I participated in Onward Cleveland the summer of 2018, in between my junior and senior years of college. I lived in Tel Aviv, with the rest of the Cleveland participants, and interned in Jerusalem at The Jerusalem Post. There is no way to get to know a city better than by reporting on it, and my experience at the Post gave me an insider’s view of Israel that allows me to even more effectively combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel that is very present on college campuses.
During Pesach of my senior year, the University of Maryland’s Student Government Association held a hearing for a BDS resolution. SGA is structured so some legislators represent students by residence and other legislators represent colleges. My representative for my on-campus apartment as well as one of my college representatives were both sponsors of the bill. I emailed them both explaining my disgust with their sponsorship, why BDS is anti-Semitic and how it singles out Israel.
In the days leading up to the vote, there were events to help people write speeches and the students spearheading our cause were available outside of those events to help edit speeches. The night before, a friend and I met at the library and emailed almost every SGA legislator who we weren’t positive would vote no.
One of my co-interns from the Post wrote an article, “Palestinian employees hurt by BDS speak up about its negative effects.” I thought it was perfect for this situation and shared it on Facebook a couple days before the SGA meeting. A couple friends of mine ended up using it in their speeches.
When it was my turn to speak at the SGA meeting, I argued boycotting Israel hurts Palestinians and SGA exists to focus on campus issues, not geopolitics, and this bill only divides the campus. Many people on our side made excellent points against the bill itself and against BDS in general that had never occurred to me. I was so proud of the way the Jewish community united against the BDS bill. Everyone on our side exhibited such class and spoke eloquently. After five hours of more than 120 students speaking for and against – the majority against – as well as the legislators discussing it, SGA voted the bill down, 23-9.
My experiences in college as well as in Onward Israel led me to apply for my current job at Academic Engagement Network, which mobilizes faculty all over the country against BDS and the demonization of the pro-Israel community. I look forward to more Onward participants becoming vocal advocates for Israel.
Naomi Grant is a former Beachwood resident and was a Violet Spevack Editorial Intern at the Cleveland Jewish News in 2017.