We, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, held a demonstration on Tuesday, Oct. 5, in which we put up two mock walls in the Diag to represent the Apartheid Wall that cuts through the West Bank. We reenacted scenes of Palestinians crossing through checkpoints because we wanted to use that day as an opportunity to highlight what daily life is like for Palestinians living under occupation. It was a day on which Palestinians centered their voices in the discussion of their own oppression. In addition, our members walked around asking if they could answer questions and inform passersby of what we were doing. We had an information table with pamphlets and facts about checkpoints, occupation and the illegality of the Apartheid Wall as stated by the International Court of Justice. All of this was done to start the conversation about the oppression of Palestinians under occupation on our own terms.
As Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, we stand against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as well as homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, colorism, etc. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized people and oppose all systems and forms of oppression. Accusations have been made that we intentionally planned this event on Rosh Hashanah to target Jewish students. This is false. We distinguish between Judaism, a religious and ethnic identity, and Zionism, a political ideology in support of a state. Criticizing a state’s policies and its institutions is never off limits and stating that criticism of oppressive state policies is an attack on an identity is misguided. In addition to it being Rosh Hashanah, it was also the Muslim New Year, the day after the comemmoration of the Virgin Mary, and four days prior to the celebration of St. Thomas. Four holy days sacred to three different religions in which all of these identities are represented in our membership. Furthermore, the Diag was booked three weeks in advance and a date would not be available again until mid-November. Therefore, it is painful to see that we are being accused of anti-Semitism and astonishing that a petition has been circulated to condemn us as hateful.
Stating that we singled out Jewish students in the midst of three other religious holidays is unfair. It seeks to undermine the work we have done and wishes to utilize the climate of attacks on Black communities and people of color on our campus and twist it to shut down criticism of systematic state violence that oppresses Palestinian students. Additionally, it falls under the much larger wave of speech suppression that seeks to derail any valid criticism of Israeli state policy of oppression against Palestinians as a false claim of anti-Semitism. As Palestine Legal has noted, this policy has been heavily utilized by pro-Israel advocates to delegitimize Palestinian activists in recent years. It serves as a method to silence Palestinians for speaking against their oppression. Palestinian students on this campus should not have to pick and choose when to speak of their oppression for fear of being discounted as hateful and bigoted.
Finally, to suggest that SAFE, a pro-Palestinian advocacy organization, harbors such hatred of Jews as to intentionally host a demonstration on a Jewish holiday to attack Jewish identity is to reaffirm the racist stereotype that pro-Palestinian student activists are inherently anti-Semitic due to some irrational hatred of the Jews as a people. As the “Leaders and Best,” this type of implicit prejudice should not be tolerated at the University of Michigan. No student group or students in general should be faced with these kinds of accusations while organizing against their own oppression.
Students Allied for Freedom and Equality
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Supported by: Students4Justice at the University of Michigan