Interview with Tritons for Israel President Dafna Barzilay

NK: What did you think of the wall, which was a big part of the awareness week?

DB: The wall, I mean, it’s one that’s there every year, and I think they use the same wall that was used last year, and I don’t know about the year before – it wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t a surprise, because of the fact that it has been used year after year. I guess there’s a little more of the shocking factor just because it’s big, and everybody notices it, and it’s more of a [unintelligible] event than most other student organizations put on, and it’s way more visible than anything else that was going on. But, I mean, it happens every year, that’s the point I’m trying to make.

NK: What about the new things added this year, like the treadmill and the graveyard?

DB: I mean, yeah, there was the television, there was different news flags, there was the graveyard, which was definitely different – it did add more shock value to it, but I think it was expected, it definitely was expected.

NK: Did you go to hear any of the speakers sponsored by the Muslim Student Association?

DB: Yeah, I went to Norman Finkelstein, and I went to Angela Davis for a bit.

NK: What did you think of the Norman Finkelstein event?

DB: For me, [The Norman Finkelstein event] was a very interesting perspective to look on it, because – this is from a more personal view, not necessarily the way Tritons for Israel felt – I’ve always heard about people who support these terrorist organizations, who talk about the matter of the massacre, and – in my opinion, it’s a war that’s been going on a long time, and not necessarily a massacre. And I’ve always heard of these opinions, and it’s strange to hear about it from somebody who talks about it so objectively, I guess? That was very different. The way he presented the history of the cause, especially of the last two years of the conflict in Gaza from a historical point of view that’s completely different from mine, was very shocking.

He also brought someone with him who was disabled and talked more about the personal experiences and that something I found valuable – the personal experiences that people can definitely learn from and not necessarily some of the political claims that were said there.

There were definitely accusation and political claims, and attacks on my prime minister, for instance, that I found very offensive during that speech.

NK: Can you go into detail against the accusations against the Prime Minister?

DB: This wasn’t Norman Finkelstein, this was his guest. [The President of Israel] said that, at one point or another – it wasn’t the Prime Minister, sorry it was the President of Israel – said at one point that his mission was to look for every Nazi who was still alive, to see if they were alive and I guess to just locate them – and that was part of his mission. And, [the speaker] said that the president should just look in the mirror, and basically compared [the president] to a Nazi. And that was really offensive to me. You know, that’s my country’s president right there, and I don’t think you can argue anyway that’s he’s – yeah.

NK: Anything else about the Finkelstein talks?

DB: It was hard for me. The way that he spoke objectively, he made it sound – especially the two year history between 2007 and 2008 – he just presented it in a way that I thought was inaccurate. It was weird for me to hear that he supports Hamas so much. And a lot of the ways he presented the facts were in support of Hamas, and that ‘Hamas does this the right way.’ And it was very one-sided, it was very extreme. I mean, if you’re going to present history, do it the right way and don’t – he just didn’t present it objectively. I guess I want to move on to Angela Davis.

NK: Really briefly, how do you think that affects the way that students who attended the event felt?

DB: I think there’s a big difference between – definitely a big difference between the two events that were held. [At the NF event] I noticed around the room that maybe 70 per cent of the attendants was from the Muslim Student Association, or from the Muslim community in San Diego. I feel like that’s kind of preaching to the choir, and that’s not necessarily going to teach any of the uninformed people anything new. The other maybe 20 percent of the room were Jewish people who were there to see what he had to say. I may be wrong, but that’s just my observation.

At the Angela Davis event there was a huge diversity within the audience, a lot a lot of different people. A packed room. Definitely people I see in my classes, people I know that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to attend any event that pertains to a certain issue. It’s not an issue that I feel like that many people care about.

At the Angela Davis event it was a little scary for me because I see people who I have classes with, who were there because they had some views that I agree with, but some of the things she was talking about definitely affect them because she made a lot of parallels between some of her views and with some of what’s going on in the region from her perspective. So, I think a lot of [students] did take that message home.

NK: Because of Angela Davis making connections between the Palestinian conflict and the civil rights movement, do you think that would make people more sympathetic?

DB: It’s fine to be pro human rights – I am pro-human rights, anti-suffering. But some of the ways she was targeting that was definitely anti-Israel.

NK: How so?

DB: How so? She kept insisting that we need to boycott from Israel, and she wasn’t necessarily even talking about different companies, just Israel as a whole. Making parallels between Israel being an occupier, and the civil rights movement. It’s just not the same. It was also the point that she drove was to boycott from Israel. That’s where it gets iffy.

NK: How do you think the big-name status of Angela Davis will affect the students’ likeliness to take home her message, and do you feel that her comparisons can’t be made?

DB: I’m not saying [the parallels] aren’t existent, but they’re extreme. She presented a very one-sided way of the story, and what she was saying that I think a lot of people will take home, was – she was talking about her experience in the civil rights movement and women’s rights, and how that used to be the wrong side of history. Advocating for civil rights was a struggle, and that was a hard thing to get through, and at that time that was the – right now, we look back at it and say ‘that was the right side of history to be on.’ So, those people who were protesting those – at that time that was the right side of history to be on. And all those people who were sitting down doing nothing – that was the wrong side of history to be on. And she was telling everyone, you know, ‘Compare that to protest for human rights in Gaza’ and all this stuff on the right side of history versus the wrong side of history. I think that it’s very destructive – I’m sorry, that’s not the right word. She phrases it in a very black and white manner; if you’re for human rights and you’re for people in Gaza, then you’re on the right side of history. If you’re pro-Israel and believe that, then you’re on the wrong side of history, and that’s simply not it. It’s not that way, it’s not that simple. I am for human rights; I’m not going to boycott Israel. So, I think she phrased it in a very black-and-white manner with the whole right side/wrong side of history, and comparing it to different things that have happened in the past that used to be seen as wrong and are now right. I think that I’m scared that that’s the point people will take home.

NK: Did she have any positives with her message?

DB: Oh, definitely. People were asking her about being an activist, and what that means, and from her personal role as an activist, like, what you get out of it and how to balance it and things like that. That’s definitely things I support. I’m an activist myself; I think it’s important to be more active in things that you care about, especially [unintelligible] on campus. She had very encouraging words, from more of a personal perspective.

NK: What is the Pro-Israel community doing as an alternative to Justice in Palestine Week?

DB: Our approach is not an aggressive one. It’s not really a reactive one, necessarily. For the future, with this event as a whole next year, we’re trying just to let the administration know – let the different departments know – that this event is hurting us. It’s alienating a community. I think this event has been going on every year, but the big difference about it this year was that the departments actually sponsored it. Thurgood Marshall College, you know, gave them money to put on this event. I’m a Marshall College student – to know that they sponsored the event that for a whole week made me feel uncomfortable walking on Library Walk – It hurts me. And the same thing goes for the Visual Arts department, and the Literature Department and OASIS – different resources, for students, and I don’t want to say necessarily Jewish students, but Jewish students that are also pro Israel. Please clarify that I mean pro-Israel students and not Jewish students as a whole, because it’s not all Jewish students, but – we are being affected by it. We are being hurt. I don’t know if you heard about what happened at the David Horowitz event, but that has definitely shaken our entire community.

NK: Yeah, we’re about to get to that.

DB: The point we are trying to drive home – we are just hurt by this, and we don’t want the administration next year to support an event that alienates the whole community. We’re trying to show a presence. We’ve been planning to do something, because our goals within the whole group have kind of been mixed, and – I don’t want to parallel with the BSU, but the BSU has very structured goals that they wanted to get out after being hurt. And after we’ve been hurt, and I think it’ll take a while to figure out ‘this is what we want to come out of all of this, this is the message we want to take.’ We’re trying to work on that still.

NK: In terms of receiving support and sponsorship, how do you think the Justice in Palestine Week’s emphasis on human rights factors in?

DB: If you’re for human rights, but there’s human rights on both sides of the conflict. Because if you are doing one side, you are hurting the other, that’s simply the way it is. Divesting from one side of the situation you’re also hurting, physically, another side.

We’re pro-human rights. I want to make that clear. It’s just that there is hate behind this event. There’s anti-Israel sentiment behind this event that’s definitely blaming a source for committing human rights violations, and that’s a source that is arguable. It’s not an objective argument to say that ‘this is happening because of Israel,’ because there is so much more to it. Israel is being hurt in this conflict too.

My suggestion is, if it’s for human rights, then let’s raise money for schools in Gaza, let’s work together, let’s travel the region, let’s do community service – let’s not just blame one side.

NK: Has the pro-Israel done something to show their stance on the issue?

DB: We’ve been [to the wall] last week. We were smaller, which was fine, that was our objective. It was an SJP event; we weren’t going to take over all of Library Walk to show the other side. But we were there, we had different counterarguments about different things, including why there’s no apartheid going on in Israel. We simply argue there’s no apartheid going on right now, and to make that claim is false. Other things we’ve said is, ‘look, hey, Israel has tried to negotiate peace on the table several times, and whatever government happened to be in the Gaza/West Bank rejected it multiple, multiple times.’ Israel is looking for peace; Israel is [in support of] a two-state solution right now, so those are some of the things we’ve done so far. It’s definitely been trying to show some of the positive things Israel has done.

NK: To go back to David Horowitz, did Tritons for Israel sponsor that event?

DB: Make it very, very clear – we were offered to sponsor it. Initially, we thought about it; there was some initial discrepancies and miscommunication. I, for instance, didn’t really know who David Horowitz was, didn’t know how extreme he was – a lot of people weren’t really sure what his views were, or the decision to co-sponsor an event with other groups.

We eventually decided not to sponsor it. We did not sponsor the event. I know our name was on the ticket and that was because of miscommunication – we did not sponsor the event. College Republicans, Young Americans for Freedom, they talked to us about it, they agreed with it, they were very cool about it. And they didn’t put our names on the flyers or anything – it was a mistake to be on the ticket, but we did not sponsor the event because we felt like his views were too extreme and not necessarily productive in our whole pro-peace mission, which was the idea we were trying to show during Apartheid Week.

NK: What is your opinion on the dialogue between Horowitz and Jumanah Albhari?

DB: I wasn’t at his thing, because there was Norman Finkelstein [at the same time], but I know there were members of Tritons of Israel who did not necessarily expect the way he went about his speech, not necessarily the questions he directed. I’ve heard a lot of mixed arguments from this. Some people are saying that she is just human, he really forced that question on her, what would you do if you were in that situation. He did put a lot of pressure on her, but on the other side she did have a very clear answer. She did make it pretty clear. And I read her statement, and I definitely respect what she said. But she still agreed that she supports Hamas, which is problematic.

So, I’ve gotten some mixed responses about it. A lot of people are saying that it doesn’t matter what her internet was, whether she meant it or not, she still said it. The same goes for the girl who put a noose up in the library; her internet wasn’t to hurt anyone, but she still did it and it still hurt people. In the same way, it still hurt us, knowing that these extremist views exist.

NK: How do you think this incident increases tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine communities at UCSD?

DB: I think this specific instance goes beyond the pro-Israel community and has definitely been affecting the Jewish community. People have mis-worded this a lot, which is problematic, but [Horowitz] kind of put this whole back-story behind, and said that “if you put all the Jews in Israel, then you can kill them all at once,” and that was Hezbollah’s point of view. He did put this whole back-story to it, and that’s affecting the Jews. It goes just people who support Israel politically. I’ve seen this because I’ve seen universities across the country starting Facebook groups, and starting petitions, to end this one instance.

I think our group as a whole is pretty understanding of her, and pretty understanding that she’s human and she was force – based on the speech and how extreme he was, it wasn’t very effective the way in which he asked her – but it proves these views exist. It proves, just like that, that racist views that happened during the ‘Compton Cookout’ still exist on campus. People tend to forget; people tend to think we’re more mature than this and we’ve gone past this, but this shows that it’s still here.

I want to make it clear that it’s besides just the specific situation. These views do exist. People don’t like Israel because oftentimes they don’t like Jews. It’s pretty clear. And I think what we’re waiting for kind of at this point is an apology, because statements were released about this but apologies were ever really made. So, I guess that’s kind of what we’re waiting on at this point.

NK: Some individuals of the Jewish community have said that they feel threatened by this statement. Do you think this feeling exists at UCSD?

DB: We didn’t feel threatened, but we did started feeling unsafe three weeks ago when this [A.S. Council] Divestment Bill started happening. So, yeah, you know what? It is pretty threatening. I’m not going to say I’m scared to get on the bus with people I know from the MSA, that’s totally not – because I’m not associating what she said with the MSA, we’re associating it with what personal views were. It just proves to me that these views exist, and this shows – it has an effect. I’ve heard from multiple Jewish families that they don’t want to send their kids here anymore, knowing that these views going on on our campus. I’ve had several friends who’ve told me ‘my parents want me to transfer,’ ‘my parents want me to drop out of UCSD for these reasons,’ because it’s alienating, it’s making them feel uncomfortable, and yeah, even threatened at some point. When my dad saw the video, he told me to stay away from people who have these views. That’s just the first thing that comes to mind.

So, yeah, there is this sense of threat – it’s not necessarily directed by this specific girl, or by this specific group. That’s not the association I’m making, but it’s just that these values and these views are here on this campus, and yeah, it’s making us feel uncomfortable.

NK: Do you see a connection between that feeling and the A.S. Council Divestment Bill?

DB: I think that the Divestment Bill ended being a lot more political and a lot more – it was definitely a lot more political and it’s about what views you hold on the conflict, and it just progressed into something more of an identity crisis, and not being accepted by a certain identity. So, it’s just progressed; the level of feeling alienated and uncomfortable has increased.

NK: Tritons for Israel has come up with some goals to show how this affects the Jewish community. Can you tell me about that?

DB: I think we haven’t been noisy enough – we haven’t had enough of a presence to show that we’ve been hurt. A lot of goals include showing we are here and we are hurt. We haven’t necessarily put up a bunch of demands, but most of goals go towards showing that this week, this event that was sponsored by so many departments, this Divestment Bill, this kind of anti-Israel sentiment is affecting people and it’s not just a minor thing anymore. It’s really blown up.

NK: What are you planning to do to balance the visibility of the events like the wall?

DB: Politically, it’s tough, because – a lot of people do want to counter their points, politically, which is fine but I think it’s counterproductive, because it’s playing fire with fire, which will only increase tensions even more. So, I’ve already told you some of the facts we’ve been trying to show, but something we’ve talked about – definitely focusing on the administration, talking to parents, I mean, we’ve already met with the chancellor once and in this aftermath we’re going to meet with her again to tell her how it actually has affected us.

Another thing is – we came up with this plan actually tonight – but we might try to gather a newspaper where we write articles from students here on campus and students from other campuses like UC Berkeley who have been affected by this, and UC Irvine who have been affected by this, and share their personal stories about how it has affected their day-to-day lives on campus, facing their own identity, facing their own nationality, facing their religion. Basically to just show our voice, because it hasn’t been clear yet, I think that’s the main problem.

NK: Any general comments about any related incidents?

DB: I just want to make it clear, about the Horowitz incident, that we understand that just like the Gaza stuff is not black and white, the situation with Horowitz is not a black or white situation, and to only watch that video is not seeing the big picture, which is why I’m not blaming her, I’m not blaming the MSA. But, we are also waiting for an apology. I mean, these beliefs can still exist, which is fine, but we haven’t really heard ‘we understand how you feel,’ or ‘we understand why you’re feeling alienated, or why maybe you’re threatened.’ And if they don’t feel that way, that’s fine, but I think it’s going to be a struggle until we come to that meeting point.

And about some of the departments, from now on we’re going to work on what the chancellor has promised us, which is that they’re going to watch out for what kinds of things they sponsor, from now on. Because if it is hurting one community, in my opinion, if it’s alienating even one person, then it’s not worth it. So they should really watch out, for these departments, especially, before they sign on to something saying ‘this is a social justice event.’ Ask more questions – say ‘what is this really about?’ Get the other side of the story.

NK: Do you think there would be virtue to a human rights’ violations awareness event that aimed at both sides of the conflict, and that a department sponsorship would be okay in that scenario?

DB: Definitely, that’s something we’ve been acting for. [unintelligible] Let’s do something that helps both sides of the conflict [unintelligible].

When a bill is passed that way, it was made in a committee that sat in meetings for a year, and held meetings for a year, every single week. It’s not going to pass overnight. It’s simply not that easy. It requires a lot of patience, which is something that I think is lacking from both sides. So, yeah, definitely.