Challenging subjects for discussion


Fran Ostendorf, EditorLike it or not, we are a people of the world. World events affect us. Sure, we live in a state with its share of newsmaking events.  But this week I’m looking to national and international events that are – and should be – the subject of the discussions you have when you gather with others to talk about important issues.

Last week, the buzz surrounded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before Congress. No matter how you feel about the speech, its content or even the fact that it occurred, there’s no denying that he is a powerful orator. But were his actions appropriate? Were they aimed at an American or Israeli audience? Will his move serve peace or undermine it? And what is his real agenda? These are not easy discussions, even among those of us already supporting Israel.

And on March 17, Israelis will go to the polls to vote. The number and variety of political parties can be a little confusing to those in the U.S. accustomed to our two-party system. We hope today’s cover story will help you sort out the issues and the parties a bit. And help when you sit down to discuss the outcome and what it means.

In the Feb. 27 paper, we ran a brief mention of the results of a survey by the Louis D. Brandeis Center and Trinity College that reported the fact that more than half of today’s American college students have witnessed or experienced an anti-Semitic incident. The survey was conducted in the spring of 2014. Certainly the subject of campus discrimination bears continuing thoughtful dialogue and ongoing education.

Clearly, recent events make this survey relevant. Take the puzzling incident in California. A University of California at Los Angeles student – a Jewish woman – nominated for student office was questioned about her religion. Nobody seemed to bat an eye at the fact that she’s a woman. They wanted to know only about her “Jewishness.”

Rachel Beyda, an economics major nominated for the student council’s judicial board, was subject to a routine confirmation by the UCLA student council. That is until a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council asked: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

Following much debate, the council rejected her nomination. After a faculty adviser said that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, those who voted against her changed their minds.

The incident has been reported in papers across the country including those in California as well as The New York Times and even The Brown Daily Herald. Take a look at the reports. I was shocked at how this kind of thing is still happening. It makes little difference that the students involved have apologized. I wonder how in this day and age they could think the question, let alone further discussion, was even relevant to a position on their judicial board. Was this anti-Semitism, stupidity or youthful misjudgment? I’ll let you decide.

And while these campus incidents targeting Jewish students continue and should be taken seriously, we can’t leave this column highlighting discussions you should or will be having without mentioning the latest case of discrimination – that of the fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. After video of fraternity members involved in a racist chant surfaced, the chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has now been closed. The outrage was universal and appropriate, but reports also surfaced that this has been the long-term atmosphere at that fraternity and that the song had been sung many times before and no one objected or reported it. Another troubling case of discrimination at its worst and another example of how widespread it might be, even today. 

My hope is that your dinner table – or wherever you hold frank discussions – be a little richer for all these worthwhile dialogues.