I later guessed to be Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones, encouraged her: “Go on, I know you can do this.” That gesture was heartening, for– after Leshaw proclaimed that Marzec “isn’t qualified” to be President and should resign– Hall-Jones had tweeted fawning approval of Leshaw: “Thankful for the grace strength, leadership and support of @RabbiDanielle We are so lucky to have her as a member of our #community.”

Marzec took a vote on whether to call the police. The answer: “Yes.”  Eventually the police arrived.  A man identified by The Athens News as OU Police Chief Andrew Powers (3:45) warned Sebo and the man in the blue shirt that they had two minutes to sit down or be arrested.   Sebo carried on without appearing to hear, I thought, but the video clip has cries of “Two minutes?!” Two minutes passed: Sebo was arrested and led out.  But the disruption continued.

IMG_1367On cue, another Bobcat for Israel in a blue striped golf shirt hopped up to rant from Sebo’s script (above).  Eventually, a bystander asked the big man in the blue shirt and tie why he was still walking around, yet hadn’t been willing to be arrested with Sebo.  No reply.  A tall man in a white shirt (left, above) joined the display.

About then, the video reveals something I hadn’t heard: after Marzec deplored “anti-Arab racism” she exclaimed, “As someone who’s been raped on this campus, I know what it feels like to feel you are in danger.”

IMG_1362 (1)Three more arrests: first, taller white shirt; then blue golf, and last, green T-, all escorted out by police. But the big man in the blue shirt avoided arrest by fading away at the right moments.  Once the four disrupters were gone, about 20 supporters stood in unison and filed out.

Megan Marzec picked up right where she’d left off: condemning the threats against Rabbi Danielle Leshaw. Then she proclaimed, “I will never apologize for standing with the people of Palestine.  And I will never represent fascists.”

The Student Speakout was at last free: I’ve parphrased a few comments, many not included in the video.

The first speaker (I think he was called Rabbi Davis) expressed “appreciation to Megan Marzec for her video,” for the questions Megan raised give us a “tremendous opportunity” to find answers that could be a source of pride as all work together for a better future. But, he added, “I’d be the first to admit, though, that I don’t know how to do this.”  Rev. Evan Young drew cheers by announcing an Interfaith Peace Walk for the following night.

University Life Commissioner Charlotte Bassam-Bowles (6:00) talked with an English accent of how “my ability to study here relies on the U.S. government,” which can revoke her visa at any time.  She read a letter by other students from abroad “who fear speaking up” because they face not only being deported, but being “sent straight to prison when they return to Palestine.”  She pointed to the recent slurs at OU against Palestinians and Arabs as “animals.”

The next speaker reminded us that the charge that critics of Israel are “anti-Semitic” is bogus, for “Semites” are all who speak a Semitic language, including Palestinians. Another told us that we all need to speak up because “Silence means siding with oppressors, colonizers”; that President of OU Roderick J. McDavis was “wrong”: “civility” is speaking “truth when violence is done,” rather than quashing dialog. Conclusion: “I want President McDavis to apologize to Megan.”  For his part, President McDavis issued a new “statement on student efforts to promote healing; peaceful dialogue” yesterday: “We [at OU] remain focused on providing a learning environment that respects and encourages free speech, thoughtful discussion of important issues, and the opinions of others. We do not support an environment in which students – and even some faculty and staff – feel uncomfortable expressing their ideas and viewpoints.”

The man in the plaid shirt said that the issue is “power”; he asked Jolana Ozara, the moderator of the session, how long she was able to stay in a Board of Trustees meeting before she was “dragged out.” Ozara replied, “45 seconds, tops.” The man compared that lightning removal with the 38 whole minutes before “the first speaker was arrested tonight.” He stood up for equality of voice: “We all have a right to speak in this campus.”  Another volunteered that, “I feel sorry for every Jew who had their voice stolen” and were “labeled as bullies by 5 or 6 people” because all Jews do not support Israel’s acts.

A man who identified himself as both “Jewish and Israeli” but had an American accent chimed in that he was glad to hear this, because “I don’t want it to become ‘He said, She said.” He halted: “Sorry, I become emotional about this… as an Israeli I feel I have to defend my country,” assuring us that “if you go to Israel…they are open to debate.”  He interrupted himself to chide Professor Louis-Georges Schwartz: “Okay, you, Sir, in the green, I don’t know what your deal is….I’m trying to promote peace; your laughter isn’t doing anything.”  Someone interjected, “You have support, trust me,” and the audience clapped.  (Schwartz tells me today, “If I was making a face when that guy spoke, I had been during the whole Speakout because I was upset about the Bobcat violence in the Senate chamber and towards a friend who had been threatened.”) The Israeli continued, “I don’t know if you’ve ever even been to Israel.  I have. My cousin’s best friends are Arab Israelis…I guarantee most of you don’t know the personal ideas of everyone in Israel or Gaza or Palestine….I feel that education is of the biggest importance, because a lot of people aren’t educated.” Then he concluded with hasbara: that no one ever talks about Hamas or how many greenhouses Israel left Gaza, which Palestinians destroyed. The many murmurs told me that the old lines aren’t working: people in that room know the facts.

Sami Eddauod, from Palestine Solidarity Group of Columbus, answered him: “This is way bigger than just Hamas…This is an Occupation, a systematic oppression….”  Schwartz was then called on: he introduced himself as a Film scholar studying the destruction of infrastructure, with siblings who live in Israel, and he has a very different understanding of the situation from what the Israeli speaker described. He pointed out “that representation is a formal political function, not that someone who represents you has the same opinion as you….Impeaching someone for a difference of opinion is proceduralism which contradicts the core vision of democracy.”  A final speaker asserted that the body was “stupid” to “call police.” Now those arrested would “look like martyrs.”

Still, I was shocked by the portrayal of the self-righteous students who’d commandeered what’s supposed to be a democratic meeting as the muzzled victims of censorship. That portrayal started with tweets from Rabbi Leshaw: “Somebody just shouted Go Home Nazis.”  Later, Leshaw repeated that assertion: “Tonight, Jewish students were called Nazis and fascists. @ohiou #BDS fail @OUSenate.” She also said that “Megan called them fascists. They’re not.” I have to say that I didn’t notice Marzec or anyone else call the Bobcats for Israel names. And it’s not as if these supposed victims don’t have friends on the inside: “Lawyers calling from all over Ohio offering to represent our students. More #love,” Leshaw reported.

Meanwhile, some students countered her claims in Letters to the Editor and on Twitter (just go to Leshaw’s feed) before and after the meeting.  Worn-out tropes fail, as the old order changeth.

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“I don’t know if you’ve ever even been to Israel. I have. My cousin’s best friends are Arab Israelis.” Well, I guess that proves there is no bigotry there.

“I feel that education is of the biggest importance, because a lot of people aren’t educated.” Now that I agree with.

I think they stole a page from the Students for Justice in Palestine handbook.

fantastic report susie! we’re so lucky you were there. fabulous.

Bobcat for Israel shows that hasbara is dead.
Gay marriage advocates never gave up- why can’t Zionists argue their corner any longer? Why the need for all the timewasting horseshit ?

. sounds like it was worth the ‘trip’ . to bring justice to the oppressed there must be indisputable proof and many witnesses otherwise it will come down to who currently has the most control . it would be interesting if groups like ‘not in my name’ ‘Jews for justice’ and such were present at such events to better counter the cries of anti-whateverism and ‘you’re making me/my people feel unsafe and scared’ bobcats for… Read more »