The thought of an accused anti-Semite being in charge of an entire branch of student government at George Washington University was too much for Olive Eisdorfer.
Eisdorfer, a senior, was trying to decide who to vote for in the university’s student elections on March 26. Then she saw a 2014 Facebook post from graduate student Brady Forrest, a candidate in the election.
“Zionism is a form of hyper nationalism that has shown itself to be the creation of an ethnotheocratic apartheid state that has systematically targeted and attacked Palestinians for decades,” Forrest had written in the post.
Shocked, Eisdorfer, 21, shared the post in a campus Facebook group and it went viral, causing a backlash from Jewish students across the GW community. Their concern was that Forrest, who was running for executive vice president, was anti-Semitic and could marginalize Jewish voices by overseeing the student senate — the campus’s main legislative body — in that leadership role. The students promptly took to Facebook with their outrage and created a petition, calling on him to withdraw.
Forrest ultimately lost the election on March 28. The student government advocates for students with the school administration. It also controls $1.7 million, which it allocates to student groups.
Although Forrest has not responded to interview requests from Washington Jewish Week, in his original post he defended his stance as having nothing to do with religion. He was merely boycotting the university’s 2014 Multicultural Winter Formal due to the involvement of GW Hillel and the Jewish Student Association, organizations he was against because of their support of Israel, he wrote.
It was too much for Eisdorfer and the other students she organized to oppose Forrest’s candidacy.
“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,” Eisdorfer wrote on Facebook.
On March 27, the editorial board of the GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, rescinded an endorsement of Forrest it had made earlier in March. In an editorial, the board wrote that it was not aware of the comments when they originally made their endorsement.
“The post alienated an entire group of students on campus by conflating all people of a religion, political view and nationality as being ‘racist,’” the editorial stated. “It is deeply concerning that someone who was supposed to be a voice and representative for all students is on the record sharing their disgust of a group and several student organizations.”
The day of the election, 68 student leaders signed a petition requesting Forrest to drop out of the race and resign his current position as President Pro Temp of the Senate. Among the signers was junior Jacob Zionts, a member of GW’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. Zionts, 21, said the main concern in Forrest’s comments was the mention of Hillel and JSA, which crossed the line from legitimately criticizing Israel to a blanket tarring and feathering of all Jews. JVP is typically known for taking controversial stances on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
“When Jewish students were attending a multicultural dance as members of JSA or Hillel, they were doing so not explicitly as a pro-occupation stance,” he said. “They were just doing so as Jewish students who were members of these organizations.”
Zionts said he regrets that Forrest’s comments were not more constructive because it diminishes the credibility of Jewish Voice for Peace and other organizations that share similar views on Israel.
Forrest had been a member of the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, but was banned three years ago, according to a statement on the group’s Facebook page, because he “acted in conflict with the values” of the group.
“As a movement to further human dignity, we cannot claim to uphold our mission if we do not condemn this anti-Semitic act,” the post stated.
Another of the petition’s signers, junior Joe Vogel, has had a history with Forrest. Vogel, 21, was impeached and removed by more than two-thirds of the student senate in January, for which he blames Forrest.
Vogel had missed four consecutive committee meetings during the fall semester due to his involvement with then-Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) gubernatorial campaign. He apologized for missing the meetings, but was then suspended from the senate and not reinstated.
Vogel said that Forrest, along with student senators Imani Ross and Devan Cole, were the leaders behind the effort to impeach him due to his outspoken support for Israel and involvement in several Jewish organizations on campus. The three senators, according to The GW Hatchet, had also voted for a pro-divestment resolution in April 2017, which failed by one vote.
Vogel said he was not surprised to learn of Forrest’s 2014 comments.
“I think many of us knew Brady’s intentions all along. People just hadn’t really noticed,” he said. “He had intentions that were harmful to the Jewish community, and he promoted that under the lens of BDS.”
Vogel isn’t the only Jewish student who’s had a run-in with Forrest. Jocelyn Jacoby, 22, who graduated from GW last year, said in 2014, as a member of the group GW Students Against Sexual Assault, she had emailed Forrest about possibly helping to co-sponsor a campaign against sexual violence on campus.
Forrest declined, she said, because JSA was a co-sponsor of the campaign and supported Israel.
“We [Students Against Sexual Assault] were like, ‘that’s [Israeli-Palestinian conflict] not our issue,’ she said. “And it felt very inappropriate to be asking us to take a stand on that.”
Does Forrest deserve a second chance?
The answer varies. Zionts referenced District of Columbia Councilmember Trayon White Sr.’s recent apologies for comments he made last month that blamed snow on the Rothschilds — a Jewish banking family that has been the target of many conspiracy theories. Zionts said that if Forrest were to give a similar apology and commit to educating himself about Judaism and Israel, he could forgive Forrest.
Vogel said he hoped Forrest would apologize but didn’t expect him to.
“I think that for too long we have dealt with him on this campus, we have seen his true intentions, we have seen the way he has harmed the Jewish community at this university and that kind of behavior is completely unacceptable.”