Despite near-constant harassment from members of SJP and others on campus, Mandeles and Benisty did not waver in their activism. Rather than back down, Mandeles spearheaded an event, with Benisty’s assistance, featuring Israeli Defense Force reserve Sgt. Benjamin Anthony who was invited to speak about his experiences in the Israeli military.
Mandeles made a point of inviting SJP members to attend Anthony’s speech, noting that they would have a chance to raise any issues during the question-and-answer period, but when Anthony arrived on campus on February 3rd he was met by an angry mob of screaming anti-Israel demonstrators who hurled epithets at him as he attempted to deliver his address.
“It was chaos, they were not respectful,” Benisty notes of the SJP members who harassed Sgt. Anthony during his speech. “They did not come to be taught anything, to have any sort of dialogue. I think at the end it just showed that the pro-Israel community does want peace. So they came being anti-Israel, they didn’t come being pro-Palestine.”
Hampshire Professor Jim Wald, who was one of Mandeles’ key figures of support among the faculty, described the event in detail on his blog, noting that the protestors did not want peace but rather the “delegitimization and elimination of Israel”:
Unlike peace advocates who support the “two-state solution” affirmed by Israel and the PLO in the Oslo Accords of 1993, and subsequently underwritten by the “Quartet” of great powers and endorsed in principle by the Arab League, the protesters, adherents of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement (1, 2), seek not changes in Israel’s policy, but the delegitimization and elimination of Israel—a United Nations member state—as such, which they regard as a racist and colonial enterprise. (If there were any doubts tonight, the chants of “One State!” and references to a “sixty-year” occupation of Palestinian land—i.e. dating back to the founding of the state in 1948 rather than the 1967 war—made that clear.)
SJP members were assisted in their heckling by a Hampshire professor named Sayres Rudy who Mandeles states “participated in shouting Sgt. Anthony down along with the students.” Mandeles notes that Rudy’s instruction and course syllabi are also extremely one-sided and biased against Israel. “He is clearly in my view using his position of authority to indoctrinate and propagandize and that is not acceptable,” Mandeles comments of Rudy.
Mandeles had arranged a plan in advance with the administration to identify and remove students who were causing a disturbance at the event, but the officials in charge did not enforce the rules. “The way it worked was that the deans tried but they were just not forceful enough and allowed most of the offenders to remain in the hall regardless,” she says. “As far as I know they were not punished in any way.”
“I felt very alone,” Mandeles states of her experiences at Hampshire. “People really weren’t aware and weren’t prepared to deal with the kinds of things that were happening at Hampshire,” she adds, noting that the extremism of the Hampshire SJP is more commonly associated with large schools such as UC-Berkeley.
Last year’s events have only served to make Benisty and Mandeles more determined in their desire to defend Israel—and both are presently working for national pro-Israel organizations. Mandeles has graduated and Benisty is considering whether she will return to Hampshire for her final semester. But their absence on campus has left a breach that they are not sure will be filled. “Hampshire does not have a Hillel,” explains Mandeles, noting that instead the campus has a “weak and shaky” Jewish Student Union which counts many SJP members among its numbers and will not rise to the defense of Israel. Given the harassment and intimidation experienced by these two brave students, it is far from certain than any others will quickly rise to fill their place.
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