Hillel-sponsored event incites protest

Amanda Berman, founder of Zioness, spoke at the College. Protests and heightened dialogue followed.

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A crowd of students gathers in Seegers Union around Dean Williams and Dean Stephens. Photo by Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27.

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Muhlenberg College’s Hillel hosted Amanda Berman, founder and executive director of Zioness, for an event on Mar. 27. The mission of Berman’s organization, according to their website,  is to “Equip and inspire Jews and allies to fight for social justice in the US as proud Zionists.” Berman’s talk covered topics relating to whether or not anti-Zionism is inherently antisemitic, whether one could simultaneously be Zionist and pro-Palestinian and what the intersection of Zionism and feminism looks like. The talk was held to a packed crowd in Seegers 108-109 with a livestream playing to another audience that filled the GQ Annex. Tensions were high before the event started as students assembled alongside community members who came to campus prepared to protest.

The event was structured as a conversation moderated by two students who asked Berman questions, followed by an open Q&A. Berman expressed her support of a sovereign Jewish state, saying, “knowing that that’s my home (Israel), ultimately, knowing that that’s the only place in the world that I can be safe as a Jew, that to me is what it means to be a Zionist, and for the vast majority of American Jews.”

“Every border and every national entity that exists,” continued Berman, “the borders were drawn in blood, they were drawn with ethnic strife and war, nation states are not born peacefully, [and] have never been born peacefully. Zionism as a political movement, again, is about a nation state.” 

One of the panel’s moderators asked Berman to share her experience with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) on other college campuses supporting Jewish life during periods of tension. “There is a misunderstanding that because people see my skin color, which obviously is white,” responded Berman, “they assume that I am an oppressor because people make assumptions about Jews based on their relative success. And for sure, there is relative success of Jews in America in 2024. They assume that Jews do not and could not – because we are perceived as white – experience persecution or oppression.” 

The crowd in Seegers 108-109 was not fully in support of Berman’s views – a large number of audience members were holding signs expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments and wearing the keffiyeh.

“Myself and the other organizers came together as students representing a broad mix of identities and backgrounds,” said an organizer of the protest who chose to remain anonymous. “We are unaffiliated with any particular club or organization, but we share one common goal—justice, liberation, safety, and dignity for the Palestinian people. Though we attempted to have this event canceled by putting pressure on the administration, we knew that it would likely go on. So, we figured, if they have the freedom to host an event like this, then we also have a right to dissent! We organized very quickly and spread the word by mouth and on social media. We tried to adhere to the strict guidelines of the Right to Dissent policy, while also fully recognizing how ridiculous it is to have a protest operate within a set of rules in the first place.”

During the Q&A section of the event, many audience members expressed their objection to Berman’s views through their questions. “Jewish values are what motivated me as an anti-Zionist Jew to face against the colonial and racist ideology of Zionism,” said an audience member to Berman. “I want to ask you about what you think about the antisemitic aspects of Zionism, the role that Zionism plays in isolating and alienating Jews.”

 The Q&A portion morphed into a debate-like forum and the event abruptly ended. 

“This was pretty extreme,” said Berman to the Weekly following the talk, noting that she had been protested before, “I think most of the people who brought me here were not actually able to be in the room. So, I feel sorry for them about that. But yes, there have been protests before. And I really think this was pretty constructive engagement.” 

Dean Williams informed the Weekly that an incident occurred as audience members were filing out of the room where the event was held. “There was a back-and-forth altercation,” she explained, “I did not know at the time who it was between or what was done, but it has been followed up on by Campus Safety.” As Williams was working to disperse the crowd, a group of students approached both Williams and Associate Dean of Students Courtney Stephens to express both their disgust and concern with how the College has been handling the tensions on campus. As Williams and Stephens began a dialogue with the concerned students, the crowd grew and took over much of the Fireside Lounge in the front of Seegers.

Many of the individuals engaging in this exchange were people of color who expressed to the deans the experiences they have had with mistreatment and racism while at Muhlenberg.

“I think there was a lot of emotional buildup that has happened from the media, from the news, from their family members from all these spaces, that kind of collided in that moment. And it creates kind of a powder keg, if you will, of that feeling,” said Williams. 

Additional Reporting by Sarah Wedeking ‘24

Katie is a Media & Communication and Political Science double major in the class of 2024. When she's not working on the paper you can find her blasting Taylor Swift, reading Jane Austen, or crying over Little Women (2019).

6 COMMENTS

  1. If by incident, you mean Jewish students being spat on… this is absolutely unconscionable. What happen to civil discourse in the U.S.? And don’t say this has anything to do with Israel because no one is spitting on Russian Americans, or vandalizing Russian owned business even if they don’t side with Russia in the Russia/Ukraine war. Also, no one is demanding that Russians decry their country or protest against it. Bottom line, anti-Zionism is an excused for open anti-semitism.

    • What Jewish students were spat on, because what I did see were old Zionists taking pictures of students and actually threatening a community member. That’s harassment. As for Russians and Ukrainians, what does that have to do with our school?? I don’t want MY TUITION funding this crap or any genocidal states.

  2. Notice the bias of the headline, “Hillel-sponsored event incites protest.” That headline should have been “Protest disrupts Hillel-sponsored event.”

  3. […] During her visit protests took place with the goal of trying to shut the event down completely, but they didn’t succeed. Amanda not only had her discussion as planned, but she was able to spend extra time with the organizers of Hillel to show her gratitude and give them the time an attention they deserved. Read here for coverage of what took place. […]

  4. The education system has been a massive failure. Clearly these protestors are not at Muhlenberg to learn, they are only looking to strengthen their strict viewpoints.

  5. These children are so entitled and manipulative!!!
    “Many of the individuals engaging in this exchange were people of color who expressed to the deans the experiences they have had with mistreatment and racism while at Muhlenberg.”

    This is so incredibly antisemitic for them to be linking their negative experiences at Muhlenberg to the “evil” Jews>

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