NEW YORK – The turning of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge into a Palestine solidarity “blood bucket” video has stoked both threats against a student BDS advocate and pro-Israel sentiment at a Midwest university.
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When the academic year began, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis invited Megan Marzec, a senior and Student Senate president, to take part in the ALS challenge. But instead of pouring a bucket of water over her head, she posted a video of her drenching herself with what she said was blood.
“As Student Senate president I am sending a message of concern about the genocide in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli state,” Marzec says in the video, wearing a pink T-shirt with the words “Ohio U Divest from Israel” written on it.
“I am urging you, and OU, to divest and cut all ties with academic and other Israeli institutions and businesses. This bucket of blood symbolizes the thousands of displaced and murdered Palestinians, atrocities which OU is directly complacent in your cultural and economic support of the Israeli state.”
Marzec then douses herself in red liquid, which she later said was tomato juice and red paint.
“Her video has kind of torn the campus apart,” said Becky Sebo, a senior dance major at the southern Ohio university and president of Bobcats for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group. “My initial response was complete shock,” Sebo, who is from Cleveland, told Haaretz.
“We’ve never had any BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement on our campus, have always had a very open, welcoming community.” Now, she said, “Jewish students in particular are feeling very singled out by the video. Many Jewish students are feeling concerned about their safety and how other students will respond to these accusations against Israel.”
According to Noam Neusner, spokesman for Hillel International, which has chapters on 550 campuses worldwide, “We’ve seen a stepped-up level of anti-Israel and BDS activity when it comes to resolutions, but a stunt like is new.”
Outcry on the Athens, Ohio campus, just north of the West Virgina border, was immediate after Marzec posted the video on Vimeo and her Facebook page on September 2. She later removed it.
The following night, debate about the video dominated the weekly Student Senate meeting, which was described as “fiery” by the campus newspaper, The Post. Bobcats for Israel and the Jewish fraternity on campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi, called on Marzec to resign.
On Twitter the next day, the Student Senate “humbly apologized” for Marzec’s video. In a statement, McDavis distanced himself and his university from her beliefs.
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, director of Hillel at the 38,000-student university, said in an email that she had been advised not to talk to reporters. “Your video marginalizes and isolates students,” Leshaw wrote in a letter to Marzec published in The Post.
“It makes Jewish parents want to bring their kids back home to the safety of the Jewish suburbs …. you need to step down, and give somebody else the chance to lead our Ohio University student population. Somebody that won’t polarize, or divide, or marginalize, or ‘other,’ or cause hysteria, or make students feel unsafe.”
For her part, Marzec told The Post: “People calling for my resignation are opposed to freedom of speech.” She said she had the support of a number of faculty members as well as Students for Justice in Palestine and national BDS groups.
Tough year ahead
Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, said the response was just what he would have hoped for. “It was a perfect example of how the campus community can rally together to condemn radical actions,” he told Haaretz.
“It is going to be a very difficult year for pro-Israel students on campus,” added Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “The students who want to present a non-biased pro-Israel view have their work cut out for them because there are going to be a lot of efforts to delegitimize their point of view. I anticipate we’ll see more anti-Israel activities than ever before.”
Marzec soon started receiving vitriolic messages; one person hoped the Islamic State would cut her head off, according to The Athens News. At that point, Ohio's homeland security department got involved. Marzec did not respond to Haaretz’s requests for comment, but she told The Post she had received “overflowing amounts of hate mail and death threats.”
Asked what she thinks of the video, Rabbi Alissa Wise of Jewish Voice for Peace, a pro-BDS organization that is expanding on college campuses this year, told Haaretz: “I think the real issue is will the campus community response be one of introspection and learning, or will it be witch hunts, which is what it appears to be turning into.”
The pro-Israel Jewish students interviewed both said they quickly issued clear statements against any threats toward Marzec.
Sebo posted a note on her Facebook page: “Dear Bobcats for Israel and the Pro-Israel community, It has come to our attention that some students and members of the pro-Israel community have been sending inappropriate messages including hateful comments and even death threats to Megan Marzec."
According to Sebo, “This is completely unacceptable. While I believe that none of our students at Ohio University would do this, I wanted to publicly state we do not support these actions. Free speech is a wonderful thing, she is entitled to her opinion. We need to remember what we are fighting for, and that is not to harm Megan. Please think carefully about your actions.”
The Ohio University controversy, as well as anti-Israel activities at campuses around the United States, is prompting pro-Israel students to rally, said some of the people involved.
While Marzec has some support on campus, “the immediate reaction was that it was a video that just should not have been put up online,” said Maxwell Peltz, a member Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish fraternity. Peltz, who is also from Cleveland, is a junior majoring in sports management.
According to Hillel’s Neusner, “While it’s hard to be challenged on campus it’s promoting a more sophisticated cadre of student activists. There’s a lot more training and readiness. The on-campus community is far more prepared than it was in previous years.”
In the meantime, Bobcats for Israel has a soccer tournament planned for this weekend, for which it has received funding from the Israel on Campus Coalition. The money raised from participants will be donated to the Peres Center for Peace to benefit at-risk Israeli and Palestinian youth.