November 7, 2006
by Rivka Bukowsky
A discussion over who gets student funds quickly turned ugly at Iowa State University, after the Hillel’s request for money to buy Haggadot was met with an odd – and possibly anti-Semitic – response from a student senator.
Student leaders at ISU needed to figure out who would get how much of their $1.45 million budget, Lisa Rossi reports for the Des Moines Register. The school has about 200 Jewish students.
Then the discussion got interesting:
Members of ISU Hillel have questioned the intentions of one student leader, Jason O’Leary, who reportedly said during a student government meeting last month that if “they’ve been Jew,” people should already have the religious book being discussed. He reportedly then said that if they “turn Jew,” he was unsure whether they’d have the book.
O’Leary, 24, an ISU student senator, said he wasn’t trying to be anti-Semitic at the meeting. He was in a minority of senators who voted against giving the group money but said he stood up and apologized at the end of the meeting to anyone he had offended.
“I said if people were already Jew – meaning if they were already Jewish,” he said, adding that he believed he said the word “Jew” only once during the meeting. “There were people (who) didn’t like me using the word. I didn’t know it was offensive.”
Members of the student government ultimately voted to give $376 to the ISU Hillel.
Ian Guffy [pictured above], an ISU student government member and president of ISU Hillel, said the debate over whether to spend cash on ISU Hillel highlighted the need for more awareness on campus of the proper ways to refer to Jewish students.
“Somebody is not ‘Jew,’ ” said Guffy, 20. “I don’t know what part of speech that is. That does not work.”
Ron Jackson, an ISU psychologist and adviser to ISU Hillel, said referring to someone as “Jew” is more objectifying than saying he or she is Jewish.
“A Jew – that’s all that matters,” he said. “That defines the totality of the person. That’s also how the Germans used ‘Yid.’ If someone’s a Yid, you kill them.”