Reviews | USG voted no to Jewish constituency senator, but we need him more than ever
At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, it is imperative that Jewish students have someone to turn to to meet their needs on campus, especially the student government.
The University of Iowa’s undergraduate student government on Tuesday rejected creating a Jewish student post for the 2022-2023 legislative session.
Last week I received an email from USG veterans constituency senator Paul Richards in which he wrote that he and his colleagues, the general senator for government relations and health and safety committees Joshua Brown, and Senator General Prakruti Pancholi were trying to create the post of a Jewish constituency senator to represent Jewish students on campus, who would be appointed through the Iowa Hillel Student Organization.
In the email, Richards told me that he and his team have used my resurgence of the current anti-Semitic column to help structure their legislation. I felt honored, especially as a person who comes from an interfaith home and identifies as Jewish. I was not surprised to also read that their efforts to produce this legislation were rejected by various members of the USG, resulting in the failure of the proposal.
Admit I had some hope logging into the Zoom meeting on Tuesday night. How could USG members vote against some form of legislation that ultimately helps Jewish students? There are many reasons for them, although I will name a few. The amount of pushback from USG members amazed me. Let me be clear, I am not calling the members of Parliament who voted against this bill anti-Semitic. I’m just saying that the discussion around the legislation is troubling because Jewish UI students need a Jewish constituency senator more than ever. Jewish hate crimes increased by 19% in 2019. The Anti-Defamation League has counted 2,107 anti-Semitic crimes across the United States in 2019. Now is the time to help Jewish students feel safe.
USG members started talking about the Israel / Palestine conflict. They expressed concern that the Jewish constituency senator would favor Israel and not want Palestinian speakers to come to campus, or be biased in issues surrounding the conflict. These concerns are valid with regard to freedom of expression. But at the end of the day, we want a Jewish constituency senator, because of the anti-Semitic acts happening on campus, not to know his position on the conflict.
The USG also began to question the idea of getting involved in geopolitical and transnational politics, which led everyone into a burrow of debate. The debate on this topic lasted like a vacuum, ongoing and endless, until an amendment was made to change the wording of the amendment on transnational issues.
Another torch used to burn this legislation was the idea that a Jewish constituency senator would not solve anti-Semitism. Nice, thanks for telling me the sky is blue, I really appreciate it. Obviously, the position will not solve anti-Semitism, but having a senator available to help meet the needs of students when heinous acts arise is crucial for the well-being of Jewish students.
“As many of you have said, anti-Semitism cannot be solved with just one law from a student government,” said Senator Brown. “However, by taking no action, we are choosing to contribute to systemic oppression and structural violence against not only a distinct minority, but against all minorities on campus.”
UI student Kendall Michaels shared her story about one time someone committed an anti-Semitic act towards her campus and originally raised this issue in the student government.
“I grew up where everyone was Jewish, people knew what a Jew was, and I came here and had people asking me if I had horns and other crazy questions because they had never met a Jew before, “Michaels told the DI. “At the end of my freshman year I ran into someone I knew who was a year older than me who posted a Snapchat story where he drew a swastika and the caption was’ I hate all Jews . “”
Several other Jewish students invited to the meeting expressed their need for a Jewish constituency senator because micro-attacks and acts of hate have been so prevalent in their lives, but their voices fell on unwilling ears to listen. .
The basis, I believe, of hindsight lies in the fact that some members of the USG do not understand that being Jewish is an ethnicity as well as a religion. Many Jews do not practice Judaism, while someone can convert to Judaism even if they are simply not ethnically Jewish. USG senators expressed concern that the person in the post would be too religious for the secular university, even when Jewish students from Iowa Hillel explained that the person would not be religious. Judaism is not a religion that seeks to convert its members, unlike its counterparts in the Abramean religion.
These are just a few examples to cite. Some senators have questioned whether having constituency senators in general really helps minority students. Now, of the eight constituency senator positions, five are empty.
US Senator Nicholas Nachtman disagreed with the legislation, in part because he questioned the value of the constituency senator structure as a whole.
“I think what we’re seeing is that if we keep creating a constituency senator position every time there is a problem on campus, we’re going to create that critical mass that somehow ends up witnessing to the symbolic and say ‘hey, look, we hear you and we care about you’ but don’t care, ”Senator Nachtman said.
Pancholi later said that constituency senators can serve as powerful advocates for their constituents, if those seats are filled.
“We don’t expect them to [issues] be solved by a young person of 20 years and over, ”said Senator Pancholi. “And frankly, it would be unreasonable of us to expect that to happen. At the same time, constituency senators are a powerful voice for their constituency, their constituencies, for their constituents … the fact that we do not have constituency senator seats filled right now is not a reflection of the fact that ‘they are not working, it is a reflection of the fact that they are not fulfilled at the moment.
The vote ended with 24 “yes” to 15 “no” with one abstention, narrowly missing the standard two-thirds majority to pass the Senate. They needed 27 “yes” votes.
USG members who voted against creating a Jewish constituency senator know it: you are not helping to create a safe space for Jews on campus. You ignore our needs and our voices. I think it’s time you think about your mission statement, where it is written, “USG exists to represent, serve and empower all undergraduates at the University of Iowa. Remember why you are here.
Columns reflect the views of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations with which the author may be involved.