On the University of Massachusetts campus, the politics of Israel and Palestine have had a significant amount of attention in the past year. Panels such as “Not Backing Down” and the upcoming “Criminalizing Dissent,” featuring prominent scholars and advocates speaking about the climate of Palestine solidarity activism have been held on campus that elevate the conversation of Palestinian rights.
In response, Hillel, Students Alliance for Israel and Chancellor Subbaswamy have released statements calling these events “one-sided,” “deeply disconcerting” and “anti-Semitic.” In their reasoning, they pointed to the lifting of Palestinian issues as cause for concern.
As a Jewish student on campus, I have never felt represented by Chancellor Subbaswamy, SAFI, Hillel’s leadership or external Zionist groups like CAMERA and the Israeli-American Council that dominate the narrative around Israel and Palestine. Yet all of these groups are speaking on behalf of Jewish students at UMass declaiming anti-Semitism.
I reject claims of Judaism having one unanimous voice supporting Israel and its continued occupation of Palestine. I see my Jewish values and my belief in collective liberation as moving me to stand with Palestinians. In building solidarity between Jews and other marginalized groups, I believe we are building community safety.
I spent last Pesach at the seder table recounting the story of Jewish escape from slavery in Egypt, reciting as one does every pesach: “This year we are slaves. Next year, may we all be free.” I returned to school to see that Hillel had issued a statement claiming to represent “Jewish student needs and concerns” in calling a panel of activists discussing human rights anti-Semitic.
I felt deeply disappointed in the choice of the only Jewish space on campus to call a panel that called for the freedom of another people as infringing on our freedom. I don’t see the Zionist position of Hillel as representative of Jewish community. By promoting Birthright trips that are funded by Sheldon Adelson (a multibillionaire Trump donor), sponsoring pro-Israel events cloaked in Jewish ritual and consistently opposing the work of Palestinian solidarity activists on campus, they are taking the only Jewish space on campus and making it exclusionary. I don’t feel comfortable finding a spiritual home in a community that is anti-Palestinian.
Everyone has the right to critique governments, and asserting that being critical of Israel is being critical of Jews draws a false equivalency between a religious or cultural group and a state. I believe anti-Zionism is not grounded in any anti-Jewish values. In fact, it stands for the Jewish values of collective freedom.
Israel is not my vision of Jewish liberation. It is constantly committing human rights violations by arresting children, cutting off water supplies, demolishing homes and destroying farmland of Palestinians. Additionally, Israel has continued to commit atrocities against its own Jewish population. This includes the thousands of Yemenite children that were kidnapped and put up for adoption in the first decade of Israel’s creation, and the ongoing police brutality against Black Jews.
Former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, known as the father of modern Israel, said this about the Arab Jew: “It lacks the most basic and primary concepts of civilization (as distinct from culture). Its attitude toward women and children is primate. Its physical condition is poor… The passage from there to Israel has been a profound human revolution, not a superficial, political one. All its human values need to be changed from the ground up.” My own family emigrated from Tunisia to Israel in the 1950s and was put into a slum in the desert because of this racist rhetoric.This is the image in which Israel was created, in a vision of a whiteness, so why would I see this as the path to freedom? I will never support a tradeoff between Jewish nationalism and Palestinian lives.
I do have real fears as a Jewish person in America and on campus. Living in a state built on Christian hegemony and white supremacy and an era where Jews have experienced heightened anti-Semitism from white nationalists and the government, I feel vulnerable as a Jewish woman.
Yet mainstream Jewish institutions have chosen to focus on resistance to the occupation and fanned the flames of Jewish fear to demonize Palestinians. Equating anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism weaponizes generational trauma and fear to silence a legitimate critique of the state of Israel.
Where is the outrage from outside organizations like CAMERA when swastikas appear and neo-Nazi
Identity Evropa call for a Christian white supremacy recruit on campus? Our enemy is a system that upholds white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and colonialism. Those who I see as my allies in resistance are the Palestinian people and many other marginalized communities working to overthrow these structures of violence. I’m deeply upset by those who have claimed that pro-Palestinian activism is the face of anti-Semitism on campus because we are not only degrading a principled group of people, but also undermining the very real fear of anti-Semitism.
Every day, the situation in Palestine intensifies and I am compelled to act. I don’t see any other way to live my life and I’m joined by many others who have chosen to resist settler-colonialism in Israel/Palestine. I’m grateful to know many of the Palestine solidarity activists that have risked being doxxed, fired and estranged because of their belief in the Palestinian right to freedom. I’ve seen beautiful Jewish communities that practice ritual and connect with tradition while committing to justice in Palestine.
Many Jews at UMass desire a Jewishness that doesn’t come attached to ethno-nationalism. Groups like CAMERA, Hillel and SAFI, you do not speak for us. We hold our belief in what the Torah commands of us:“tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”: “justice, justice, shall you pursue” close to us as Jews always have.
Anna Ben-Hur is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]