The College Democrats of America (CDA), the youth wing of the Democratic National Committee, forced two of its members to resign from leadership positions following a right-wing smear campaign this week.
They were branded anti-Semites after expressing anger at Israel’s assault on Gaza in a heated social media exchange.
Christopher Woodside, a twenty-year-old student at Catholic University of America, says he was fired 6 August from his position as Communications Director with the DC Federation for College Democrats, CDA’s Washington DC branch.
Woodside told The Electronic Intifada he was “told we would never receive donations because I made the organization seem radical.” He added, “while I was officially asked to resign by the state level at DC College Dems, it was highly suggested their request for me to leave was from being pressured at the national college Dems level.”
Woodside noted that CDA has a pattern of firing its members for dissenting on foreign policy issues. He says he was fired from a national level CDA position in January for criticizing President Obama’s deadly drone policy.
The same same day as Woodside, Boston College student Evan Goldstein was forced to resign from his role as CDA’s social media coordinator.
Both Woodside and Goldstein had responded angrily to inflammatory pro-Israel Facebook comments by one Giovanni Hashimoto.
Hashimoto, a self-described progressive Democrat who held a leadership role with CDA before taking a position with the California Young Democrats, wrote on his Facebook page on 31 July that Israel is a “peace-loving nation” fighting Palestinian terrorists.
At the time of his post, the death toll in Gaza was well over 1,400 with another 8,300 injured, the vast majority civilians.
In response to comments by Goldstein, Woodside and several others challenging him, Hashimoto blamed Palestinians for the their own deaths, prompting a heated back-and-forth.
Woodside, Goldstein and several others responded angrily to Hashimoto’s increasingly incendiary claims.
In response to a comment about the 16 July killing of the Baker boys, the four children massacred by Israel while playing on the beach in Gaza, Hashimoto posted an Israeli army propaganda graphic and said Hamas forced Israel to kill the children.
He also claimed (with zero evidence) that “more Palestinian civilians are probably dying from misfired Hamas’ terrorist rockets than Israel’s defensive strikes.”
In response to another comment linking to photos of Palestinian children who have been killed by Israel, Hashimoto wrote: “So sad that Hamas terrorists have put them in that situation.”
Days later, an edited screenshot of the exchange was publicized by Aaron Robinow, a self-described “young conservative activist and rising star in the Republican Party.”
Hashimoto’s vile remarks were completely missing from the screenshot, making it appear as though Woodside and Goldstein’s angry replies were unprovoked.
Heavily edited version of the Facebook exchange sourced to right-wing activist Aaron Robinow.
Robinow is president of the Yeshiva University College Republicans. He recently accused President Obama of being “pro-Hamas” after he urged Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties, a suggestion Robinow framed as a “blood libel.”
In his blog post about the Facebook exchange, Robinow accused CDA members of bullying a colleague “for supporting Israel’s right to defend itself” and emphasized their use of explicit language.
Robinow’s story and misleading screenshot were quickly picked up by TruthRevolt, a right-wing outlet co-founded by far-right Zionist ideologue Ben Shapiro (who has advocated for the expulsion of all Palestinians from historic Palestine as “the only solution” to ensure Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea) and die-hard Islamophobe and slavery apologist David Horowitz.
Hashimoto applauded the right-wing smear campaign on Twitter.
Two days later, CDA caved in to right-wing pressure and fired Goldstein and Woodside.
In a statement announcing Goldstein’s resignation, CDA declared that it “does not take a position on this issue.”
But, Woodside argued, “by forcing these resignations CDA has taken a clear position on this issue, one that is unquestionably pro-Israel while innocent women and children are being killed.”
Furthermore, CDA has hardly been neutral on Israel in the past.
In January, CDA Vice President Natasha McKenzie attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference, where she could barely contain her excitement over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. She proudly tweeted that she stands strong with the hardline lobbying organization, which explicitly supports Israeli apartheid and bombing Iran.
Giovanni Hashimoto attended the AIPAC conference too, along with several other members of CDA.
In March, McKenzie and several other members of CDA embarked on an AIPAC sponsored propaganda trip to Israel. CDA has been participating in propaganda trips for years, an investment that has paid off well for Israel during its merciless bombing campaigns.
During “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012, CDA joined the College Republicans of America in signing a letter of support for Israel’s right to destroy Gaza.
The CDA statement claims: “We support open dialogue on all issues – free from incendiary and harsh language.”
But it’s highly unlikely that an organization with a history of pandering to hard line Israel supporters would discipline its members for saying mean things about Palestinians.
CDA did not respond to a request for comment.
In keeping with the US political system, campus politics have been rigged in Israel’s favor as lobbying organizations successfully inject an atmosphere of censorship and McCarthyism on American campuses.
This strain of fascism seems to be migrating from Israel, where students and employees have been punished and fired for expressing sympathy for Gaza on social media.
“I think it is unfortunate that so many bloggers and activists have chosen to expend energy policing a discourse instead of participating in one. The discussion should be aimed at achieving peace and justice in Israel/Palestine, but instead it is often focused on demonizing political opponents and silencing dissent,” Goldstein told The Electronic Intifada in a written statement.
“Open and heated debate is central to Judaism as I understand and practice it, and the only groups that benefit from a rigidly regulated discourse are the same ones who perpetrate injustice in the status quo.”
Goldstein added: “Rather than argue about which ‘side’ is meaner or stupider or more immoral, we should focus on the stories of suffering coming from the region and put our solidarity with those who suffer prior to any preconceived political ideologies. Until we have a discourse that recognizes humans as humans, we won’t be able to transcend the tired platitudes that serve as apologies for oppressors.”
Woodside expressed alarm at the dangers posed to free expression “not just in the organization, but also among discussion of the issues within the [Democratic] party as a whole, as CDA is an important branch of the party.”
He added: “This is especially scary at the collegiate level, as college campuses are supposed to be a free marketplace of ideas, where everything can be discussed freely.”
“For the organization to silence any dissenting opinion on this conflict, as well as earlier critiques I made of the president’s drone program, have painted the college democrats as an organization that is frankly more in line with foreign policy with those on the right, and I wish our party would be able to stand for free discussion of ideas, instead of silencing them out of fear of losing money.”