Jewish student leaders condemned Student Association executive vice presidential candidate Brady Forrest Monday after a 2014 post in which he called for a boycott of a multicultural event for including pro-Israel student groups resurfaced in a student Facebook group.
Less than 12 hours before voting began in SA elections, senior Olive Eisdorfer posted two dated screenshots from Forrest, currently an at-large graduate SA senator, in the Facebook group “Overheard at GW” where Forrest called groups like GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association “complicit with and supportive of the state of Israel and programs and ideology that is exclusive and racist.”
The post quickly drew a backlash and charges of anti-Semitism, generating more than 200 reactions and more than 50 shares by late Monday night. All three other contenders for SA leadership positions, including Forrest’s opponent Ojani Walthrust, released statements supporting Jewish students after the post began spreading. Forrest said the post was a “mischaracterization” of his views and denied claims that he is anti-Semitic.
In one of the posts, dated November 2014, Forrest said he would boycott that year’s Multicultural Winter Formal because GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association were involved in the event and supported the state of Israel. In the other post, Forrest commented on an interfaith environmental event, co-sponsored by the Jewish Student Association, saying the group “supports ‘Israel’….’Israel’ is currently destroying the environment of Gaza, ‘Israel’ and the West Bank. I don’t know if irony or hypocrisy is more on the nose here.”
Forrest said he wasn’t attacking Judaism in the posts but opposing organizations that backed Israeli violence against Palestinian territories. He said the posts were written after the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, in which Israel invaded the Palestinian territory of Gaza in response to Hamas, a terrorist group, launching rockets into Israel. The conflict resulted in more than 2,000 deaths, most of which were Gazan.
Forrest said GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association were in support of Israel’s actions in Gaza, which he called “mass violence.”
“I wasn’t calling for a boycott because the people involved were Jewish or that they were a particular anything,” Forrest said. “It was that they themselves had said they supported violence essentially, that they supported a state that was committing atrocities.”
Forrest said he will not suspend his campaign for executive vice president and will not resign from the senate.
“There didn’t seem to be any attention to what I was actually saying, and it was presenting a particular narrative that obviously would harm me and those around me, and obviously the least of which would harm my campaign for executive vice president,” he said of the post.
Eisdorfer said she received screenshots of the posts from Jewish friends who have worked with Forrest and posted them “because it seemed wrong that Brady’s history of anti-Semitism was not part of the election conversation.”
“It troubled me that a candidate for vice president running on a platform of inclusivity appears to care so little about making sure Jewish students feel included on campus,” she said in an email. “His decision to single out the Jewish Student Association out of all the other groups involved in the Faith and Environment Panel and Multicultural Winter Formal felt far removed from his platform.”
Jewish student leaders said the post was blatantly anti-Semitic and some called for Forrest to end his campaign.
Hillel Zand, the president of the Jewish Student Association, wrote in a Facebook post that both the JSA and GW Hillel “strongly condemn the anti-Semitic posts.”
“There is a clear difference between valid criticism of Israeli politics and placing collective responsibility on all Jewish people,” Zand wrote in the post. “Boycotting events because Jewish organizations are present is anti-Semitism.”
Junior Joe Vogel, a former SA senator, said he has worked with Forrest in the past and has long been concerned about his anti-Israel views. Vogel also led the effort last spring to oppose a proposed SA Senate resolution that encouraged the University to divest from companies that contributed to Palestinian oppression. Forrest supported the measure, which was narrowly defeated, along with 13 other senators.
Vogel said the post attached a Jewish identity with support for the state of Israel – as “the Jewish life on this campus extends far beyond just pro-Israel activity.” He called on Forrest to suspend his campaign and resign from the senate.
“There is a candidate for EVP of the SA that has shown to be anti-Semitic, that has made statements filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric, that has taken actions in the past that are fueled by hate and intolerance and that has no place in this University,” Vogel said.
Vogel was removed from the SA Senate earlier this year for missing committee meetings, a move he said at the time was motivated by his pro-Israel stance. Both Forrest and SA presidential candidate Imani Ross vocally supported his removal, which they insisted was only about Vogel not being present for meetings.
SA presidential candidates and Walthrust, also condemned Forrest’s 2014 comments in statements late Monday.
“As a person of color, as a person of faith, and as someone who has spent most of my last year in Israel in an academic setting, I strongly condemn calling to boycott multicultural events solely because of the organizations involved,” Ashley Le, a candidate for SA president, wrote on her campaign’s Facebook page shortly after the initial post was published.
Ross said in a statement that “while we may have strong political stances that may cause divisions, we cannot let those stances be tainted with anti-Semitism.”
“When we question the inclusion of the Jewish Students Association and GW Hillel in the Multicultural Formal, we deny Jewish students the right to feel safe in our community,” Ross wrote.
Walthrust said in a Facebook statement that boycotting multicultural events “does not help our community; showing up, listening and having a constructive dialogue does.”
“As a Haitian-American and a deeply religious person who has faced discrimination on campus, I empathize with those from the MSSC and the Jewish community that feel hurt, betrayed, and disappointed by recent events,” he wrote.