Marwa Sayed, a Leader in the Community
Marwa Sayed was the first Hijabi I ever met. I was a freshman in high school and she was a junior. A force to be reckoned with, she terrified me. She had strong convictions for equality and justice from which she did not back down. I served on student council with her at Boston University Academy (the high school we both attended) for two years, and during that time she led the charge to abolish the dress code and to establish gender neutral bathrooms. When she matriculated to Boston University and proceeded to run for student government, I wished that I attended BU so that I could vote for her. She is without a doubt one of the most progressive people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
So imagine my surprise when, this past October, she was accused of anti-Semitism. As members of the executive board (the student council at Boston University), she and Kim Barzola, the Vice President of Finance, were accused by the now defunct anonymous Facebook group, “Terriers Against Discrimination,” of practicing “systemic[sic] racism against BU’s Jewish population.” Marwa certainly never said anything to me, nor to the five other Jewish students in my year that would be classified as anti-Semitic. She never made me feel uncomfortable at student council meetings or otherwise, so I was more than a little confused when this happened.
To further explain, Sayed and Barzola were accused of scheduling meetings on Jewish holidays so that Jewish cabinet member couldn’t attend, and also of attempting to reduce senate seats for BU’s Hillel. Both of these allegations turned out to be false. For the record, they couldn’t be true because the executive board doesn’t even control these things! Furthermore, only one meeting was scheduled on a Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, and Sayed expressed discomfort about it. Despite the allegations being proven false, both Sayed and Barzola were impeached. The official reason given for their impeachment was that they failed to keep proper records. Anyone can see that this wasn’t the real reason, but rather a (very) thin veil covering the truth.
To quote an editorial from the The Daily Free Press on the matter, “anyone who believes that the impeachment and removal of Barzola and Sayed was based in [sic] an issue of clerical errors is deluded.” So if Marwa isn’t actually an anti-Semite, and the impeachment isn’t about clerical errors, then what is it about? The answer is simple: Zionism on campus. Daniel Schwartz, the BU senator who led the impeachment, was quoted by Sana Fahim, another student, as stating that Marwa Sayed and Kimberely Barzola should be impeached “because of their involvement in SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine]” and that “Kimberley Barzola's presence at the SJP die-in was threatening and offensive to Jewish members of Student government.” Barzola wasn’t present at the die-in, but regardless, her presence at a political protest is no reason to impeach her. Schwartz then proceeded to reference a Facebook post that Sayed wrote about Israel this past June. It’s clear that Marwa Sayed is pro-Palestine. I’ve seen Facebook posts she’s written about Israel, but none of them were rude or anti-Semitic. She didn’t use slurs or make references to Zionist conspiracy theory. In fact, the comment sections are full of polite discourse from both sides.
Sadly,the fact that Marwa Sayed does not hate Jews is of little relevance to people like Schwartz and those who were a part of the Facebook group, “Terriers Against Discrimination.” All that matters is the fact that she is pro-Palestine. Marwa is just one victim of the larger and growing trend on college campuses of discrimination having to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict, and it’s happening on both sides of the table. Just last year a similar incident happened at UCLA. A student running for Judicial Board was almost denied the position because some tried to argue that her being Jewish would lead to her having a pro-Israel bias. When students are unable to voice political opinions without being called a bigot, they stop expressing their views. Discourse is breaking down, and that’s dangerous.
The fact of the matter is that accusing someone of bigotry simply for being pro-Palestine or pro-Israel is unproductive and ineffective; it’s also just a weak argument. It’s not hard to find articles pointing to how quick Zionists are to accuse their opponents of anti-Semitism.It’s also not uncommon for Zionists to argue that because the other side disrupts their talks and attempts to silence them instead of addressing their points head-on, the other side has no strong points of their own. Both detract from what could be productive conversation about this conflict. Finally, when one calls any pro-Palestine view anti-Semitic, it discredits complaints about real anti-Semitism. We need to acknowledge that there is a fundamental difference between somebody who has political objections to Israel, and somebody who hates Jews. Because of this breakdown of civil discourse, college, one of the ideal places to have this discussion, has become a shouting match.
Thankfully, people are protesting at BU. A group of students with the hashtag #BUstudentsagainstsilence have called for the student government to “dissolve [the] senate immediately and create a task force to write a new constitution.” Students are standing up to insist that a few senators’ actions don’t represent the student body or their interests. We need more of that; we need people standing up and saying that this kind of discrimination isn’t right. More importantly, we need more people like Marwa, people who express and discuss their views on Israel in a civil manner, on both sides of the table.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Eigerman, Elisabeth. "Marwa Sayed, a Leader in the Community." 8 January 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 28, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/marwa-sayed-leader-in-community>.