Brandeis Center Calls on UMass Boston to Investigate SJP Over Harassment of Pro-Israel Reporter

Video footage of the incident shows several people surrounding Van Zile, calling him a “Nazi” and a “pig.” He was also shoved and spat on.
October 28, 2021
Screenshot from YouTube

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law is calling for the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Boston to investigate their Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter over the harassment of a pro-Israel reporter a few months earlier.

On June 24, Dexter Van Zile, a research fellow for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis), was covering a UMass SJP rally in front of the Anti-Defamation League’s regional office in Boston. One of the speakers at the rally pointed out that Van Zile was in the crowd taking notes and accused him of attempting “to smear and muckrake our righteous movement.” The speaker then urged the crowd to start chanting “Zionist Go Home!” at Van Zile, and they did. Video footage of the incident shows several people surrounding Van Zile, calling him a “Nazi” and a “pig.” He was also shoved and spat on; a handful of people urged the crowd to stop and not give him “ammunition.”



Van Zile told the Journal that someone also grabbed his pen and another person emptied their water bottle on him. “I knew frankly that it was game on at that point. I was terrified.” He also said that someone wearing a yellow vest repeatedly told him to move; when Van Zile eventually relented and agreed to move, the man in the yellow vest shoved him.

“It was a pretty traumatizing experience,” Van Zile said, as it was the first time he had ever been “singled out” and had his personal space invaded when covering an anti-Israel rally. He added that he used to read scripture from the pulpit at church from time-to-time (Van Zile is a Roman Catholic), but lately he has made himself “unavailable” because “I just don’t want to stand up in front of a large group of people.” “I will walk into Boston and wonder if any of the people who were at the rally who harassed me that day are around.”

But what particularly irks Van Zile is the thought of what it must be like for UMass Jewish students who support Israel to have to deal with those SJP protesters. “If that’s what they’re going to do to me in the broad daylight in the streets of the city while people are just walking past, what do people think they’re gonna do to a Jew on campus when they don’t think anyone’s looking?” Van Zile said. “And that’s the thing that I think the administrators in the UMass system need to take into consideration.”

Van Zile claimed that he filed a complaint to the university about the incident, and yet UMass hasn’t issued a public statement on the matter, nor have they discussed the incident with Van Zile. “That’s a profoundly troubling thing,” Van Zile said. “I [got] to go home and be with my family that evening. If I were a Jew on the campus of UMass Boston, I would have to share living space, classroom and cafeteria space and public space with the type of anti-Israel protesters that we saw in front of the ADL, and I think the administrators really need to think about that. What are they going to do?”

The Brandeis Center similarly wrote in an October 26 letter to UMass Boston, “If the University fails to act, its Jewish students are left to wonder what might happen to them if they were to go anywhere near a UMass Boston SJP rally, let alone dare to voice their objections to the anti-Semitic discourse of the organization’s speakers.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted that they echo the Brandeis Center’s letter and asked why UMass Boston “failed to deal with [the incident] immediately.”

CAMERA tweeted, “It’s outrageous that @UMassBoston has still taken no action after a student organization mobbed and assaulted @dextervanzile on the streets of Boston. The university administration must act.”

DeWayne Lehman, UMass Boston’s Director of Communications, said in a  statement to the Journal, “The university is aware of this event that occurred in downtown Boston during the summer. The university immediately investigated the incident within the process defined by the Code of Student Conduct at UMass Boston. This was a student disciplinary investigation, a process that is governed by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other student privacy regulations. For this reason, the university will not be providing any additional information concerning its investigation into this incident or the outcome of such investigation.” He added that Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco said in a statement to community in July “re-affirming our resolute opposition to anti-Semitic hate in any form and specifically sharing with the community the processes by which members of the community can file complaints about behavior and access resources.”

UMass Boston SJP did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

Van Zile also told the Journal that he filed a report with the Boston Police Department about the incident; a spokesperson from the department told the Journal that an investigation is ongoing and they cannot comment on open investigations.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) Boston said in a statement to the Journal, “As we said at the time of this event, JCRC condemns these protesters as disgusting and hateful. Everyone has the right to protest. They do not have the right to bully and intimidate those who come to observe them peacefully. We have and will continue to stand with the victim of this targeted hatred, and to support him in his pursuit of justice. We need those in power in our city and at the university to ensure that going forward, the streets of our city will be safe from the kind of hateful bullying that was experienced in June.”

This article has been updated.

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