Conversations around antisemitism on campus often flare up in conjunction with reports of increased violence in Israel and Palestine. The discourse that arises typically positions Palestinians and their allies against the Zionist Jewish community. As a Jewish student who doesn’t identify as a Zionist and routinely criticizes the Israeli government, I often feel that conversations about antisemitism on campus have more to do with silencing Palestinians than protecting Jews.
On parents weekend, when my dad picked up a Ziploc bag filled with flyers that blamed Jews for COVID and accused them of child grooming and controlling the media, I was incredibly surprised and disturbed. This was the most blatant and upsetting act of antisemitism I have personally witnessed, and the distribution of these flyers on Erev Rosh Hashanah was particularly hurtful.
While I have been struggling with the incident because it was jarring to see such hateful messaging, my anger and sadness extends beyond the flyers. I’m upset that the majority of conversations about antisemitism are obscured by fights over whether or not it is acceptable to criticize the Israeli government — taking attention away from the severity of these harmful and violent acts. I have witnessed Zionist students heckle and boo Palestinian students at the Apartheid Wall on the Diag and deface the Palestinian flag on the Michigan Rock. I believe these actions undermine the fight against true antisemitism.
I think the most important consideration when assessing whether or not something is antisemitic is the impact it has on Jewish safety. Organizations like AIPAC have blurred the lines between Jewish safety and the existence of a Jewish state by positioning unequivocal support for Israel as the sole qualifier for the safety of the Jewish people. Their methods of “preserving” the U.S.-Israel relationship have imperiled American democracy through their endorsement of dozens of insurrectionist Republicans who refused to certify the results of the 2020 election. In Democratic primaries this election cycle, they poured more than $21 million to elect “pro-Israel” candidates, most notably intervening in Michigan’s 11th-district race between incumbents Andy Levin and Haley Stevens.
AIPAC began targeting Levin and his re-election campaign after his sponsorship of H.R. 5344, a bill that would prevent American military aid to Israel from being used in human rights violations. In an email endorsing Stevens, former AIPAC president David Victor called Levin (who is Jewish) the “most corrosive member of Congress to the US-Israel relationship” and “more damaging than Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.” This statement, in addition to being deeply Islamophobic, highlights right-wing pro-Israel advocates’ fundamental misunderstanding of how the relationship between the U.S. and Israel connects to antisemitism. Jews in America are not safer simply because the American government writes Israel a blank check. Jews in America are safer when the fight against antisemitism is intersectional and encompasses other forms of oppression, including Islamophobia and violence towards Palestinians.
Jewish safety extends beyond establishing a singular geographical space for our community to call home. It requires a broader understanding of safety for all marginalized groups and a commitment to making places other than Israel safe for Jews as well. My hope is that conversations around antisemitism are focused on insidious acts like the flyers my parents and I received last weekend, and that — when conversations critiquing the Israeli government arise — Jewish students on campus are able to listen empathetically to Palestinian students. As I’ve reflected during the 10 days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I am reminded both of the scary and imminent danger presented by antisemitism and the importance of confronting all forms of bigotry and oppression to build a safer world for everyone.
Cora Galpern is a senior in LSA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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