Thursday, February 22, 2024

We, Jewish students, must not be silent on the genocide in Gaza | Opinions

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On December 5, 2023, I joined fellow Jewish university students outside the United States Congress to protest against a resolution conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Our calls to reject the resolution were not heard. Two weeks earlier, a hearing was held where our concerns were yet again ignored; only pro-Israeli witnesses were called to testify.

To us, progressive Jews, it appears elected officials who proudly stood by former President Donald Trump after he refused to condemn neo-Nazis and dined with anti-Semites value our voices only when they can tokenise a select few to fulfil their political goals.

Conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of a modern apartheid state is dangerous historical revisionism. It ignores the fact that since the conception of Zionism, there has always existed strong and diverse Jewish opposition to it. For decades, progressive Jewish movements have held Zionism to be a dangerous form of nationalism, with some Holocaust survivors openly denouncing Zionist policies.

Like countless other Jews, I was brought up to believe in extending solidarity, combating oppression and supremacy, and standing up for the sanctity of human life. The Torah states that all people are made B’tselem Elohim (in the image of God), making each life sacred. The Talmud teaches that saving a single life is to save the whole world, commanding Jews everywhere to fight against the loss of life anywhere. These teachings drive the love I have for my faith and culture … and the heartbreak I feel whenever I see the destruction Zionism has wrought.

The Israeli army has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians since October 7, including more than 11,000 children. Of the tens of thousands of bombs dropped on Gaza – one of the most densely populated areas in the world – nearly half were “unguided”. Israel has killed Palestinians indiscriminately in illegal attacks on hospitals, United Nations-run school shelters, ambulances, and civilian evacuation routes. Entire neighbourhoods in areas such as Gaza City, with a higher population density than New York City, have been flattened.

The Israeli government claims it is fighting to destroy Hamas. Yet, Israeli authorities have long supported strengthening Hamas, facilitating payments to the group and dismissing intelligence reports on a planned attack on southern Israel.

By now, it is more than clear that this is not a fight against Hamas, but rather a genocide in the making. Israel is starving millions of civilians, illegally depriving them of food, water, and medical supplies. It is systematically destroying Gaza’s healthcare system, denying the wounded and the sick even the most basic services in an attempt to make survival impossible for millions of Palestinians.

Israeli officials openly call for Palestinian civilians’ fates to be “more painful than death” and appeal for the complete destruction of Gaza. The Israeli army has even killed its own people taken hostage by Hamas in a clear indication that there are no “rules of engagement” for Israeli soldiers when it comes to civilians.

Israel has sought to obliterate every aspect of the Palestinian nation, including its knowledge and culture. More than 390 educational institutions have been destroyed in Gaza, along with every single university; thousands of students and teachers have been killed.

Had this happened in any other country, our universities would have been instantly up in arms, but they remain completely silent about the destruction of Palestine’s education system and the ongoing genocide. Worse still, many universities across the US continue to invest in industries that bolster Israeli military brutality.

University presidents often claim to have the safety and best interest of Jewish students, while suppressing condemnations of Israeli violence. But attacking free speech and doxing students does not fight anti-Semitism on campus because there is nothing anti-Semitic about opposing genocide. What is more, university administrations have consistently made it clear that they do not care much about the safety of students with pro-Palestinian attitudes, even if they are Jewish.

Just earlier this month, members of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) groups were attacked with what is believed to be an Israeli-made chemical-based weapon while they were peacefully rallying for a ceasefire on campus at Columbia University. At least eight students have since been hospitalised.

The university administration chose to blame the victims for what happened, saying their protest was “unsanctioned and violated university policies”. Columbia is one of the many universities fuelling the dangerous, ahistorical conflation of Judaism and Zionism, having banned its chapters of SJP and JVP.

These smears and hypocrisy are nothing new. As a student in Washington, DC, I have watched political pundits slander pro-Palestine marches as “breeding grounds” for campus anti-Semitism while claiming the November 14 March for Israel was an event rejecting anti-Semitism.

Many of my Palestinian and Arab peers – who have always stood in solidarity with the Jewish community – are continually threatened, harassed, and branded “terrorists” for supporting a humanitarian ceasefire and mourning their loved ones. As a Jewish woman, I have felt nothing but kindness and safety at each Palestinian-led protest I have attended. At the March for Israel, I would not have felt the same, alongside chants of “No Ceasefire!” and featured speakers, like Christian Zionist televangelist John Hagee, who believes “God sent Hitler”.

While disagreement will always exist within our community, Zionist nationalism is not the standard, with Jewish Americans now shutting down freeways, occupying offices of elected officials, and chaining themselves to White House gates to demand a ceasefire.

In the face of unspeakable violence, Palestinians continue to show resilience and selflessness, and the world owes them solidarity. Proclaiming that the actions of the Israeli government do not represent us is not enough; the grief and rage we feel at the ongoing violence must motivate us to act.

In 1965, civil rights activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote about the Selma-to-Montgomery March he attended: “Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.”

Today, almost 60 years later, we must also embrace protest as a form of prayer because struggling against injustice has long been the norm in our community. As Jewish students, we must refuse to allow our identity to be corrupted to justify crimes against humanity. We must refuse to sit silently while our tax dollars and tuition payments fund genocide in our name, knowing that never again means never again for everyone.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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