Tracy Frydberg

Tracy Frydberg’s editorial response “BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community” entirely avoids the points that my original article makes. I make two key points: First, that Unify Texas is not open about its pro-Israeli politics and that prevents an honest campus debate; and second, that Palestine is a relevant issue of justice and human rights for students and UTDivest is a way to get involved.

For the first point, I explain that they are run by Texas Hillel, which announced Unify Texas in an email to its supporters and said they “must speak with one voice” that is pro-Israel. This is an explicitly political position. Neither Hillel nor this position is acknowledged by Unify Texas, and repeated requests about this from the author were ignored. To elaborate on why Hillel’s politics matter, I discuss the Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students. In short, the movement calls on Hillel chapters to reject the restrictive political standards of the organization and engage in dialogue about Palestine.

For the second point, I quote famous activists like Dorothy Zellner and Nelson Mandela, who argued that their work for civil rights and against apartheid rests on a principle of justice which should be extended to Palestinians. I explain that Palestine is particularly an issue for UT students because our University and our government support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine with various investments. UTDivest and BDS are a way to fight against the occupation by ending our institutional complicity. I cite Martin Luther King Jr. and how white America hated him to show that we have to fight for justice even if it’s divisive.

Frydberg does not address any of these points. She argues that UTDivest activism will promote anti-Semitism and that I have already done so through my article. Her article contains no citations and makes verifiably false claims.

Frydberg says that I have “refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.” There is no citation. This is false and is particularly odd because I have never even been approached. On the other hand, I recently contacted Jewish student groups like Open Hillel to discuss Palestine and Hillel.

Frydberg says Texas Hillel is non-political. This is false, as repeatedly stated by Hillel itself. They openly advocate pro-Israel politics in the Unify Texas email and on their website. On their “About Us” page, they proudly say that they won the “Best Campus Political Organization” award for work that included “Texans for Israel advocacy.”

Frydberg accuses me of “insidiously” going from being “anti-Israel” to “anti-Semitic.” There is no explanation for how I or my article does this (because, again, she does not address anything I actually say). Perhaps the accusation is because I support UTDivest, which she says decided to “single out one Jewish state for its vitriol.” Readers should read the UTDivest resolution and my original article (and others I have written), all of which is on the basis of human rights. As such, I agree that the same standard should be applied to other companies and other countries.

Frydberg says that Israel and the Jewish people are “intertwined” and “inseparable.” It’s not clear what this means, but it’s clear after the recent Israeli elections that an increasing number of Jewish Americans do not agree with this. This is especially true for those who are in organizations like Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace, which explicitly reject the idea that Israel has a monopoly on Judaism.  Frydberg claims that UTDivest has “slapped away” invitations from the “Jewish community” (again no citation). It’s also unclear what this means, especially because Austin Jewish Voice for Peace and Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights are members of UTDivest and have been publicly speaking at events.

Frydberg then makes a series of accusations about BDS and anti-Semitism at various universities with no citations. Moreover, she doesn’t actually state who is supposedly being anti-Semitic or what their relationship is to UTDivest. I can’t respond to these accusations without knowing this information.

Frydberg then repeats accusations that UTDivest is anti-Semitic and does not actually care about human rights because they are singling out Israel. Again, the reader should review UTDivest and see for themselves that everything is based on human rights, and that they are fully supportive of other such initiatives. As mentioned, BDS is modeled on a similar campaign conducted on US college campuses against South African apartheid.

UTDivest provides an opportunity for students to act on UT’s core values of Freedom and Responsibility with regards to the Palestinians. This requires open debate on the actual issue and honest politics. Students who are concerned about human rights and justice should take this debate seriously rather than avoiding the issue and relying on non sequiturs and baseless accusations.

— Mukund Rathi, computer science honors junior, in response to Tracy Frydberg's Wednesday Firing Line titled "BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community."

On Monday, April 8 at the Texas Hillel Jewish community center, the Latino-Jewish Student Coalition held their second annual Latino-Jewish Seder — a Passover Seder is when Jews tell each other the story of Jewish bondage and deliverence from Egypt. The Latino-Jewish Student Coalition used the occasion as an opportunity to talk about the current immigration debate. Monday was also Holocaust Memorial Day, where Jewish communities across the world remembered the most documented genocide in history. 

The organizer of the event, Tracy Frydberg, said that the event was an attempt to “draw a comparison” between the Seder and modern day oppression of our neighbors. She says that just as there are examples of non-Jews who hid Jews during the Holocaust, the Jewish community must be present and ready to stand with others facing dehumanizing circumstances. “We are taught to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and we should emphasize freedom, equality and opportunity,” Frydberg said. 

The event did just that, presenting the testimonies struggled and dehumanization: from childhood memories of hiding for fear of immigration officials, to separating of families, to impending deportation — despite a university degree and job offers — following a failed asylum request. 

The Latino-Jewish Seder accomplished its goals, but on a night when people around the world are reflecting on the Holocaust, those invoking comparisons to the Holocaust must tread carefully. While the Holocaust is the standard for how societies remember and relate to atrocities, some writers, such as Michael Freund of the Jerusalem Post, think that the Holocaust should be off-limits as it is unique in human history.

Alejandra Spector, an activist for Mexicanos en Exilio, a group that advocates on behalf of victims of the drug war, talked about her mixed Jewish-Mexican heritage and how she thought her education gave her a responsibility to speak out. She said that she grew up with stories of how the Jewish community was ignored and turned away from the United States during the Holocaust, and she now sees a similar situation as undocumented workers are treated like criminals. 

Bringing awareness to the violence, she said, causes a reaction that “this cannot be happening.” I talked to her after the meeting, and although she believes that her comparison of the current situation to the Holocaust might have been too strong, she contended, “In our family … we believe our Jewish past will save our Mexican future.” 

When asked about the trickiness of comparisons, she says that it is not about comparisons, but about realizing that “a human tragedy is a human tragedy, in Auschwitz or Guadalupe.”  

Regarding awareness of the violence, she says progress is being made. Although she is skeptical about its implementation, she points to the passage of the General Victims Law in Mexico. The law allows monetary reparations to drug war victims and puts the “search for disappeared persons” as a priority of the state. But the question still remains: Is it a desecration to compare general violence to the Holocaust? What is the line between constructing a common identity and hijacking and diminishing the Holocaust?

The Executive Director of the Hillel and campus Rabbi David Komerofsky attended the event. He says that we need a balanced approach when we discuss the Holocaust. “The Holocaust is incomparable in planning and magnitude, there were 6 million Jews systematically exterminated. However, there were also as many non-Jews that for various reasons also perished … recognizing this [the diversity of victims], far from diminishing the Holocaust, memorializes the victims.” When asked about the relationship to the Seder, Komerofsky responded, “I feel a responsibility as a Jewish person to use my freedom to free other people.” As for the dark connections between Jewish persecution, Passover and the current immigration debate, Komerofsky hopes that common experience will liven the debate, not diminish it: “If the Exodus becomes a part of our memory, it becomes enshrined … we tell stories. Stories that are always happy do not have any meaning.” 

Historically persecuted groups should not fear to use their stories to identify with those oppressed today. The word “genocide,” however, is used carelessly, and a horror on the level of the Holocaust cannot be easily invoked. But one phrase that Rabbi Komerofsky used today is especially apt to solve the dilemma of respect versus solidarity: “We often say ‘never again.’ We want ‘never again’ to mean not just ‘never again’ for Jews, but ‘never again’ for everyone.”

Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.

Rebecca Lorins, program director of the Texas After Violence Project, spoke about her life experience fighting for human rights with the University of Texas White Rose Society. 

This caption was corrected after its original posting. Lorins is the program director for the Texas After Violence Project.

Photo Credit: Marshall Nolen | Daily Texan Staff

Human rights issues have drawn the attention of activists from all over the world, and a symposium held on Monday by The White Rose Society featured these activists and their stories.

The panel featured four panelists who discussed their area of expertise and why they became involved in advocating human rights. According to Tramanh Hoang, president of The White Rose Society, this is the seventh year the group has organized the Human Rights Symposium. The symposium will last through Wednesday of this week and will feature speeches by students, professors and activists. The symposium is free and open to the public. 

Panel member Rebecca Lorins, the program director for the Texas After Violence Project, a non-profit group that seeks to record and spread the stories of people who have been affected by violence, said she became involved with human rights after documenting a Sudanese cultural troupe and the social struggles they portrayed. 

“It’s what gets heard in the global context,” said Lorins, who holds a Ph.D. from UT in comparative literature. “That started me on the path of oral history as a way to elevate voices that may not be heard in mainstream media.”

Middle Eastern studies and liberal arts honors sophomore Tracy Frydberg, who was on the symposium’s panel, said she thought the Jewish community could help those who feel targeted for their ethnicity. 

“I understood that I had the opportunity to educate my own community, to educate the Jewish community, on what’s happening to other students at UT and to offer the Jewish community’s services to students who were being targeted,” Frydberg said. 

Frydberg helped found the Latino-Jewish Student Coalition on campus, which seeks to share the cultures of the two groups and collectively face issues in the community. 

“It’s about using this education, using these stories to create positive change,” Frydberg said. 

Panelist and government and liberal arts honors senior Ben Weiss said he began to foster an affinity for learning about political and cultural circumstances in Sub-Saharan Africa while at UT. Weiss said his academic specialty focuses on how Sub-Saharan African countries build infrastructures for HIV/AIDS relief. 

“I started looking at the intersection of human rights and development narratives,” Weiss said. 

Weiss stressed the importance of education, careful planning and organization during the symposium.

“For me, the first step is always education,” Weiss said. “It is not a question of whether to act or not to act, but it is having awareness of your own actions and the implications of those actions.”

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Printed on Tuesday, April 9, 2013 as: Symposium explores activist stories

This article was corrected after its original posting. The Texas After Violence Project deals with victims affected by violence.

Junior English major Zach Guerinot stands in support of Palestine during a protest Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

As the Israel-Gaza crisis becomes increasingly violent, people around the world and on the UT campus are paying more attention to it. Members of the UT community on multiple sides of the issue voiced their opinions Monday.

Roughly 20 students from the UT chapter of the International Socialist Organization and Palestine Solidarity Committee marched across campus Monday in support of residents of Gaza. They walked through the East, West and Main Malls as well as the halls of the Beauford H. Jester Center and the Student Activity Center chanting, “Free, free Palestine. Occupation is a crime.” Meanwhile, roughly 45 students from six organizations tabled on the West Mall in support of Israel.

These six organizations were Texans for Israel; College Republicans; Chabad Jewish Student Organization; Alpha Epsilon Pi, a fraternity that works to provide opportunities for Jewish men; the Latino and Jewish Student Coalition; and Texas Hillel, an educational Jewish center. 

The International Socialist Organization and Palestine Solidarity Committee set up tables on the West Mall as well.

Advocates on both sides of the issue worked to attract passing students to their table.

Tracy Frydberg, Middle Eastern studies and liberal arts honors sophomore and head of campus relations for Texans for Israel, said she has family in Israel and came out to support them and the other Israelis in fear for their lives.

She said the organization’s main goal in tabling was to better inform students of the issues surrounding the conflict.

“We are here to clarify, to answer questions, to be here as a resource for students on campus and to explain the issue and what is happening right now,” Frydberg said.

Frydberg said the more vocal approach to the situation taken by students from the International Socialist Organization and Palestine Solidarity Committee seemed ineffective to her as it didn’t educate people on the issues.

“We are not going to be doing anything like this,” Frydberg said. “These people are not here to clarify the situation. They are not explaining what is happening.”

Jonathon Orta, Latin American studies senior and member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, said drawing more attention to the issue is necessary.

“It forces a dialogue to happen, and a dialogue that happens is often uncomfortable for some people,” Orta said. “Just as when the South was segregated, you had these protesters of the Civil Rights Movement fighting for integration, but those conversations had to happen ... the same conversations are what we are trying to have happen at UT.”

Journalism professor Robert Jensen spoke at the protest in support of the people of Gaza. He said the public must fully educate themselves on the issue since the situation’s history is essential for full understanding.

“You cannot understand what is happening in Gaza today without understanding one central fact — the occupation of Palestine by Israel,” Jensen said.

Ben Mendelson, government and liberal arts honors junior and chief financial officer for College Republicans, said he believes standing with Israel is an issue of safety, not politics.

“I don’t think it is an issue of political party,” Mendelson said. “There is overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle for American support of Israel.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and other politicians from both sides of the political spectrum have come out in support of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Protesters on both sides of the issue said they will be working more this week to advocate for their causes through similar efforts.