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‘Racial justice’ group loses MLK award after president posted anti-Israel statements

‘Dismantling racism’ group president posted phrase seen as calling for Israel destruction

Gateway Technical College rescinded its “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award” from a local racial activist group after the organization’s president posted anti-Israel comments.

The Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism group “is a grassroots community organization pursuing racial justice and equity, and reconciling people of all races within our community and schools,” according to its website.

President Laura Bielefeldt posted a version of the phrase “from the river to the sea,” on her personal social media, which prompted criticism of the college’s decision to honor the group. The College Fix found at least one post where she posted that phrase, though she misspelled “sea.”

She regularly posts “Free Palestine” or iterations of that phrase, according to a College Fix review of her page. She also regularly promotes pro-Palestinian rallies.

The phrase, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is seen as calling for the destruction of Israel because it implies destroying the Middle Eastern country and creating a new country called “Palestine.” (A survey last year found less than half of students understood what this phrase meant).

The Wisconsin technical college originally planned to honor the group for its work addressing “systemic inequities” in the local school district, as reported by the Racine County Eye. The college stated in its initial announcement:

[The racial group] Modeled King’s approach to ‘creative tension’ as it challenged systemic inequities that adversely and disproportionately affect people of color in (Burlington Area School District) and in the local community. It educates its members and the larger community by addressing racial bias on the personal and social level. It challenges local leaders and the wider community to address these injustices. It holds events that can help the community learn about other racial and cultural groups and addresses the reality of racial prejudice and systemic inequity today … and works with other local groups to raise awareness of minority groups and the injustices they face.

However, it backtracked after facing pressure.

The college stated:

It should be noted that after thoughtful consideration by the selection committee, the decision was made to rescind one Humanitarian awardee, the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling of Racism. While Gateway values the work done by the Burlington Coalition for the Dismantling of Racism, it was brought to the college’s attention that the selection of BCDR as a Gateway Technical College Dr. King Humanitarian raises some concerns and does not align with Gateway’s values nor reflect the spirit of this award.

Gateway’s main goal, always, is to honor peace, fairness and equity through its Humanitarian awards program. The college wants to thank the community for its support and understanding.

Bielefeldt disputes that her comments are anti-Israel.

She wrote on her Facebook yesterday:

To those who believe the words “From the river to the sea” are in themself antisemitic, I ask: can one not value the freedom, safety and dignity of the Jewish community and the Palestinian people equally? Is it impossible to mourn for the loss of all life equally?

I do not say “from the river to the sea” with hate in my heart for my Jewish brothers and sisters. Just as I am not meaning to say “no other lives matter” when I stand for black lives, I am not calling for the destruction of Jewish lives when I stand for Palestinian lives.

To stand for one does not and should not take away from another.

“I value the lives of my Jewish brothers and sisters just as highly as I value the lives of my Palestinian brothers and sisters.”

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IMAGE: Laura Bielefeldt/Facebook

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