Daniel Mael is likely the most divisive and hated pro-Israel voice at Brandeis University. Exposing inner-sanctum scandals, to many of the campus far-left — and much of the Brandeis administration — he’s that annoying fly that keeps on buzzing after being shooed away.
Characterized as a bully by those who differ from his staunch alliance with pro-Israel, pro-Judeo-Christian values, he’s been repeatedly called to the dean’s rug after well-publicized run-ins with Brandeis JStreet U leadership, among other incidents.
But now, following his most recent intrigue which took the 22 year old straight into the United States’ racial crisis inferno, he’s been advised by local police not to walk alone. Even his grandmother has been threatened.
What is it with Mael, a handsome, black kippah-wearing, well-spoken business major, that puts people on edge?
“I see an injustice and feel motivated to respond and say something,” he says Tuesday at The Times of Israel offices in Jerusalem. “I stand for my principles and go about it in a honest fashion.”
He calls himself a “natural contrarion” who finds debate and charged engagement with people who hold opposing views “fun.”
Mael explains sheepishly how his 2012 Birthright-Israel trip served as a defining life-changing moment. Though raised in a Modern Orthodox home, Mael, then a jock at Washington University in St. Louis, had “walked away from observance” during high school at Massachusetts’ prestigious pluralistic Gann Academy.
Prior to the Birthright trip, baseball was his raison d’etre and he spent the summer at a cattle ranch in Houston, Texas perfecting his windup — even throwing a ball on a crow hop at 90 miles an hour.
But in Israel, as Jerusalem turned from his Passover hagadah’s cartoon sketch to technicolor reality, Mael stood next to slain American immigrant soldier Michael Levine’s grave in the Mount Herzl military cemetery and thought, “There are Americans and Jews who have made such sacrifices for us as a Jewish people.”
“It sounds cliche, I know,” he shrugs.
He transferred to Brandeis his junior year to have access to more Orthodox infrastructure, and, in upholding what he feels is his obligation as a Jew to defend Israel and the Jewish people, has become a magnet for controversy.
One Boston Jewish community member who knows Mael well says Brandeis University has gone so far to the left-leaning, almost anti-Israel camp that pro-Israel Mael is an anomaly on campus. “He’s sticking out like a sore thumb because of the school he’s at,” he says. Brandeis of all the Boston-area schools, he says, is a hotbed of anti-Israel foment.
Free speech versus freedom of the press
As described in a well-circulated January 2, 2015 Wall Street Journal article called “How to Fight the Campus Speech Police: Get a Good Lawyer,” Mael is not one to shrink from a battle. The article describes a year-long public dispute between Mael and Eli Philip, the head of JStreet U at Brandeis. To administration’s dismay, Mael lawyered-up and played hardball in asserting his rights as a student.
Currently he’s being lambasted by the Brandeis community over what he characterizes as a fight for free speech, freedom of the press, and a right to let other students know how these freedoms are being used by their classmates.
‘There are Americans and Jews who have made such sacrifices for us as a Jewish people’
On December 20, 2014, Mael wrote an article at Truth Revolt, a conservative right-wing website, describing a fellow Brandeis student’s recent inflammatory Tweets after the funeral of two murdered New York police officers.
There, Mael quotes from the Twitter account of Khadijah Lynch, a junior majoring in African and Afro-American Studies who also serves as an adviser to other undergrads, including, “i have no sympathy for the nypd officers who were murdered today.” Mael’s article was shared on social media by close to 100,000.
In the article he quotes Lynch referencing the widespread rioting in Ferguson, Missouri after a suspected racially motivated shooting in August, “the fact that black people have not burned this country down is beyond me” and “I am in riot mode. Fuck this fucking country.” About Brandeis, Lynch tweets it is “a social justice themed institution grounded in zionism. word. thats a fucking fanny dooley.”
‘Free speech for me but not for thee cannot become the operative motto of a great university’
In extremely violent, upsetting comments on Truth Revolt, Lynch was vilified. Her supporters are now clamoring for Mael to be held accountable and Lynch threatened to sue Mael for “slander.” Brandeis President Frederick M. Lawrence took a middle ground this week and wrote a Wall Street Journal letter to the editor in support of free speech.
But big names in the Jewish community have Mael’s back, including Alan Dershowitz who wrote an oped, “Brandeis Student Shows No Sympathy for Ambushed Cops and Her Critic Is Attacked.”
Strongly supporting Mael’s right to free speech, Dershowitz writes, “So welcome to the topsy-turvy world of the academic hard left, where bigoted speech by fellow hard leftists is protected, but counter expression is labeled as ‘harassment,’ ‘incitement,’ and ‘bullying.’
“Free speech for me but not for thee cannot become the operative motto of a great university,” writes Dershowitz.
The path to activist journalism
Mael says he is deeply appreciative and thankful to Dershowitz.
“It means a lot to me and my family that he was able to provide a voice of clarity and move the ball forward on my behalf,” says Mael.
While steadfastly in the pro-Israel camp — in September he was made an honorary brother in Jewish fraternity AEPi for his advocacy efforts — Mael prefers to think of his support for the Jewish state under the rubric of respecting and fighting for Judeo-Christian values.
“By doing what is right, we not only stand for Israel, but other stuff as well. There’s a lot of work to be done for women’s right, minority rights and LGBTQ rights, especially in Middle East,” he says.
On this cold Jerusalem day, Mael is charming and utterly filled with the passion of the righteous. And his passion is gaining increasing attention in the right-wing conservative world.
A controversial Times of Israel blog surrounding the JStreet incident led Ben Shapiro, the editor of the Truth Revolt website, to approach Mael for a paying gig last winter to write from campus. Mael’s first big scoop was the infamous trip to Ramallah which he alleges was paid for by Boston Jewish philanthropists, known for the image in which smiling Harvard University students surround former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat’s grave.
Later that year, Truth Revolt was his platform to aid in a campaign to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s revoked honorary Brandeis doctorate reinstated. He got to know Hirsi Ali, whom he clearly idolizes, and calls her “one of the staunchest and most robust defenders of what is good in the US and Israel.”
“It makes me sick thinking about how we [the Brandeis community] treated her, vilified her,” says Mael in Jerusalem.
Elsewhere, on Breitbart.com, he wrote an expose during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge about tenured professors at Brandeis trashing the State of Israel through a listserve he was leaked, which included statements such as “Zionist olive trees grow wondrously on Palestinian corpses.”
In addition to Truth Revolt and Breitbart, Mael also writes for other conservative outlets, including the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
“I enjoy my work and I’m able to effect change, based on the thousands of messages I’ve received over the last year — I’ve made an impact,” he says.
But his activist journalism has often incited wrath from left-wing critics.
‘Intolerance permeates the modern campus. It is far easier to create a safe space than an intellectual space’
“I’ve been called every name in the book to the point that they’re irrelevant now. I represent some of the orthodoxies that progressive students are intolerant of: I’m a white male, staunchly religious,” he says. He feels he actually shares many of his critics’ values, though through a different prism.
“Intolerance permeates the modern campus. It is far easier to create a safe space than an intellectual space,” he says.
Mael is set to graduate in May and is unsure where his future lies, maybe journalism, maybe activism, maybe both. He says he’s been approached by some 15 different individuals, but holds his cards close to his chest when asked who.
His Facebook photos include selfies with a who’s who of politically conservative Jews, from billionaire Sheldon Adelson to Pulitzer Prize winner Bret Stephens. But there are plenty of fun shots with family and friends too.
He says though that when the spring semester begins soon at Brandeis, his lifestyle on campus will be “heavily, heavily changed” due to the threats from Lynch supporters. He says he’s emotionally drained, but seems energized by being in Israel.
This week he was interviewed by Fox News on the Lynch scandal, with a Jerusalem cityscape in the background.
“Two years ago I was a stranger here. Now I have the opportunity to stand up for all of it,” he says.