Monday, December 24, 2007
David Reznik Speaks!
TheRadiKaL:Who are you, where are you from, and what areas of study did you pursue while at the University of Florida?
David Reznik: I am the older son of Russian Jewish immigrants. My parents became wealthy in the ‘90s with a high-technology company they founded; nowadays, having closed that company down, they live a semi-retired life in Aventura (north of Miami). Although we moved across different parts of the U.S. when I was very young, I essentially grew up in Newport Beach, CA, a place well documented on the MTV show "Laguna Beach": vapid, "pretty," and overwhelmingly old-money WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant). I hated it there, especially since I was physically picked-on a lot by bigger kids (I was at least a year younger than most kids since I skipped second grade) and despite my father’s singular concern with my academic “achievement,” I was desperate to fit-in with the “cool crowd.” My attempts at assimilation were never successful, however, since my parents were new money immigrants and I was nothing more than "Doogie Howser" and/or “Urkel” to most of the “popular” kids. So, when I graduated high school, I went to UCLA and swore I would never look back (a promise I have kept). Following my undergrad years, I lived all around the greater San Francisco Bay area, working first as a marketing professional and ultimately becoming a middle-school special education teacher after realizing that the for-profit world was so alienating that it was bringing me to the brink of suicide. During my time as a teacher, I became increasingly interested in political issues (local, national, and international) and decided to try my luck in grad school studying sociology. I completed the Master’s program at the University of Miami and at the behest of my advisor there, enrolled in the sociology PhD program here at UF. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that my academic experience at UF has been anything but fulfilling, although I have to admit that I have learned a lot of life lessons from being here. In fact, all the ugliness that I have seen over the past couple of years as a PhD student has taught me that academia is not the place for me. As of now, then, my plans are to find a job teaching social studies at a high school somewhere in Florida next fall…
TheRadiKaL: Please tell us about Nakba '48 & Students for Human Society. Could you kindly debunk some of the more common and with that, most baseless rumors you've heard about them?
David Reznik: I joined Nakba ’48 in the fall of 2005; it was a pre-existing student organization on campus. I was eager to do a lot with the group because a) my girlfriend at the time was Palestinian and so the issue hit very close to home for me, and b) the individuals in the organization seemed very active, committed, and organized. Indeed, that academic year we tabled multiple times a week and our on-campus presence was quite strong (prompting a lot of backlash from Hillel, which I will discuss more in my answer to the next question). We mass-published two issues of a free journal that I edited called “Human Liberation,” one of our members developed a wonderful website, and we put on several well-orchestrated events on-campus. Most importantly, however, we bonded as a group of people. However, when some of the members began to slowly distance themselves from the group for personal reasons (mostly due to academic priorities, general burnout, etc.) there was some tension that started to arise and a group of us formed a splinter organization called Students for a Human Society (SHS). SHS was really an attempt to branch out and be active about issues beyond (but not exclusive of) the Palestinian cause including anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-capitalist campaigns. We were also hoping to get as “local” as possible with our activism, often working with the CLAS Unite movement to take back UF from the authoritarian demagogues in the administration as well as engaging in community service with homeless persons in Gainesville. The best (but most difficult) parts about SHS were our weekly meetings in which we tried to get more personal with one another; unfortunately, I was often resistant to that because of the fear of vulnerability, etc. So, as members graduated and/or moved on to other pursuits in their lives, both groups have basically died out although I can say that the bonds and friendships remain.
As for the rumors about the groups, I think that the "About" pages on each group’s website (www.nakba48.org and www.studentsforahumansociety.org) are accurate, comprehensive, and unambiguous in articulating exactly what we’re all about. But for expediency’s sake, we are not terrorists or anti-Semites or Satan worshippers or anything else that people might say about us. We’re just trying to call attention to what we believe are important issues in the world today that are under-represented on-campus and in the mass media.
TheRadiKaL: In a Radikal comment you stated: "the very real threat of physical intimidation and other forms of harassment for those who oppose Hillel, the Center for Jewish Studies, and the other Zionist organizations on-campus will silence any possible dissent." Can you expound on that for us? You see, there are folks out there refuse to believe that Zionism even exists.
David Reznik: I can’t chronicle everything, but here’s a few examples: when tabling for Nakba, our table has been spit at/on repeatedly and we are constantly being photographed by random guys; our protests (sometimes as small as two people) are always monitored by police who have been called by Hillel or its followers; I have personally had an interview I was doing with the local WCJB TV-20 News be shouted down, I have been followed, and I have had hateful comments made about me and my family by rabid Zionist students; and I witnessed a female colleague in Nakba being physically confronted by the head rabbi at Hillel and a gang of his understudies who began to thrust their flyers into her face. Oh yes, and of course, there was the lovely "Fuck Palestine, Love Osama" message chalked onto one of the tables in Turlington Plaza one of the days we were scheduled to table. And lest I forget, my profile on RateMyProfessors.com has featured students who have obviously never actually taken my class posting comments about how I am anti-Semitic and spend the semester indoctrinating them that "Israel is evil." So I would say this is a relatively well-organized and systematic campaign of harassment by the Zionist presence on-campus to intimidate those of us who are willing to actually stand up and denounce the state of Israel’s assault on the human rights of non-Jewish Palestinians.
By the way, the reason I target Hillel is that although they claim to be "the foundation for Jewish campus life," they are really "the foundation for Zionist Jewish campus life." A little research into their history and current campaigns reveals this quite clearly, as they pour inordinate money and resources into portraying anti-Zionist political campaigns as anti-Semitic, while the real anti-Semitism of college life (which includes the WASP Greek system and WASP standards of physical beauty) remain totally ignored. They also sponsor "birthright" trips to the state of Israel (supposedly as ways of “cultivating Jewish identity,”) which really amount to Zionism indoctrination summer camps. Any fundamental criticism of the state of Israel is not tolerated by the national organization, which has fired high-ranking administrative officials in the past for any such "treasonous" behavior.
TheRadiKaL: Can someone be Jewish, Muslim, or Christian and be anti-Zionist? Do you see any truth in that Zionism (like Pan Arabism or U.S. 'Patriotism') are in themsevles secular & political though non-religious?
David Reznik: I can only speak to Zionism and U.S. "patriotism" because I am Jewish and a U.S. citizen (and therefore implicated in both whether I like it or not). To me, both of these ideologies originate from, and ultimately serve the interests of, the leadership in each community who construct a false sense of social unity based on imaginary differences. When rich WASP men talk about "America," I always wonder what it would feel like to be an African-American or Native American since the "America" they invoke was constructed through the enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of the indigenous peoples. Recognizing this hypocrisy, those in power here like to delineate "American" identity by setting it apart from the non-American "Others": Communists, Muslims, undocumented persons from Latin America, etc. In this way, everyone who’s a U.S. citizen (including racial/ethnic minorities, women, etc.) begins to believe that they are somehow “American,” even if "apple pie" and “Chevy trucks” are just as foreign to them as to the supposed non-American "Others." My parents are a good example of this: people who sadly bought into an "American" identity only to find decades later that they have never, and will never, really feel like they are actually "Americans."
It’s the same with Zionism: the white European Jewish leadership has constructed an identity that misleads the global public into believing that non-Jewish Palestinians are the enemy of Jews and that the governments of the U.S./Western European nations (including Germany) are Jews’ best friends. Never mind that the latter have for centuries engaged in holocausts of varying magnitudes against Jews, while the former are actually ethnically Semitic. It’s very convenient for Christian and secular “Americans” to buy into Zionism too, since they believe that it is in the U.S.’s “strategic interest” to have a mercenary military base in the Middle East that keeps an eye on all that oil.
Zionism and U.S. patriotism are therefore nothing more than a sham marriage of convenience, really. “Americans” (who have a long history of anti-Semitism) can feel good about supposedly being Jews’ best friends by supporting the state of Israel, and Israelis can feel a false sense of security in siding with the big, bad international bully at the expense of their sisters and brothers (i.e. the non-Jewish Palestinians).
TheRadiKaL: Last March UF's Arab, Muslim, and progressive communities erupted in universal clamor against what many called an Islamophobist ad. To the best of your recollection, tell us about that ad-campaign, what implications it sent, and how SG and the UF administration handled it. Do you recall if Bill McCollum rushed to the aid of the Arab & Muslim communities like he recently did for the Zionists?
David Reznik: I think your readers are probably pretty well-versed in the political play-by-play of this fiasco due to your efforts. Therefore, I won’t get too much into detail about it; however, I will discuss a particularly sad issue related to the incident that probably not too many people know about. I was subpoenaed by the SG Rules and Ethics Committee to testify about whether or not the advertisement was discriminatory against Arab and/or Muslim students on-campus. The entire line of defense offered by the leaders of the Hillel network of groups who put together and paid for the advertisement was that there was no “intent” to discriminate. In other words, they were trying to convince the committee that this was an “equal opportunity” attack on “terrorists” of all races and ethnicities. During my turn testifying, I explained that such an attempt to make the ad seem innocuous would be equivalent to the makers of an ad against “illegal immigrants” claiming that they were not targeting persons from Latin America or the makers of an ad against “welfare queens” claiming that they were not targeting impovershed African-American women. I mean, come on, were the committee members really so naïve that they were going to buy that, in a hysterically Islamophobic post-9/11 America, the use of the word “terror” and “terrorist” in the ad was somehow not meant to target to Arabs and/or Muslims? Well, as the committee’s ruling that the ad was not discriminatory demonstrates, I guess they really were that naïve (or more probably, felt pressured to vote as though they were that naïve since more than half of them were signatories of the ad themselves).
TheRadiKaL: What did you make of UF Supreme Court Justice Matthew Klein's bigoted email and half-apology? I say 'half' since he never apologized to Nakba or ACA.
David Reznik: I was obviously appalled by the sheer hatred emanating from his email, but not surprised. My previous experiences dealing with Matthew indicated that he is a very angry person; I believe he thrives on being a lightning rod for negative attention because of various troubles he has experienced/is experiencing in his personal life. At several points in time, my partner Kristen and I (who comprise the official student executive board of Nakba at this point in time) considered filing "defamation of character" charges against him for the libelous insinuations in his email and the slanderous accusations in his interviews with the press that Nakba was behind the "terrorist" acts of ripping down his group’s posters. However, we have chosen not to because we reasoned that someone who is so obviously acting out deserves some compassion, forgiveness, and love in return, not the negative reinforcement and backlash he expects to receive (and has probably tried to thrive on to this point). Along those same lines, I also have chosen not to highlight his (and the rest of his hate-mongering coalition’s) bigotry by doing a mock advertisement campaign for an event I would call “Miserly Judaism Wants Your Money!” complete with an email blast about how this is an event that “the money-grubbing Jewish leadership on-campus doesn’t want you to see” and how “their leadership” has been tearing down the flyers in an effort to “get at your every last penny.” Of course, I could always defend the event and its promotion by arguing that any Jews who were offended by the campaign are obviously “money-grubbing, miserly Jews” themselves, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken offense to it, right? And I could always include a little “disclaimer” like Matthew and the other “Obsession” organizers that the campaign would not be targeting Judaism as a religion or as a people, but only the small group of “misers” who are using Judaism to justify their “attacks” on people’s “bank accounts.” Ultimately, however, I don’t think such a mock campaign would be effective, since I don’t believe in fighting hate with more hate, even if my hate is satirical…
TheRadiKaL: Please tell us what reactions you had to the screening of "Obsession..," the movie posters, and the general tone it set at the university?
David Reznik: I have a very similar feeling about all the groups that organized the film as I do of Matthew Klein. In other words, I feel that most of these men (and I stress men, because the leadership of all of these groups are almost exclusively angry, frustrated men) are actively seeking to bully minority groups they have the institutional power to pick-on. I know this because I used to be a staunch Republican and Zionist just like them, and I remember that my favorite thing to do was be as loud and hateful as possible so that everyone would look at ME! SEE ME, HEAR ME, LOOK AT ME! At the time, most of this desperation was tied to my hatred of my manipulative and over-controlling father who was attempting to mold me into someone I was not: a womanizing businessman who placed the value of money above all else. Regarding the leaders of the College Republicans, Jewish Law Students Association, etc. I’m not quite sure what is going on in each of their lives, but I would imagine it’s something similar at the core with the idiosyncratic particularities of their personal biographies making each slightly different. Unfortunately, however, their collective acting out is not a benign process, and UF’s campus has become frighteningly similar to the small Italian town in Roberto Benigni’s movie “Life Is Beautiful” where fascist anti-Semitism is etched in chalk on the walls, shop windows, and ultimately people’s minds. What I mean is that the flyers, film screenings, and overall bullying in the press and through the administration creates a climate for Arab and/or Muslim students that is beyond hostile and unwelcoming; I wouldn’t be able to describe it accurately because I’ve never experienced such an all-encompassing and pervasive atmosphere of hate.
TheRadiKaL: What did you think of the 'meeting' between Justice Klein, Patricia Telles-Irvin, and IOC? Did you find it troubling when state officials & the U.S. right wing successfully pressured the Machen administration to rescind the PTI Ruling?
David Reznik: Although I did not attend the meeting (and curiously neither Kristen nor I were ever invited despite being accused of “terrorism” and being the subjects apparently of a UPD investigation into our group’s supposed flyer defacement/robbery), I must say that I found Dr. Patricia Telles-Irvin’s email to be relatively good coming from such an Islamophobic administration. I have actually written to President Machen and Co. before on issues relating to Islamophobia on-campus to no avail. However, it appeared to me that the leadership of IOC had succeeded in at least getting Dr. Telles-Irvin to “do the right thing.” Now the backlash that ensued was absolutely horrific. I’ve never seen such wanton racism as that which has taken place over the past few weeks: letters to the editor decrying “Islams” and “Islamics” (those are not even real words for crying out loud), people accusing those of us who were appalled by the flyers of being "radical terrorists" and/or their sympathizers, even the frickin’ State Attorney General’s office (who obviously have absolutely nothing better to do right now) getting involved. What a farcical, scary, and tragic display of ignorance and hate. If I was Arab and/or Muslim, I would be totally mortified by the sheer magnitude of institutionalized Islamophobia that has now been brought into plain view. But to me, the absolutely most despicable part was seeing President Machen quoted in the Gainesville Sun as saying that all was well with Attorney General McCollum despite the latter’s threats to actually sue the university for supposedly infringing on the free (hate) speech of the "Obsession" organizers:
"'It was fun," Machen said of his conversation with McCollum.'He's a Gator. He's coming to the Capital One Bowl, and we both care about free speech.'" (Gainesville Sun, December 14)
"He’s a Gator?" That’s supposed to comfort Arab and/or Muslim students? What about Dr. Telles-Irvin, whose judgment and morality have so obviously been belittled (I would imagine not for the first time) by arrogant male higher-ups who think they can “handle the situation better”? And finally, I wonder why Dr. Telles-Irvin’s free speech was not defended? According to the event organizers’ libertarian view of free speech, doesn’t she have the right to say whatever she wants, including ask for an apology from the "Obsession" organizers? It becomes painfully clear at this point what constitutes "freedom of speech" here at UF: the speech of white men is protected, while women and racial/ethnic minorities must hold their tongue…
TheRadiKaL: If you were to organize a real Arab-Israeli Peace negotiation, would you include Hamas? Should the State of Israel amend the Oslo Letters and recongize the will of the Palestinian electorate? Why or why not?
David Reznik: Being somewhat of a communist and anarchist (I think the two go together), the first thing I would do if I were organizing “peace” negotiations, would be to forget all the “leadership” and instead bring together the most downtrodden and forgotten persons from “both sides” (for example, trafficked sex slaves from Tel Aviv and the poorest widowed women from Gaza). I believe that people are beautiful and when they are not led astray by the power-plays of political parties and other such alienating institutional forces, they actualize peace through recognition of their common suffering. An example here is that there are non-Jewish Palestinian villagers who, on a daily basis, lead marches alongside Jewish Israeli anarchists against the continued construction of an apartheid wall in the West Bank, cutting fences down and breaking through other such vulgar inhumanities that the Israeli government attempts to impose in the name of Zionism. I find such actions to be the REAL "peace process," as opposed to all the high-falootin’ meetings and other b.s. we hear about through the mass media.
However, I have been called naïve for believing in such an “idealistic” pathway to “peace.” So, if you are asking me to shed my utopian visions (which would require me to be drugged and/or undergo memory erasure procedures), yes, I would include Hamas and all other elected Palestinian officials to any peace negotiations, because I try not to tell other people what they can or cannot do (including who they can/cannot elect as a representative government).
TheRadiKaL: What are your views on the State of Israel claiming Jerusalem as it's legal capital? Can there be peace without Holy City?
David Reznik: I do not believe in the institutional legitimacy of the state of Israel, so whatever city it claims as its “legal capital” does not really concern me a great deal. However, if it were up to me, the entire world would have one global state called Humanity and if enough people (including Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc.) wanted Jerusalem as its capital, then so be it…
TheRadiKaL: Word association time (5 words or less please):
Gators For Israel: Misguided and desperate for identity
Neturei Karta: Really nice people
Rob Heck: A truly wonderful friend
Islam On Campus: A great student organization
Matthew Klein: Needs more love
Bill McCollum: See Matthew Klein
Radical Islam: FOX News Islamophobia-speak
Zionism: We (Jews) have lost our way
Bush Administration: Cheating, lying bullies
Hamas' Electoral Victory: Elections mean nothing
Hamas/Fatah Clashes in Gaza: Really sad, but not unexpected
One State Solution: The only solution
Capitalism: Stop buying things for Christmas!
Iran: Leave them alone
Syria: See Iran
Peace: Love is the answer
TheRadiKaL: Do you have a website or email where people can get in touch with you?
David Reznik: My website is www.clas.ufl.edu/users/dreznik and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org