Today’s FrontPage Interview guest is Chloe Simone Valdary, a junior and international studies major at the University of New Orleans (UNO). In her short time on campus, Ms. Valdary has distinguished herself as a passionate defender of Israel and Zionism, creating the organization Allies of Israel, one of the lone pro-Israel groups at her university. Ms. Valdary is also the assistant director of special programs for the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel (ISBI) and blogs for Arutz Sheva and the Times of Israel. In addition to being featured by the Jewish Press, BET.com, Breitbart.com, the Jerusalem Post, among others, Algemeiner named Ms. Valdary one of the top 100 people positively affecting Jewish and Israeli life. Recently, Ms. Valdary’s advocacy has elicited the ire of anti-Israel activists, one of whom resorted to racist attacks against her.
FrontPage Magazine: First off, thanks so much for speaking with FrontPage. You’re doing such impressive work fighting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic extremism on campuses today, which is very serious and, unfortunately, growing. When did you decided to take on this cause and what was the trigger for you?
Chloe Simone Valdary: I grew up in a philo-Semitic house. I am a Christian, but one of a different breed, some may say. I grew up observing Shabbat, keeping kosher dietary laws, and observing the Holy Days like Succot and Yom Kippur. So I was always learning about Israel from a historical standpoint. Throughout high school, I became fascinated with Jewish literature. I remember picking up a book called “Choose Life” by Rabbi Bernard Mandelbaum from my library. It was a collection of sayings from famous people which were all very positive and inspiring.
Another important moment in my life was watching the film “Freedom Writers.” I can now say retrospectively that film changed my life for ever. Because what occurs in that film is a class of students changing their lives for the better, and the turning point in the film is when they begin to learn about the Shoah. So that had a huge impact on me.
Moreover, I read the works of Leon Uris voraciously. So I identify each of these events as one of several precursors to the life I lead now. At any rate, these instances spurred within me a fascination and admiration for the Jewish people, and in college I decided to do a research paper on the modern day state of Israel, particularly as it pertains to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was then that I discovered the level of anti-Semitism in the Middle East and also resurfacing in Europe. This was the trigger that led to my activism on and off campus.
FPM: Can you tell us about your organization at the University of New Orleans and its mission statement?
CSV: The name of my organization is Allies of Israel. We are a two-year-old organization. The Allies of Israel Association (AIA) strives to educate students on college campuses about the history, geopolitics, and foreign policies affecting the age old Arab-Israeli conflict. The AIA supports the existence of Israel as a Jewish State and aims to create positive dialogue amongst college students. AIA recognizes the growing threat of global anti-Semitism and seeks to combat this phenomenon through education, the media, and if necessary, by means of the law. Working together, we can end the unjust demonization of the sovereign state of Israel.
FPM: What is the atmosphere like at the University of New Orleans (UNO) campus? There were reportedly protestors at your pro-Israel event “Declare Your Freedom.” What happened?
CSV: UNO is very calm, actually. Before I created Allies of Israel, there were no pro- or anti-Israel movements. Even today, B”H, there are no anti-Israel groups, no Israel apartheid weeks, and no BDS movements on campus. Our first Declare Your Freedom (DYF) event actually took place last year in January, and even that protest was mild. People found out about it the day of and apparently staged a silent protest, which just appeared to be the students leaving to go to class. One person stood up and held a sign that said, “Justice for All.” So it was comparatively mild.
However a month after that, we actually partnered up with StandWithUs and brought some Israeli soldiers on campus to speak, and that was when we saw an anti-Israel backlash. Students came from all over the city to protest this event, in part, I think because they were angry at us for having the DYF event; they found out about that at the last minute. Many of the Arab students voiced their support for Hamas and it was just a rough time. They also staged a walkout. But most of these people didn’t actually go to UNO. They just coalesced together for this one event. Besides that, there has been no anti-Israel activity on my campus at all this year.
I do, however, work extensively with students in Tulane United for Israel. (Tulane University is 20 minutes away from UNO.) There is a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on that campus and while they are comparatively mild, they’re extremely corrosive in their narrative. They have brought in rabidly anti-Semitic speakers, one of whom actually claimed that Israel and America were involved in a world conspiracy to enslave all the peoples of the world. So Tulane’s campus is a bit of an issue we may have to deal with in the coming semesters.
FPM: How do you feel traditional pro-Israel campus voices are equipped to deal with the increasing aggressiveness of Israel boycotters? Did this also motivate you to start Allies of Israel?
CSV: To my knowledge, I dont think I was aware of any BDS movement when I first started AOI. It was more of a global battle I thought I was fighting as opposed to a regional one. Iran was in the news a lot. And again, it was mostly that research paper that was in the back of my mind.
I think in the past, pro-Israel groups have sort of made the mistake of being responsive as opposed to being assertive. What I mean by this is that we would respond to Israel Apartheid Week as opposed to preempting Israel Apartheid Week and illustrating on our campuses what a disgrace it actually is. But I think the tide is turning, and I think we’re learning to be more assertive on campus, and thats a great thing. I’ve certainly noticed it, and I think the tide is turning in the battlefield of ideas on college campuses. People aren’t afraid to speak out against SJP any more. People aren’t afraid to call BDS what it really is. We are becoming emboldened and I hope that trend continues in the future.
FPM: This brings up a great point. One of the aspects of your message that is so bold is that you are not afraid to make the clear association between the boycott movement, so-called “anti-Zionism” and anti-Semitim. This is something that many defenders of Israel are reluctant to be vocal about. What really cements in your mind the belief that the BDS movement is a front for anti-Semitism and what do you say to those in denial?
Chloe Simone Valdary: Well I think you know for all intents and purposes BDS is overt about being anti-Zionist. Omar Bhargouti, the founder of the movement has said he wants a “Palestine next to a Palestine,” so its not like it’s a mystery in terms of what their intentions are. So I wouldn’t even say the BDS movement is a front for anti-Semitism. It is simply a manifestation of anti-Semitism, as it calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, and the end of Jewish civil rights.
Moreover I would add that, generally speaking, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, because to espouse this idea that Jews are not allowed to have self-determination in their ancestral homeland is to promote the abrogation of Jewish civil rights. This is a point of fact. To those proponents of BDS who are in denial about the BDS movement — well, they’re either willfully ignorant of the situation (because they ignore what the founder of their own movement declares) or they really do know what the movement stands for, but they think it is more politically expedient to feign ignorance.
FPM: Perhaps the biggest indicator of your effectiveness as a pro-Israel activist is the invective you’ve received from the opposition. Recently, you were the victim of a racist attack by writer Richard Silverstein over your opposition to BDS-supporter Judith Butler being invited to the Jewish Museum of New York. Can you tell us a bit about what happened?
CSV: Sure. Last Saturday morning, a friend brought it to my attention that a certain Richard Silverstein accused me of being a “Negro Uncle Tom” because of my support for Israel. Initially, I was unsure as to why I should pay attention to this, but then I realized that Silverstein was actually read and followed by certain people in the journalistic world for some inexplicable reason. I realized that in the past he had apparently written for the Huffington Post and the Guardian, and so I realized this was a serious issue and it wasn’t just some random person making racist slurs at me. So, I began to fully process what the accusation was and the implications of such an accusation. Many in the social media world came to my defense; I truly have many friends which I am eternally grateful for, who really stood up for me, so that was really sweet to see.
At the same time, I didn’t personally really want to engage Silverstein on Twitter, which was the main forum where all the communication was taking place. So I actually worked with a few other people in my close circles and we developed a strategy on how we wanted to officially respond to him. I decided that I wanted to be the one to write a response on my own behalf in the Times of Israel, which I did. And after I wrote it (it’s called, “In Defense of Liberty,”) it sort of fizzled out I suppose. Although to a certain extent, people are still berating Silverstein for what he did and he seems to be digging himself even deeper into an immoral quagmire, so we’ll see how long that will last. But as far as I’m concerned, I have spoken my piece so my dealings with him are over.
FPM: In addition to your work at UNO, you’re also involved with the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. Can you explain the connection you see between the black and Zionist causes and what draws you to this interesting intersection?
CSV: Yes, I am the assistant director of special programs at the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel. Like the black cause, which has historically been about freedom, in the most basic sense of the word, the Zionist cause entails that very same notion of the pursuit of freedom. Both these causes began with a real fundamental premise, namely, that man is free, he derives his freedoms from a Higher Authority, and, as such, no man on the face of the earth has the right to take those freedoms away from him. And this is where these two causes are in point of fact one and the same. The black cause posits that the black people are first and foremost free and equal. And since we are free and equal before God we possess certain innate rights, which cannot be taken away from us, and if these rights are threatened, it is our moral duty to pursue justice and oppose such measures.
Likewise, the Zionist cause posits that the Jewish people are free and equal before God, that that freedom means that there are certain inalienable rights the Jewish people possess, which can never be infringed upon or taken away from them, and that when such rights are threatened, it is the moral duty of the Jewish people to resist such unjust measures.
The responsibility comes with the acknowledgement that we are first and foremost free, and this is a key component of these causes, which I cannot stress enough. A free human being must, by definition, express him or herself in a manner most befitting of that freedom. This means that we must distinguish between right and wrong and we must act on that distinction, and pursue what is just. If we were not free, if we were slaves to the opinions of mankind, we would not act upon such notions of moral and evil, but would instead be swayed by the opinions of our peers.
But this is not freedom. This is not acting out of one’s own volition. Neither is cowardice a trait of free individuals. If we are cowards and do not speak out against injustice, then we are slaves to our deepest fears of public opprobrium. This entails, as you can imagine, being scared to speak out against BDS, being scared to speak out against Israel Apartheid Week, and being scared to call these pitiful movements precisely what they are. But we are not cowards, nor are we shackled bondsmen. We are free. So we will speak out against these gross injustices and episodes of slander against our people. Hence the black cause and hence the Zionist one. An attack on one is an attack on the other, and we saw this with the Silverstein ordeal. These causes are both one and the same.
FPM: Clearly, there are many prominent anti-Israel figures who are African-American and claim to represent the black community. For instance, Abdul Malik Ali, who calls Jews “Nazis” and says their “days are numbered,” is regularly brought on campuses. Louis Farrakhan is of course another well-known figure in the same vein. No one brings race into the equation with these individuals and their worldviews. What do you think would prompt over-the-top reactions to black solidarity with Israel, such as we saw with Silverstein?
CSV: Silverstein has a certain view of the world which posits that blacks must think, act, behave, and be a certain way. To deviate from this “way” is to deviate from what it means to be black according to his definition. The figures you mentioned are acting in accordance to what Silverstein thinks should be the definition of black behavior; therefore they are not ridiculed.
FPM: Does the criticism deter you in any way or give you more resolve?
CSV: With regards to the whole issue of racism, it made me very angry, and so I suppose it did strengthen my resolve in that sense.
FPM: What sort of plans are on the horizon for you in terms of your activism? Any important events in the works?
CSV: Allies of Israel is working with Tulane United For Israel and McNeese State University to put on “Declare Your Freedom 2.0,” the second annual pro-Israel festival in New Orleans. It will take place on March 30. The purpose of this festival is to declare our support of Israel and Zionism and Jewish civil rights. It will hopefully be the largest pro-Israel student-led festival in New Orleans. Speakers and artists will be present. There will also be giveaways, food and drinks, a cultural exhibit, and just a good time all around. Im looking forward to it.
FPM: Any final words for fellow students or critics?
CSV: Only a word for fellow Jewish students who may feel intimidated on campus by the onslaught of defamation coming your way: You must show the world that you are Jews. Unabashedly. And unashamedly. And you must show the world that you are Zionists. Brazen, audacious, fearless, Zionists. The legitimacy of your existence is not contingent upon the dissenters’ approbation or their hatred of you. The fact of the dawn of your civilization in a land flowing with milk and honey is neither up for debate nor dispute. It is already etched in the soil of Eretz Yisrael. And it is already flowing in the blood of your veins, in the heartbeats of your future children, in the dust of your skin.
So you see you must be bold, you must be courageous. You must call out liars when you encounter them. You must speak, you must shout, you must chant, you must protest — you must live free.
FPM: Chloe, thanks so much for speaking with FrontPage. It was a pleasure to hear your story and we wish you the best of luck.
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