The Student Activists Connecting Israel to Campus Rape
No Red Tape launched as an anti-sexual assault activist group at Columbia University in January 2014, dedicated in the “fight to end sexual and domestic violence on college campuses and empower survivors,” according to its Facebook page.
But the group has alienated several members by aligning itself with Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, a staunchly anti-Israel group.
Julia Crain, a sophomore at Barnard, Columbia’s sister school, and a former member of No Red Tape, condemned the group for taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move that has “effectively politicized anti-sexual violence work on this campus,” she wrote in The Columbia Spectator.
Crain’s op-ed comes a day after No Red Tape officially asked Barnard’s Student Government Association to back their latest initiative for greater support of rape victims on campus.
Crain, who used to be a “core organizer” of No Red Tape, urged Barnard’s Student Government Association to deny the group’s “politicized bid for support” and draft its own proposals for sexual-assault policy change on campuses.
“SGA should not condone No Red Tape’s harmful conflation of two disparate issues,” she wrote.
According to Crain, No Red Tape has united with Students for Justice in Palestine as victims of oppression in Western, patriarchal society. (No Red Tape did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Beast.)
But to associate victims of sexual assault with Palestinians, an oppressed ally, is to dangerously oversimplify a highly divisive geopolitical conflict.
Crain called out NRT for condoning anti-Zionism on social media. Indeed, the group has promoted one pro-Palestine link on both its Twitter and Facebook pages over the past year. The single post links to a report by Palestine Legal, a nonprofit advocacy organization supporting Palestine, which found that Israel advocacy groups in seven states succeeded in sanctioning organizations at universities that “voted to support academic boycotts of Israel." Part of the report includes a list of attempts to censor pro-Palestinian figures or events at Columbia and Barnard.
Intersectionality has become a huge priority for feminist and sexual assault advocacy groups like No Red Tape.
They strive to promote inclusivity by giving equal support and attention to minority victims of sexual assault who, they argue, might not otherwise be heard.
But by aligning themselves with Students for Justice in Palestine, No Red Tape has conflated geopolitics with sexual-assault activism—and distanced victims with pro-Israel views in the process.
“I am sympathetic to intersectionality from an intellectual perspective, but this particular application of intersectionality ends up hurting sexual assault survivors at Barnard and Columbia,” Rikki Novetsky, who graduated Barnard last spring, told The Daily Beast.
Novetsky first spoke out about No Red Tape’s unofficial alliance with Students for Justice in Palestine last year, after the “Carrying the Weight Together” rally in support of Emma Sulkowicz, a high-profile alleged rape victim and co-founder of No Red Tape, and all women who shoulder the emotional and physical burden of sexual assault.
In an essay for The Current, a political and cultural magazine that addresses Jewish affairs at Columbia, Novetsky argued that a pro-Palestine speech by an SJP member, allegedly backed by No Red Tape, wasn’t appropriate at a sexual-assault rally.
An SJP member has a right to voice his opinions wherever and whenever he wants. But No Red Tape has lost the plot. In trying to be inclusive of other oppressed groups, they’ve alienated victims that their group is dedicated to advocating for.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a binary issue,” Novetsky said. “It’s way more complicated than that. And people who are Jewish survivors are not outwardly preaching Zionism on campus or at these rallies.”
The implication is that to be anti-sexual assault at Columbia, one must also be anti-Israel. Conflating those issues under a larger umbrella of oppression waters them both down individually.
Columbia isn’t alone in linking the two issues. This fall, the University of Richmond invited Dr. Simona Sharoni, a visiting professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, to give a lecture on “Feminist perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Campus Sexual Assault Crisis,” drawing from her advocacy efforts on the two issues to examine the “systemic nature and root-causes of violence in both settings.”
Columbia’s No Red Tape members would do well to reexamine their own beliefs about intersectionality. Not all people are oppressed equally—and the rhetoric of oppression as it applies to the Israeli-Palestine conflict has no place in sexual assault advocacy.
Editor's note: A previous draft of this story incorrectly stated that Columbia and Barnard "voted to support academic boycotts of Israel." This has now been corrected.