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Black Trans Rights Activist Cancels Speech at Brown Hillel after Anti-Israel Protests

Transgender rights activist and bestselling author Janet Mock has cancelled her scheduled speech at Brown University’s Hillel after coming under criticism from campus pro-Palestinian activists for appearing at the school’s Jewish student center.

Mock, an African-American trans woman, was scheduled to speak on Monday at Brown/RISD Hillel as part of a year-long series of lectures on LGBT rights organized by the Jewish student group Moral Voices.

But her decision to speak there was criticized by some students, who argued in a petition that it was inappropriate for her to appear at Hillel because the group “has consistently defended and even advocated for the Israeli state’s policies of occupation and racial apartheid.” The petition also accused Hillel of being complicit in “pinkwashing,” or promoting Israel’s positive record on LGBT rights to distract from its mistreatment of Palestinians. The petition clarified that they were not against Mock speaking on campus, so long as she did not do so at Hillel.

Moral Voices leaders criticized the drive for Mock to cancel, noting that the group takes no stance on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. They also questioned the broader implications of the cancellation campaign:

This petition does, however, make us ask: given that Hillel is the center for Jewish life on this campus — with a mandate to support the interests and meet the needs of a very diverse constituency of Jewish students on College Hill (ranging widely in their political, religious, and cultural inclinations) — does simply engaging in a Jewish space render one unfit to do justice work?

Nonetheless, Mock decided to cancel her appearance. Her representatives told Moral Voices organizers, who had been working to secure her appearance on campus for almost a year, that “the focus of Janet’s work was lost leading up to the proposed event, and her visit was received with controversy and resistance rather than open dialogue and discussion about the issues closest to Janet’s work in movements for trans liberation, racial justice and intersectional feminism.”

The idea that Hillel’s sponsorship of groups that support Israel makes it inappropriate for activists to speak there on unrelated topics was heavily criticized in a counter-petition released after the cancellation was announced. “The fact that Hillel is home to groups engaged in discussion on Israel and Palestine does not make it acceptable for students on campus to oppose Hillel events that are entirely unrelated to Israel,” it said. “Accusations that all events organized by Jewish groups, even those with no Israel-related stances or affiliations (such as Moral Voices), are part of some nefarious Israeli propaganda machine echo familiar tropes of anti-Semitism.” …

We hope that students at Brown University will refrain in the future from attacking Jewish students, or any others, based on their religious, ethnic, or national identities, and from leveling such blatantly false claims against Israel. Janet Mock, of course, is a brilliant and highly respected human rights activist, and we are very sorry that Brown’s campus will not be able to hear her story because of the hateful and irresponsible actions of a small portion of the student body. Janet Mock, we are sorry that the Brown student body is not above this.

(Full disclosure: The creator of the counter-petition is a former Tower Tomorrow Fellow).

This is the second time this year that Hillel programming unrelated to Israel was disrupted at Brown. Last month, a public discussion about “Jewish journeys” with Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas and Jewish Agency director Natan Sharansky was protested by Brown’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

[Photo: chensiyuan / Wikimedia]