Administrators at a northern New Jersey high school are getting angry phone calls from Palestinian rights activists after a junior there says administrators accused her of bullying over tweets she made that were sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Bethany Koval, 16, is prolific on Twitter, having dashed off more than 21,000 messages and gained nearly 4,000 followers since joining in February 2015. She got the attention of online activists including members ofAnonymous this morning after tweeting about her trip to the principals office. The tweets include recordings of a man she says is her principal saying she could be formally charged with bullying, which under New Jersey’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (pdf) can lead to suspension or expulsion.
Koval grew up in the New Jersey suburb of Fair Lawn and attends Fair Lawn High School, where part of the mission statement reads, “We believe that the optimal environment is one in which students feel free to challenge themselves and have opportunities to take initiative, to articulate clearly and imaginatively, to be creative, and to learn from their inquiry and experience.”
She said she became interested in politics over the last few years after realizing “I’ve been fed all kinds of kinds of propaganda and I started to question a lot of it.” She said she joined Twitter because “I really wanted an outlet to express my views and find people who had similar views.” Koval posted wide-ranging discussions of abortion rights, Hillary Clinton’s record, and the Syrian civil wear. She said she has family in Israel and grew outraged about the country’s treatment of Palestinians in 2014 after seeing video of civilians bombed in Gaza.
“I was just really hurt by what was going on, hurt by how much money the United States gives to Israel,” she said. “I was so shocked because it seemed so undemocratic.”
Koval tweeted about the bombings and the Israeli-Palestinian political situation over her winter break, and said that it’s those tweets that caught the attention of a classmate who she describes as a former friend. In one, Koval described Hamas as “not extreme.” In another, she described Israel as a “terrorist force.”
This morning, she narrated the beginning of the fallout.
“That’s your interpretation,” he replied. “There’s a state law that might interpret it different.”
Koval said she was let go, only to be called back and told to write a statement of the events. She said she told Marcella she wouldn’t do it without a lawyer but that he told her they could only go on the other girl’s account if she didn’t write it then and there.
She said she thinks she’s been targeted “because I’m not pro-Israel.”
The response online was swift, prompting an #IStandWithBenny hashtag, and a deluge of calls and emails to the school from around the world. There was also reaction close to home. She said one boy at her school messaged her, “bitch let’s fight son.” When she got home this evening, she said the school called her mom and she overheard someone say the administration was getting calls from far and wide. Her mom walked into the other room for the rest of the call.
Koval said she is not especially concerned for her safety now that she is internet famous: “I’m just worried for my parents, really.”
Her parents, who she describes as “apolitical” are now “REALLY mad.”
“I documented it because i was nervous. That’s what I do,” she said. “I didn’t think it would get that bad either. I felt like I was really stripped of my rights.”
At the moment she is frantically trying to get legal advice before tomorrow morning. And convince her followers to lay off the school.