USC’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Student Vice President Rose Ritch announced that she is resigning from her position on Aug. 5, saying that she was bullied for a being a supporter of Israel.
Ritch’s resignation letter, which she posted to Facebook, stated that various USC students have been pressuring and harassing her over the past few weeks because of her Zionist identity, not because of her queer identity.
“I have been told that my support for Israel has made me complicit in racism, and that, by association, I am racist,” she wrote. “Students launched an aggressive social media campaign to ‘impeach [my] Zionist a–.’ This is anti-Semitism, and cannot be tolerated at a University that proclaims to ‘nurture an environment of mutual respect and tolerance.’”
She added that her identity as a Jew and a Zionist are intertwined.
“Nearly 95% of American Jews support Israel as the Jewish state, inherently connected to our religious history and communal peoplehood,” Ritch wrote. “An attack on my Zionist identity is an attack on my Jewish identity. The suggestion that my support for a Jewish homeland would make me unfit for office or would justify my impeachment plays into the oldest stereotypes of Jews, including accusations of dual loyalty and holding all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.”
Ritch thanked the university for intervening against impeachment proceedings against her, but argued that the university needs to do more to protect Jewish students on campus. She proceeded to decry cancel culture on college campuses.
“Our campuses have shifted from authentic, in-person conversations to comments and retweets, and we ‘cancel’ anyone with whom we disagree on any issue,” she wrote. “There is a disturbing lack of nuance or willingness to grapple with the messy complexities of an issue, and there is no longer any room for change or growth. Students made presumptions about my Zionist identity and leapt to unfair conclusions. No one asked me to explain my passion for Israel. No one asked to learn together, to try to understand and build connections. Instead, the people with whom I have shared a campus with for years, the people whom I desperately want to serve, have tried to make me feel ashamed, invalidated, and dehumanized because of who I am.”
She added that her experience is not uncommon for Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses and that both the USG and the university have failed to create an inclusive space on campus.
“I deeply hope that this new chapter creates a space where all students feel included, safe, and valued,” Ritch concluded. “It will be a long road, but I am confident that you, the student body, will hold USG and its leaders accountable to the highest standards. Meaningful and productive change is just over the horizon.”
Jewish groups expressed support for Ritch.
“Shame on the @USC students who relentlessly harassed an elected student leader over her Jewish identity,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted.
Corrected headline: "USG Vice President Resigns Following Antisemitic Campaign to Purge Zionists from Campus Leadership."
— American Jewish Committee (@AJCGlobal) August 6, 2020
StandWithUs CEO and co-founder Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “It is absolutely outrageous that a Jewish student leader at USC felt compelled to resign from student government due to such anti-Semitic hostility. Zionism is a central component of Jewish identity for most Jewish students. Efforts to deny equal opportunities, such as serving in student government, based on a component of an individual’s identity are dangerous and unacceptable. We call on USC to take strong action to ensure Jewish students are offered the same protections and safety that all communities on campus deserve.”
Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper sent a letter to USC President Carol Folt on Aug. 6 urging her to publicly condemn the harassment that Ritch received on social media and make it clear that Zionist students are protected on campus.
“We are not claiming that all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic, that is absurd on its face,” Hier and Cooper wrote. “But denying the legitimacy of the lone Jewish state of Israel among nations in the world, is an attack on the legitimacy of the Jewish people, its faith and its historic homeland. Campaigners for Palestinian rights and a Palestinian state have every right to promote their views but not when it includes the demise of another people. USC must never allow any part of its institution to be a staging ground for anti-Semites and those who seek to end Israel.”
USC Hillel Executive Director Dave Cohn said in a statement to the Journal that USC Hillel has been working with Ritch over the past few months to get the university to address her concerns.
“It is shameful that Rose faced this situation and not reflective of the campus we aspire to be,” Cohn said. “We cannot, as a university community built upon values of acceptance, inclusion, and open dialogue, permit the targeting or harassment of students solely based on their identification as Zionist. We must closely and constantly guard the boundary between respectful disagreement and hostile anti-Semitic discrimination.
“We expect our university’s leadership to recognize and speak to this distinction and to openly name the anti-Semitism in our midst,” he added. “We remain eager partners in a sustained effort toward combatting hate in our community in all its forms.”
AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin also said in a statement to the Journal, “For a student who volunteers to take a leadership role in her school to be bullied and harassed for her pro-Israel views is reprehensible. And what’s even more reprehensible is, from what we have gathered, the university has said and done nothing about this abuse.”
She added: “The harassment and discrimination against students for their support of Israel must stop. Unfortunately university administrators cavalierly write it off as political and do not step in to protect students as they must. What happened to Rose is extreme, but Jewish and pro-Israel students are regularly left unprotected and vulnerable. We strongly recommend schools develop fair and consistent policies, protocols and procedures for handling such harassment.”
The university did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.
The USC Annenberg Media website reported in June that senior Abeer Tijani emailed USG requesting USG Student President Truman Fritz resign after anonymous posts on Instagram described alleged racist behavior. The website reported, “The accusations addressed Fritz’s alleged insensitive language while campaigning for his presidential election, specifically, his tendency to place students of color into one category. Fritz was also accused of seeming unconcerned with issues pertaining to Black students and of making students uncomfortable with ‘jokes and the use of certain names.’ ”
Tijani created a petition calling for Fritz’s impeachment. Fritz later apologized in a statement.
Tijani also accused Ritch of being silent on Fritz’s alleged racial remarks, stating this is reason for her to either be impeached or resign. She said in an Instagram post that although Ritch should not be impeached for supporting Israel, “it is important to acknowledge the dissatisfaction of Palestinian students and amplify their voices on campus — a ‘bigger issue that is greater than Rose and her personal affiliations,’ ” according to The Daily Trojan. Tijani also said that it would be anti-Semitic to blame Ritch for the Israeli government’s policies.
The Annenberg website also reported: “This is not the first backlash Fritz has received since his election. He and Ritch were found guilty of violating the Elections Code by the Elections Commission in February, as well as being forced to review and amend bylaws that increased Fritz and Ritch’s salary by eliminating stipends for assistant directions.”
Fritz resigned on July 7.
USG Senator Isabel Washington, a Black Israeli American, also resigned from her position on July 1 after she was accused of making insensitive statements toward Palestinians and other groups. She said in a statement at the time that she has “a complete understanding of the pain, hurt and anguish I have caused.”
UPDATE: Tijani said in an Aug. 6 statement posted to Instagram that she did not call for Ritch to be impeached or to resign over her Zionist views, but because she thought Ritch was silent on Fritz’s alleged racial remarks.
“What I did say – and what I now regret not thinking more carefully about before I said it – was that Rose was ‘outspoken on issues that alienate Palestinian Trojans, and has failed to provide a check on the responsibilities and actions of the President when a voice of reason has been crucially needed,’” Tijani wrote. “I should never have conflated the issues in such a way to suggest that Rose’s ‘support for Israel has made [her] complicit in racism, and that by association, [she is] racist,’ in her words.”
She added: “That was not my intention, and I want to offer my deepest apologies to Rose, and the greater Jewish community, for all the damage to her reputation, mental health, and well-being that resulted from my irresponsible wording.”