Ohio University Student Senate President Megan Marzec made headlines last week when she responded to the university president’s ALS ice bucket challenge by pouring a bucket of blood-colored water over her head. Speaking in her official capacity as a student leader, she said the stunt was intended to send “a message of student concern of the genocide in Gaza and the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli state.” She urged viewers and the university “to divest and cut all ties with academic and other Israeli businesses and institutions.”
In response, four members of Ohio University’s pro-Israel student organization, Bobcats for Israel, staged a protest on Sept. 10 at a meeting of the university’s Student Senate. As the protesters sought to deliver their message, the majority of students present shouted them down with chants of “we will not be bullied” and “free exchange of ideas.” Ultimately, the police were called in and arrested the four protesters, who were taunted by onlookers as “fascists.” The protesters were charged by authorities with disruption of a lawful meeting, and then released.
Marzec did not anticipate the reaction to her posting. She said she received death threats and other abuse for her actions. The Student Senate tweeted an apology. There have been calls for Marzec to resign, including from Bobcats for Israel President Rebecca Sebo, who began her presentation at the Student Senate meeting by denouncing the threats against her opposing colleague.
What are we to make of these developments? In an open letter, Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, executive director of Hillel at Ohio University, called on Marzec to resign, “not because of your politics, but because of your lack of awareness, compassion and mostly, because of your lack of vision.”
According to Rabbi Leshaw, “leaders need vision. They need partners and they need counsel.” She accused Ms. Marzec of ignoring all of that, concluding that “you did this on your own.” We don’t know whether Ms. Marzec’s actions were, indeed, all on her own, or were part of a broader, orchestrated effort to delegitimize Israel.
In this space two weeks ago, we voiced support for community efforts to combat attempts on campus to isolate and stigmatize Israel. Ohio University appears to be the first test case. There, and on other campuses, it is up to Israel’s friends to make clear to the Megan Marzecs of the world that painting a black-and-white picture of Israel as the eternal oppressor and the Palestinians as the eternal victim is no truer to real life than pouring red-colored water over your head and calling it blood.