Early on a Shabbat morning, Daniel Mael was walking back with a friend to his dorm room at Brandeis University. Upon seeing a group of his peers passing by, he kindly said, “Shabbat shalom.” What resulted from his kind gesture of peace and tranquility was a war of words between a well-known Zionist activist and a board member of Brandeis’ J Street U, Talia Lepson. Talia Lepson used the opportunity to tell Mael “Jews hate you,” and subsequently calling him a “sh*t bag.” While Mael could have reacted, he took the high road and reported this case of verbal harassment to the university police. What resulted from this incident was an outpouring of support from friends and colleagues, and even an article posted in The Washington Free Beacon titled “J Street U Brandeis’ Talia Lepson Harasses Pro-Israel Student.”
What nobody expected next was a statement from J Street itself. On April 27, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, J Street published a statement titled: “J Street and J Street U Have Zero Tolerance for Harassment of Student Leaders.” I read the title and immediately thought that it would have condemned Ms. Lepson’s inappropriate comments to Mael. However, I was gravely mistaken.
Instead of calling out Ms. Lepson for her blatantly harassing comments, they started pointing fingers at Daniel Mael. The statement said the following: “It is another to conduct a campaign of personal intimidation and harassment, which is the pattern of behavior that Daniel Mael, a student blogger at Brandeis, has established in relating to J Street U leaders.” Talk about a sweeping generalization and a quintessential example of libel.
How is it fathomable that J Street would defend its own student leader and turn its crosshairs on her victim? They did the unthinkable and the unforgivable by directly turning on a fellow supporter of Israel. J Street prides itself as being “pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace,” yet they fabricated lies against a Zionist activist in order to defend the anti-Zionist actions of their own student leader. Sure, Daniel Mael has been rather critical of J Street, J Street U, and Jeremy Ben-Ami himself, but so is the vast majority of the Zionist community. Even I have co-authored a blog post for the Zionist Organization of America with my friend and colleague, Tatiana Becker, in which we stated that Ben-Ami uses the term “pro-Israel” incorrectly when describing J Street’s mission.
However, there is something called accountability that was never played out in the minds of J Street. Instead of saving face and apologizing to Daniel Mael for their student leader’s grave misconduct, they did the opposite and have lost even more credibility because of it. With the screenings of The J Street Challenge and countless articles that are questioning J Street’s legitimacy as an interest group bent on supporting Israel’s right to exist, the least they could have done was say sorry. Instead, J Street may as well align themselves permanently with Max Blumenthal and other anti-Zionist Jews who have a penchant for demonizing not only the Jewish state, but also the activists who truly embody the pro-Israel mission. Ben-Ami and his organization threw Mael under the bus and fed him to the anti-Zionist dogs.
What makes this entire incident even more atrocious is the timing of this statement. How could a supposedly “pro-Israel” organization slander a Jewish Zionist activist on the very day the Jewish people ought to come together in unison? Yom HaShoah is supposed to be the day where the Jewish people remember the six million European Jews who were systematically murdered by the Nazis for their beliefs. We are supposed to acknowledge that flagrant propaganda can transform the minds of an intellectual civilization into a genocidal machine. And yet, J Street’s Jewish board member had the audacity to slander a fellow Jew on that day. In my opinion, this is the definition of morally disgusting. It reminds me of those stories of European Jews who collaborated with the Nazis to expose the existence of other Jews, where they were shipped out for slaughter into the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Majdanek.
When there are anti-Zionists and anti-Semites who are questioning Israel’s right to exist, it requires powerful voices to stand up against injustice. J Street had the chance to turn its distasteful image around and force the Zionist community to reconsider its portrayal of the organization. However, it fell to its own pride and decided to stab a single activist, and in turn, the entire Zionist community in the back with a serrated blade.
If J Street wishes to eliminate the “harassment” it faces from the Zionist community and media, then J Street needs to put its money where its mouth is and either start acting like a pro-Israel organization or remove the descriptor from its mission statement and its website. It is unjust to operate in a public setting under a label that does not suit the actions and words of its leadership and student representatives. By claiming that Jews hate Daniel Mael, Talia Lepson not only made a sweeping generalization, but she also lied.
The Jewish community has graciously supported Daniel and the only amount of public support that Ms. Lepson has garnered is that of the greatest dangers to the pro-Israel community. This issue is popular to be accepted in the mixed company of Max Blumenthal, Open Hillel, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voices for Peace, and of course, J Street, which continuously threaten the very existence of the State of Israel with their collective harassment of the true Zionist community.
Elliott Hamilton PZ ’15 is majoring in economics. He is the president of Claremont Students for Israel, a Jewish Identity Chairman of Alpha Epsilon Pi Chi Chi, and is the campus activist project liaison for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
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