USG senator resigns over racist, xenophobic behaviors

The Undergraduate Student Government, Students for Justice in Palestine and USC Hillel reacted to the news in separate statements Wednesday.

Isabel Washington resigned from her position as an Undergraduate Student Government senator Wednesday after reports of Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, xenophobic, fatphobic and classist rhetoric.

On Tuesday, a student from an anonymous account tweeted screenshots of text messages in which Washington and former USG assistant director Nathaniel Manor used and engaged in violent, discriminatory language.

“IF YOUR [EXPLETIVE] I[S] FROM PALESTINE I PULL UP IN A TANK,” one text from Washington reads.

In a statement posted to its Instagram Tuesday night, USC Students for Justice in Palestine, a national organization of student activists advocating for Palestinian rights, called for Washington’s resignation. USC SJP also demanded the prevention of Manor from succeeding Washington and intervention from the university that holds Manor accountable for displaying Islamophobia and anti-MENA (Middle East and North Africa) sentiments.

“Certain members and affiliates of the USG executive cabinets should also be held accountable for their vile words and actions against Black, Muslim, and Palestinian individuals as well as those of Middle Eastern and North African descent,” USC SJP said in a statement.

Alum Muhammad Yusuf Tarr, Class of 2019 Middle East Studies graduate and former president of USC SJP, created a Twitter thread detailing examples of Manor’s public anti-Palestinian rhetoric.

The thread specifically cites a TikTok in which Manor ridicules Palestinians’ plight and mocks the hijab. Tarr also provided screenshots of texts and comments where Manor denies the existence of Palestinian people and practices.

“...Now we’re left in this [expletive] where people think Israel stole this land when in reality it was never Palestine to begin with nor was there a Palestinian people to begin with,” one text message from Manor read.

“The complicity of the Undergraduate Student Government in these issues further demonstrates its failure to uplift the voices it claims to represent,” the statement read. “SJP will follow up with USG and the Office of the President with clearly outlined demands that will further our mission of adequate representation and justice for students, including Palestinians, at USC.”

Current USC SJP President, Ramy Hassan, a rising junior majoring in global health, expressed that the University and USG have failed to satisfy the needs of his community.

“Ultimately, the University has alienated its Palestinian students,” Hassan told Annenberg Media. “It has showed us on far too many occasions that our existence on campus is not one that is welcomed, let alone supported.”

Hassan notes that this is not a new phenomenon, nor one that is unique to USC.

“Walking on this campus for the first time during exploreSC and not seeing the Palestinian flag displayed alongside many others—including Israel’s—forcibly reveals to Palestinian students the partisanship of both the University administration and the Undergraduate Student Government.”

On Wednesday, Washington issued a statement resigning from her position as Senator and apologizing for her words and actions.

“I am making no excuses - and I have a complete understanding of the pain, hurt and anguish I have caused,” Washington’s statement read. “I have proven time and time again that I am incapable of representing those I have been elected to represent.”

Wednesday morning, USG issued a statement on Instagram addressing Washington and Manor’s rhetoric that surfaced on social media as “vehemently unprofessional, unacceptable, and harmful.”

Hours later, USG issued a second statement confirming that Washington resigned and Manor, who was in line for succession, would not be taking her place. USG bylaws dictate that the open seat cannot be filled until the first Senate meeting at the beginning of the academic year.

USG also stated that Manor was a USG officer last year but was quickly removed from his position on the Advocacy Branch.

After USG President Truman Fritz was called out on social media for anti-Black rhetoric last week, more complaints surfaced about his and Vice President Rose Ritch’s campaign. A student denounced Ritch for being a Zionist, which the student viewed as problematic. Zionism is a Jewish nationalist movement that supports the development and protection of Israel as a Jewish nation. It stems from the political ideology created by Theodor Herzl in the late 1800s, which called for a Jewish state in Palestine, a pluralistic Arab society. Modern-day Zionists view Zionism as essential in defending and developing Israel, whereas anti-Zionists regard it as a settler colonial movement due to the displacement of Palestinians and ongoing policies of the Israeli state.

If Ritch is removed from office, Washington, who is a Black Israeli-American, would have succeeded her. A post from Washington’s private Instagram proclaiming herself as a Zionist began circulating.

“[I’m] seeing people want to impeach Rose b[e]c[ause] she’s a Zionist, but they don’t know I’d be the new VP, and I’m also a Zionist,” Washington wrote.

USC Hillel sent a community update email Wednesday night stating that Jewish students have received “hate-filled, anti-Semitic attacks” from their peers on social media in recent days. It also called upon the university to denounce anti-Semitic behavior and take steps to prevent escalation of such behavior.

“We are stunned by how casually and carelessly we have seen these views repeated and embraced,” the email read. “Further, we flatly reject any attempt to veil these attacks beneath the cloak of anti-Zionism, which is another form of anti-Semitic rhetoric. No Jewish student should be singled out for mistreatment or denied equal opportunity to serve our campus solely by virtue of their identification with Zionism or their perceived relationship to Israel.”

It failed to address allegations of hate speech directed from members of its own community, including Washington and Manor, toward Palestinan students and the other communities Washington and Manor disrespected.

Hassan explained that supporting Palestine's liberation is not anti-Semetic but that Zionism is harmful to both the Jewish and Palestinian community.

“I even have Black friends and colleagues who are facing threats of being doxxed and smeared as anti-Semitic for supporting us. Zionists that weaponize their religion are manipulative and are doing serious harm to the Jewish community at large,” Hassan said. “We should not have to explain that we are not anti-Semitic every time we introduce the subject.”

Student activists in collaboration with students in USC SJP have created a petitions calling for Washington’s and Manor’s expulsion and for adding the Palestinian flag to the Center of International and Public Affairs.

“To me, this movement is about recognition; it’s about understanding the struggle Palestinians have experienced for over a century and finally being educated on the Palestinian cause,” Hassan said.

For more information on Zionism and the conflict between Israel and Palestine, click here.

Correction: Previous versions of this article had inaccurate definitions of Zionism. The article has been edited to include a more accurate definition.