Ben Newman on antisemitism and Gaza protests at UW-Madison

UW-Madison student Ben Newman discusses interactions between members of the Jewish campus organization Hillel and participants in campus demonstrations seeking the university to divest from Israel.

By Marisa Wojcik | Here & Now

May 2, 2024 • South Central Region

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Ben Newman:
There is a real challenge with the lack of discussion and the lack of disagreeing civilly on this campus. I think it's something that we need to get into more. We need to understand why we're not able to talk, and we also need to marginalize certain kinds of language that are unproductive. And again, what I've said about these protests, I think it's very important to support free speech. Camping is not free speech, but if they just stood there, we would support it. I think that's very important to support free speech, even speech that I abhor, I will support it. At the same time, these people are not calling for discussion, debate, sifting and winnowing civil discussion. They're chanting for intifada. They're chanting for kind of revolutionary politics that I believe has no space on this campus. I'll say two other things. We have seen Hamas imagery in these protests. I've seen a guy twice who was wearing a pin showing Abu Zubaydah, the Hamas spokesperson, and he's supporting that. And I think it's unfortunate that the movement, if it would like to advocate for a just resolution to this war, which is terrible, a terrible war, for a just resolution to the Palestinian cause, the movement has not been able to cleanse its ranks of extremism and antisemitism. I'll say a separate thing. Some of the people who we had a discussion with on Thursday are organizers of this current protest. And on two occasions when we went to the protest, they smiled at us, we approached them, we had a nice discussion with them, they invited us to join the protest. We said no, because we believe that some of the chants are antisemitic. We don't agree with their politics. But I do want to give credit where credit is due currently, that the tenor of this protest seems to be a bit different than, for example, UCLA where they have barred so-called Zionist students or Jewish students from entering the encampment. They've created a defendant perimeter around the encampment. That is not the case here currently. I'm not saying it couldn't come here, but I believe that's an important distinction to the kinds of things that we've been seeing.

Editor’s note: PBS Wisconsin is a service of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.

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