Many UW-Madison students were not enthusiastic for encampment, according to peers | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Many UW-Madison students were not enthusiastic for encampment, according to peers

After Oct. 7, Jewish students at University of Wisconsin-Madison found themselves acting as ambassadors for the Jewish people. 

Many times, their non-Jewish, not-involved friends on campus asked them to explain what was going on in Israel and Gaza. Jewish students gave their best answers, but in these kinds of conversations, they also learned something. The encampment on the school grounds, which lasted for about 12 days toward the end of the school year, may not have had some of its desired effect.  

The encampment was not a beloved gem of the campus, among typical students. 

When the Chronicle asked ten Jewish students with deep ties to Jewish community, and deep ties to the wider campus community, what their friends thought of the encampment, the word “annoying” kept coming up in separate interviews. The ten highly engaged Jewish students understand the pain and distress of the Middle East, no doubt, but the stories they relay say something about campus culture. 

“I think for the average student it was, I don’t want to say ‘annoying’ because that sounds like it’s not really the right word, but in a lot of ways, it was annoying,” said one Jewish student. 

“I think they’re all very annoyed,” said Jewish student Lindsay Dubin, who graduated in May and plans to work in Chicago. “I don’t think it has been helpful to the Palestinian cause at all. I think encampments have drawn so much attention away from the mass tragedy that is taking place in Israel and Gaza. And these students are a very small minority of the university. Yet they have been so loud and so disruptive.” 

Dubin continued: “Every single one of my non-Jewish friends except for two, found the encampment disturbing. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my non-Jewish friends about it. They think it’s very distracting and they think it’s very intimidating and threatening. Some of my non-Jewish friends have felt intimidated by it. (The encampment protesters) were policing a public space – Library Mall.” 

Jewish student Chloe Astrachan, noting the many signs and chants at the encampment, put it this way: “It disrupted every single student’s life on campus. It was in the heart of our campus, so whatever you believe about the conflict, you have to walk by hatred.” 

Astrachan, from New York City, graduated in May and will attend Vanderbilt University for a master’s degree in special education next year.  

Yet another student said the encampment, beside the Memorial Library, overtook a spot where students like to sit, get tan and relax. “So, I would say that some students are just annoyed by that,” the student said. 

At one point, over graduation weekend, a family wanted to take photos by the Abraham Lincoln statue on campus.  

Ezra Rosenthal

There was a problem. “There were (anti-Israel) protesters sitting at the bottom of the statue,” said Ezra Rosenthal. They would have been in the photo.  

Rosenthal has helped lead post-Oct. 7 gatherings of song, dance and prayer for his fellow Jewish undergraduates on campus. But when he was at the Abraham Lincoln statue, he was with a smaller group of Jewish students, counterprotesting with a sign that said, “no negotiations without Jewish representation.” 

Rosenthal recalled: “The brother helped his sister, who was graduating, get onto the statue. And then when she was up there, they tried to hold their signs up to block the picture.” 

“And I just asked as kindly as I could: ‘Can you please just put it down? This is one photo for the rest of her life’,” Rosenthal said. The protesters then yelled about universities in Gaza. Rosenthal asked again: “Can you please just allow her to take the one photo she wants right now? And then you can protest all you want.” Then, they yelled again, he said.  

The family took their photos as best they could. “They came over to us and hugged us all and said thank you,” Rosenthal said. 

Some students were perplexed 

Jewish students’ friends who were not personally invested in the controversy at times seemed perplexed. Jewish students described their friends’ reactions to the encampment and protests in a colloquial way – several times, the explanation went something like this: “They were like: What?” 

Rachel Dallet of Whitefish Bay played for the UW-Madison soccer team and answered questions from teammates. Dallet graduated in May and is making aliyah to play on an Israeli team, Hapoel Jerusalem F.C. “A lot of people asked me, ‘What is going on? Why are there camps?” she said.  

“It’s really interesting,” said Ari Rosenblatt, who said she kindly explained the conflict many times. “I’ve had a lot of different conversations with a lot of my friends who are not Jewish, who are not Palestinian, not Middle Eastern, and just kind of gauging their thoughts. And honestly, a lot of them just don’t even understand it.” 

Rosenblatt, from the San Francisco Bay Area, is entering her junior year pursuing communications and sociology with a certificate in Jewish studies. 

One student quoted a non-Jewish friend: “Like, I don’t get why they’re camping out. Don’t they have exams and stuff?” Another Jewish student said the typical student would say the whole thing seemed “ridiculous.” 

Another Jewish student had a non-Jewish friend who was supposed to do a group project with a student protester who asked to meet at the encampment on Library Mall. At first, she thought it was a joke. She asked to reschedule. 

Anti-Israel students 

Of course, this does not describe all students. There are those who accepted an anti-Israel narrative.  

“I just wish everyone would take the time to know the facts of both sides before jumping to conclusions,” said Demi Batten, who graduated in May.  

Chloe Astrachan, the student from New York City, theorizes the protesters were “extremely uneducated” on Israel and Gaza. “They didn’t even understand 90% of what they were screaming and saying. I don’t think they truly understand any of it and read one thing or saw one TikTok and then they think that they can just take to the streets and scream these things,” she said.  

Maya Stagman

“My personal belief is that many students are joining these pro-Palestinian groups because they are uninformed and ignorant of the current situation in the Middle East,” said Maya Stagman, an Israeli-American now entering her junior year. “They don’t understand that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that Israel is fighting terrorism. The irony is that some of these people who are supporting Hamas would be murdered by Hamas within 24 hours of being in their presence, simply because of their sexual orientation or religious affiliation.” 

The encampment protests included hate and apparent calls for violence, referring to Palestinian uprisings that infamously included acts of brutal terror. “Globalize the intifada was being screamed on a microphone,” said Dallet, who attended the Oconomowoc Jewish summer camp, OSRUI, growing up. “They are supporting Hamas by doing what they’re doing. And they don’t acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization,” she said. 

“These students seem to think they are being activists and are joining the ‘trend’ that is this encampment, but I think that they are simply looking for a place to fit in and think that this mob mentality gives them power and purpose. They are very misguided,” Dallet said. “They are supporting a terrorist organization that not only wants to destroy Israel, but also destroy America. This terrorist group does not support free speech or democracy. It is completely preposterous that anyone who values the rights we have in America would support this terrorist group.” 

Dubin, who left for her Birthright trip to Israel in mid-May, offered this analysis: “We are living in times of binary thought, whether or not in the classroom or outside of the classroom. It’s extremely uneducated in my opinion. It’s black versus white, oppressor versus oppressed, colonizer versus colonized. And I think that is a really uneducated way of viewing the world and thinking of people. I think it’s an extremely polarizing way of viewing the world. And it is not going to drive progress. It’s only going to take us backwards.” 

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