OverviewElaine Cleary has demonized pro-Israel activists at Ohio State University (OSU) as the 2017-2018 president and “primary leader" of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) chapter at OSU.
Cleary has advocated for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement on campus and is an affiliate of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at OSU. She has also promoted the #returnthebirthright initiative launched by JVP against the Birthright Jewish heritage tour.
Cleary graduated from OSU in 2017 with a degree in Economics and Political Science. Her undergraduate thesis was titled: Political Psychology and Economic Protest: The American Front of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
As of August 2018, her Linkedin and Facebook pages said that she worked as an Immigration Paralegal at the National Immigrant Justice Center, in the Greater Chicago Area.
Demonizing Pro-Israel Campus ActivistsOn March 23, 2017, Cleary wrote an opinion piece in Haaretz titled, “Expelled From Hillel, LGBTQ Jews Are Out of the Closet but Into the Cold." In her piece, Cleary accused Hillel International of pressuring OSU Hillel to expel B’nai Keshet, a campus group Cleary helped found, from the Jewish campus community.
Cleary wrote her letter following a “contentious and emotionally charged debate" over a BDS resolution at OSU, during which the senator “argued that the resolution was bringing about a culture of divisiveness."
Pushing BDS on CampusOn February 27, 2017, Cleary wrote an opinion piece in the OSU Lantern titled, “The Jewish case for Ohio State divestment." Cleary’s article promoted an initiative launched by the campus coalition “OSU Divest," which called on OSU to divest from corporations that “are complicit in the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories."
In her article, Cleary likened the demolitions of Palestinian homes to pogroms targeting Jewish homes by Christian villagers.
Cleary also claimed that Israel’s actions undermine “the very things that make us Jewish — a commitment to Jewish values, a belief in Jewish teachings, a connection to a long history of practice and struggle."
On February 24, 2017, JVP at OSU tweeted a photo of Cleary with another activist and captioned the photo: “Flyering for @OSUDivest!"
On March 4, 2017, OSU Divest featured Cleary in a Facebook photo with the caption, “Never have I felt more deeply Jewish than when I was supporting racial justice...when I look at the terrible things the US and Israel have done in my name, I see a world destroyed."
On February 27 and March 6, 2017, Cleary trolled Facebook users in the anti-BDS group “Protect OSU." Cleary repeatedly harassed people who asked questions or indicated support for Protect OSU.
On March 6, Cleary commented on a Facebook photo posted by “Protect OSU," which featured a student saying “The Jews have a right to live in their indigenous land."
Cleary objected to the Facebook post, writing: “‘The Jews’ omg" and “That phrase has an implication and historical connotation that many Jewish people find offensive, but mistakes happen." She also wrote that “it's important to recognize the ways in which Israel advocacy can actually be anti-Semitic."
Condemning Jewish Heritage TourOn November 14, 2017, Cleary published an opinion piece in the online publication “New Voices: News and Views of Campus Jews," titled, “It’s no Surprise Birthright Silenced Israeli Arabs."
In her editorial, Cleary demonized Birthright, writing, “This isn’t a neutral trip to see a new country. It’s a government’s political project. And we, young American Jews, are on the agenda."
Cleary also claimed that Birthright prevents its participants from interacting with Israeli Arabs, alleging that “Birthright does not want young Jews to critically engage with Israel and its realities... They want us to take selfies on top of a camel and not ask questions."
Cleary concluded her article: “ I return the Birthright. Will you?"
Return the Birthright CampaignIn September of 2017, JVP issued its #ReturntheBirthright campaign manifesto, calling on American Jews to boycott the Birthright Israel (Birthright) program. Birthright was founded by Jewish philanthropists “in 1999 to address the growing divide between young Diaspora Jewish adults and the land and people of Israel."
After decades of demographic decline in the American Jewish community, Birthright set out “to strengthen Jewish identity, build a lasting bond with the land and people of Israel, and reinforce the solidarity of Jewish people worldwide." The program offers “the gift of a life-changing, 10-day trip to Israel to young Jewish adults between the ages of 18 and 26."
JVP’s anti-Birthright campaign was launched precisely to coincide with “the very moment that college students across America are returning to campus and registration for Birthright winter visits are underway."
The #returnthebirthright manifesto accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing" and alleged “the modern state of Israel is predicated on the ongoing erasure of Palestinians."
The text claimed: “We reject the offer of a free trip to a state that does not represent us, a trip that is only ‘free’ because it has been paid for by the dispossession of Palestinians."
The manifesto concluded: “And as we reject this, we commit to promoting the right to return of Palestinian refugees… Israel is not our Birthright… Return the Birthright."
On June 22, 2017, just prior to the launch of JVP’s #returnthebirthright campaign, JVP received a $140,00 two-year grant for general support for its operations from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF).
Since 2015, JVP has received $280,000 from RBF, which has a history of supporting anti-Jewish causes, including BDS campaigns and various organizations that promote BDS campaigns throughout the United States.
Anti-Israel Campus ActivismCleary is an affiliate of SJP OSU and has attended a number of their campus events.
Cleary has indicated on Facebook that she “Went" to an SJP OSU “Columbus to Gaza: Solidarity Rally," on July 29, 2017. The event description said the purpose of the rally was “to demand an end to American complicity in the illegal military occupation of Palestine."
Cleary has also indicated on Facebook that she “Went" to an SJP OSU event called “Raise the Kheffiyeh," on January 28, 2017.
Cleary has indicated on Facebook that she “Went" to an SJP OSU event called “R2E: Right to Education" on April 6, 2017.
The Right to Education campaign brings Palestinian university students to U.S. campuses to spread a libel that Israel is obstructing the rights of Palestinians to higher education. This claim mischaracterizes Israeli security sweeps to shut down terror cells operating on Palestinian campuses.
Cleary was also featured in a Facebook photo from SJP OSU’s “Ice Cream Social" event, on April 20, 2017.
JVP was founded in Berkeley, California in 1996, as an activist group with an emphasis on the "Jewish tradition" of peace, social justice and human rights. The organization is currently led by Rebecca Vilkomerson and its board members include controversial Israel critics Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky and Tony Kushner.
JVP, which generally employs civil disobedience tactics like disrupting pro-Israel speakers and events, consists of American Jews and non-Jewish "allies" highly critical of Israeli policies. A staunch supporter of the BDS movement, JVP claims to aim its campaigns at companies that either support the Israeli military (Hewlett-Packard) or are active in the West Bank (SodaStream).
Although several Jewish groups critical of Israeli policies, like J Street and Partners for a Progressive Israel, make efforts to operate within the mainstream American Jewish community, JVP functions outside. The group is often criticized for serving as a tokenized Jewish voice for the pro-Palestinian camp and is widely regarded as the BDS movement's "Jewish wing."
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has accused JVP of being "the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group in the United States," and said the group "exploits Jewish culture and rituals to reassure its own supporters that opposition to Israel not only does not contradict, but is actually consistent with, Jewish values... JVP consistently co-sponsors rallies to oppose Israeli military policy that are marked by signs and slogans comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, demonizing Jews and voicing support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah."
According to the ADL website, JVP "uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility."
The BDS movement was founded in 2005 by Omar Barghouti and asserts that it "works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law."
The movement's most notable achievement has been the infiltration of university campuses through lobbying for "BDS resolutions." In these cases, backed by university anti-Israel affiliates, student governments have brought to vote on some form of boycott of — or divestment from — Israel and Israeli-affiliated entities. These resolutions, although non-binding, have been passed by student governments on numerous North American campuses.
BDS activity is often aggressive and disruptive. It has been noted that universities that pass BDS resolutions see a marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campus. In 2013, when the student government of the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) debated a BDS resolution, reports emerged of violent threats and the spitting on a student wearing a Star of David necklace. As a result, the student government chose to vote via a "secret ballot" in order to ensure its members' safety.
SJP was co-founded in 2001 at the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) by Professors Hatem Bazian and Snehal Shingavi. Bazian served as president of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) while studying at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and headed the Muslim Students Association (MSA) while earning his M.A. at UC Berkeley. In 2004, while the second intifada was already winding down in Israel, he called for an intifada in the United States.
Shingavi, an activist tied to the International Socialist Organization (ISO), has been criticized for using his literature course as a vehicle for promoting anti-Israel propaganda. SJP has grown to become the primary student movement advancing the Palestinian national agenda on North American campuses and is the primary force behind BDS campaigns at most schools.
SJP activists frequently intimidate and harass Jewish and pro-Israel students. SJP members have physically assaulted Jewish students, aggressively disrupted pro-Israel events and possibly vandalized communal property. SJP rallies regularly include hate-speech and chants such as "Long Live The Intifada" and "From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free" — calls for violence and for the destruction of the Jewish state.
SJP chapters frequently run inflammatory campaigns against Israel, including BDS resolutions, rallies, Israel-Apartheid initiatives, propaganda comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, mock checkpoints and "die-ins."