Calgary student resigns Hillel post over Israel views

Jake Birrell

University of Calgary student Kate Jacobson, who was voted in as Calgary Hillel’s incoming Israel chair in April, resigned from her post last week following a backlash from Hillel members who opposed comments she made online that were critical of Israel.

One comment, posted on a Facebook thread last January, said, “The Israeli government has massacred children, and if we’re not willing to change – to give democratic and human rights to all peoples living in the area of Israel-Palestine, then I think we should question whether that’s a state we want the word ‘Jewish’ attached to.”

Another was posted later that month on the Calgary United With Israel (CUWI) website after the group criticized the University of Calgary’s independent student newspaper, the Gauntlet, for running a piece that advocated violence against Israelis.

In her defence of the newspaper, for which she is a contributor, Jacobson wrote, “I’m a Labour Zionist and a state that has murdered Palestinian children (and they have, children have died) is not a state I necessarily want the name of my people attached to.”

When Jake Birrell, a 20-year-old sociology student at Mount Royal University and a Hillel member, learned about Jacobson’s comments, he circulated an email to the media and the Jewish community calling for her resignation.

Birrell wrote that he was “disgusted that a person with views such as her own is representing me and other Zionist Jews in our community.”

Birrell, who is also a CUWI member, threatened to drop out as a member of Calgary Hillel if Jacobson didn’t resign from her post as Hillel’s Israel chair.

“It bothers me, because she’s representing a Jewish-based organization,” Birrell told The CJN.

“I wouldn’t be as upset if she wasn’t in a leadership position and didn’t have people looking to her for guidance when it comes to the topic of Israel. I found it completely disgusting that she’s on the Israel board, but she slams Israel. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Jacobson, an 18-year-old international relations student, said that despite her decision to step down, she stands by her political views.

“My view on Israel isn’t any more right or wrong, or more Jewish or less Jewish than anyone else’s view on Israel. This is just how I personally and politically feel about the State of Israel. I have a more left-wing opinion, which is fine. CUWI has, on a political spectrum, a more right-wing opinion, and that’s fine, too. Their opinion isn’t more or less valid than mine,” she said. 

Jacobson added that she will remain on the Hillel executive board, “focusing on other work in the community.

“I believe that what I said doesn’t convey the full depth of my political beliefs. I have a right to my political beliefs and I should be able to stay on the board and represent Jewish students and the Jewish community,” she said.

Calgary Hillel director Kira Blumer said Jacobson’s decision to resign from the post was the right thing to do, because “she appears to be subscribing to a particular political belief and if she is representing all Jewish students on campus, it’s going to be hard for her to do her job effectively.”

A statement from Calgary Hillel said the student group “embraces diversity and encourages debate among our students, which is integral to the development of a strong Zionist identity. We will continue to strive to represent students from a broad set of backgrounds and personal beliefs.”