Op-Ed: It is time to show up

Monday, October 10, 2016 - 2:26pm

Let’s face it: There will never be a convenient time for those who are privileged to confront the barriers to liberation for those who are oppressed.

As a first-year graduate student entering into my fifth consecutive year as a student here at the University of Michigan, there inevitably comes a time every year when I have to confront the rising tensions between pro-Israeli Jewish students and Palestinian students and their allies on campus. Every year for the past four years, I have found a voice on campus that exposes the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conversation. In what is already a saturated space, I had the privilege of keeping my internal dialogue to myself. I have waited a week since tensions arose yet again this year, but I have not seen or heard a voice that claims my conscious.

This past Tuesday, members of the student group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) held their annual demonstration on the Diag, depicting the challenges and harsh conditions Palestinians face on a daily basis from the Israeli West Bank barrier's presence and enforcement by Israeli soldiers. During this time, many pro-Israel Jewish students were not on campus to respond to the demonstration because they were observing Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. As a result, many Jews felt excluded from the conversation that SAFE members were initiating.

This past week, many Jewish students have voiced that the situation seems unfair, unjust, uncomfortable and contrary to our campus’s values to create dialogue and understanding around conflict. As a Jewish student myself, I cannot help but feel frustrated by my community’s response. Let me be very clear: We do not get to decide when it is convenient for Palestinians to fight for their liberation from Israeli oppression.

Every day, Palestinians are victims of gross injustices perpetuated by the enforcement of the separation barrier and Israel’s action around it. That is an undeniable fact. Since the day I began living on this campus more than four years ago, the greater Jewish community has shut down nearly every action that has sought to expose the Palestinian narrative by claiming anti-Semitism and falsely suggesting that this topic is too divisive for our campus. From my perspective, it feels that we as a Jewish community have largely passed over our opportunities to build relationships with Palestinian students and have actively failed to affirm the conditions that cause these demonstrations to exist at all. We are implicated in the struggle but refuse to share the burden of vulnerability.

As a Jew who stands in vehement opposition to the occupation, it is my responsibility to recognize that while I was sitting at Rosh Hashanah services on Tuesday, men, women and children in Palestine were still living under the harsh conditions they are subject to under the occupation. It is a privilege that I can enter and exit the Israel-Palestine conversation at will, while Palestinian students on campus are forced to confront it every day. The urgency to end the occupation cannot wait any longer, and it certainly should not have to wait for an opening in the Jewish calendar.

In social justice spaces, we often talk about showing up. Physically and emotionally, we must internalize this philosophy if we ever want to end the occupation; then, and only then, will we be able to move toward peace for all.

Jewish students may not have had the opportunity to show up and stand in solidarity with Palestinian students last week, but we can show up now. We can help one another learn about Palestinian narratives by holding a teach-in and we can show up to SAFE events as active listeners with open hearts and open minds — we have the opportunity to mobilize our privilege.

I beg my Jewish community to understand what is at stake so that we can truly begin working toward a just peace.

Eli Zucker is a first year Social Work student in the Jewish Communal Leadership Program studying community organizing.