Op-Ed: Excluded from the conversation

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 6:46pm

This Tuesday was the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The holiday focuses around self-reflection, prayer and hope for the year to come. As I sat in services Tuesday morning, I was surprised to hear, between prayers, whispering from my peers: “There’s an anti-Israel wall in the middle of the Diag.”

The wall falsely depicted Israel as an apartheid state, and the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces as vicious murderers. To have an anti-Israel display on a day when Israel’s advocates can’t adequately respond is conniving and corrosive to the dialogue many students who are passionate about the conflict have worked so hard to establish. It feels that Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, the organization who put on the demonstration, has tactically chosen to demonize Israel when its Jewish supporters were unable to participate in the conversation.

Even more, many students were forced to choose between observing their Jewish religion and standing up for their Jewish homeland, which for many, like me, are incredibly intertwined and complex. Many Jewish students were not on campus on Tuesday, as they were attending Rosh Hashanah services in synagogues across the country. Those students’ voices were silenced by SAFE, because they couldn’t present an alternative narrative to what was so insensitively constructed on campus this week.

On Tuesday I felt as I have felt many times over the past year: excluded from the larger narrative on this campus because of my Jewish identity. We are told we don’t know how it feels to be ostracized and oppressed, and thus can’t participate in conversations revolving around diversity and inclusion.

A lack of identical shared experiences shouldn’t constitute an inability to participate in the conversation, or an inability to support others who are suffering. One group’s pain and oppression shouldn’t be measured against another group’s pain and oppression — this is useless and hurtful. All minorities on this campus — whether pertaining to religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and so on — face their challenges and feel excluded in different, yet often intersecting ways.

Had SAFE not explicitly chosen to host this event on Rosh Hashanah, when they knew they would face little opposition on campus, I might have learned something about Israel’s complexities and my fellow students’ connection to the land. Yet, because I was observing the Jewish holiday, I was intentionally excluded from this conversation.

This week, SAFE hurt me, but it wasn’t because they put up an anti-Israel wall on the Diag. Though I disagree with their message, I support their right to express it. Rather, I am hurt that they excluded me from the conversation. Just like SAFE, the Jewish members of the Michigan community are a vital part of the dialogue.

If SAFE intended to promote constructive conversation and education, I don’t see how that would have been possible on this day when many of those with differing opinions were not passing through the Diag because they were attending religious services.    

Coming off of the Jewish New Year, my head is filled with the ideas of starting new, reflecting upon my actions and looking ahead toward hopeful change for the coming year. Bearing our different backgrounds, pains, struggles and triumphs, we each have a distinct and valuable voice that deserves to be heard on this campus, not one more or less than another. I hope this year brings more support for one another, constructive dialogue and the will to sit down together and include all of those voices in the conversation.

Gabrielle Roth an Organizational Studies Junior.