The anti-Semitism of the Suarez talk is not the way to discuss the Israeli-/Palestinian conflict

By Joe Frank

(Collegian File Photo)

Last Monday night, Thomas Suarez, author of “State of Terror: How terrorism created modern Israel” spoke to around 100 people in the Integrative Learning Center. The talk, co-sponsored by Jewish Voices for Peace, Interlink Publishing, Media Education Foundation and Students for Justice in Palestine, brought a speaker to the University of Massachusetts campus who further divides the student body. Suarez is unqualified, and his rhetoric is a detriment to the Jewish student body on campus. Being a Jewish student myself and having heard the complaints of many Jewish students in the UMass Jewish community, many students, regardless of their opinions about Israel, find it distressing that a speaker like Suarez was welcomed to this campus.

According to Suarez’s website, he does not have academic or professional experience with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside of the books and articles he has written. According to the site, “Thomas Suarez’s experience as a researcher began in the 1980s with his work on the history of cartography.” His cartography books cover regions such as Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Suarez also is a professional violinist and has played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the American Symphony Orchestra.

UMass is not the first school that Suarez has visited where he has received backlash from local Jews. In 2016, Suarez visited the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, a school with a history of anti-Semitism. There, he claimed that the Zionist movement is racist and fascist, and he compared Zionism to Nazism, as reported by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. The CAA filed a complaint with SOAS because of the talk’s anti-Semitic tone. At that talk, Suarez is quoted as saying “Zionists are so terrified of daylight on their cult, that there are moves afoot to outlaw any derogatory reference of the word,” and “Zionism was a parallel movement to Nazism.”

In his talk at UMass, Suarez proposed a one-state solution as the best remedy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but such a system does not necessarily mean that Jews will maintain the right to self-determination.

Suarez’s message is anti-Semitic if one uses the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism. According to this definition, anti-Semitism includes, among other things, “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.”

And some Jewish students at UMass found Suarez’s talk to be hateful and downright strange. Aron Unger, a friend of mine who is a junior and a member of the Jewish community at UMass, attended Suarez’s talk. In conversation, he said that he felt that it was offensive, conspiratorial and anti-Semitic. Unger acknowledged that he agrees with some of Suarez’s comments about the founding of Israel, but that he does not agree with the modern-day decisions that Suarez advocates.

It’s not anti-Semitic to discuss whether the Israeli government acts in ways that it should, and it is not anti-Semitic to debate the best possible solutions to the conflict. As the State Department notes, “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” However, it is anti-Semitic to make the outrageous anti-Israeli claims that Suarez has made in the past and at UMass. Members of the Jewish community are right to be angry that Suarez came here to speak. As UMass tries to live up to the notion that hate has no home here, it is disheartening that Suarez was invited. In the future, the campus can do better.

Joseph Frank is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].