I found something I wrote in February 26, 2002. I was 16 days away from the gibush—a week-long intense tryout—for Shayetet, the Israeli Naval Commando, that includes marches on the beaches of Atlit while carrying bags of sand, and hours of sprinting in and out of the sea. I had been training for the gibush for months (the picture was taken during training).
I was 18 and scared shitless. Not of failing or not passing the test, but of reaching a breaking point and giving up. I was afraid of not being as strong as I thought or hoped I was. Of reaching a wall and not making it through. Of disappointing myself.
This is the pick-me-up note—painstakingly word for word—I wrote myself almost 15 years ago: Continue reading
During the first week of March this year, students stood on the stairs of Columbia University’s Low Plaza with eight-foot panels calling Israel an apartheid state. In front of Butler Library was a table with the words “Boycott Israel.” On the pathway between the two were panels covered with Israel’s flag. The activists thrust flyers and words at passersby, hoping to win the rhetoric war on Israel and Palestine. This was Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).
I wasn’t surprised that IAW takes place on over 150 university campuses worldwide. I was surprised, however, that many of the protestors were Jewish, and one of the co-organizers of the week was Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an organization of Jewish students. I wondered why so many Jewish students were turning anti-Zionists and protesting against Israel, and how the greater Jewish community has responded.
When Miss. USA, Nia Sanchez, said women should learn self defense to avoid sexual assault, she was accused of victim blaming, receiving numerous tweets to the tune of “how about instead of woman learning to protect themselves, men learn to not rape women?” When Police in Sussex, UK hung posters in female bathrooms at nightclubs, urging women to remain in groups to prevent sexual attacks, a representative of the national charity Rape Crisis said police should instead use their resources to target young men with messages about consent. When journalist Emily Yoffe wrote in Slate that binge drinking “presented a particular danger for young women because it made them more vulnerable to sexual assault,” she was disinvited to speak at a West Coast college for fear her presence would make student victims “feel unsafe,” and Alexander Abad-Santos, a writer for Vox and The Atlantic, responded by asking, “What about teaching men not to rape?”
Yet we don’t find this sentiment with any other crime. We lock our homes at night and put alarm systems in our cars; we move our wallets from our back to front pockets on the subway; we look both ways before we cross the street. And even though there is not a history of blaming theft victims like there is of rape victims, we still use preventive behavior every day without ever considering it victim blaming.
A warrior of the Hamas Naval Commando drowned during a training exercise in northern Gaza on September 2015. In an Israeli online newspaper’s report on the story, they opened the article with the sentence, “He didn’t excel in his role.” They showed a picture of him which they titled “the schlemiel.” They wrote, “to strengthen the absurdity [of him drowning], his name means ‘ocean.’” They called him an “unskilled fighter.”
As an Israeli and a five-year veteran of an elite combat unit in the IDF, I don’t care about this man; it’s good he’s dead. He was training to infiltrate my country via the sea and kill Israelis. His death is beneficial to Israel’s national security.
But we don’t have to mock him in a newspaper report of his death.
The blood on Akimos Annan Ampiah’s hands wasn’t his own; it belonged to a boy who foolishly told him he couldn’t walk down the street. The boy punched Ampiah in the face. Ampiah responded with a left jab, followed by a quick right cross and left hook that sent him to the ground. Ampiah stopped; he can’t fight blood, he says, it makes him feel bad.
Two years ago, on that day, a spectator saw potential in the 18-year-old Ampiah, took him to a boxing gym in Accra, and paid for Ampiah to train there. Within a year, Ampiah was on the national team. Currently, he is training for the All African Games and the 2016 Olympics.
Here’s the thing about speech: It’s never free.
Billy Bob Thornton was right when accepting his Golden Globe this past January: “These days you get into a lot of trouble no matter what you say… you can say anything in the world and get in trouble. I know this for a fact. So I’m just going to say thank you.”
Being right isn’t the same as being smart.
Justine Sacco was fired from her PR job after a tactless tweet about white people not contracting AIDS. When Patricia Arquette said in her Oscar acceptance speech that it’s time for all gay and colored people to “fight for [women] now,” she came under fire for being white, privileged, and insensitive to minority intersectionality. Journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were threatened and then attacked for drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
All these are cause and effect. You have the right to say and do anything within the realm of the law, but can’t ignore that words and actions carry consequences, regardless of whether or not those consequences are justified or legitimate. From internet shamers to fanatic extremists, the consequences can include public humiliation, loss of employment, and even violent and fatal attacks, which leads to the intersection of free speech, hate speech, and responsible speech; being right versus being smart.
Parker Rice and Levi Pettit were expelled on March 10 from the University of Oklahoma, two days after the two were filmed leading their Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity members in a racist chant on a bus. Many on the bus, including Rice and Pettit, repeatedly sang, “There will never be a nigger at SAE, you can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me.”
The expulsion of these students is problematic. Whether we agree with the expulsion or not — and despite first amendment issues that exist — expelling these students for a racist chant creates a zero tolerance standard that will be too complex and almost impossible to uphold across the board. Continue reading