When people think about religious diversity on campus, they may not always consider the diversity that exists within religious minorities. Since I arrived at Michigan, there has been one dominant political voice coming from the Jewish community: a voice which does not speak for me.
As a Jewish student who is religiously engaged and loves celebrating my cultural roots, I feel distressed by the toxic environment surrounding the debate over Israel. Though a diversity of opinions exists within the U-M Jewish community, I’m saddened by the fact that many of these viewpoints are overshadowed by a vocal, conservative-leaning perspective. And I am not alone. The polarized political dichotomy on campus excludes the many progressive Jews who want Israel to exist as a Jewish homeland, but are appalled by the indifference to the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.
I believe calling out the current Israeli government for its humanitarian violations is a political statement, not hate speech against Jews. I also believe criticizing the government and its policies should not be generalized to imply anti-Semitism, unless these criticisms specifically negatively target Judaism or Jews in general.
We should be quick to condemn anti-Semitism, as with all forms of religious discrimination, but we should not misconstrue political sentiments as anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is real and it exists on this campus, but when people equate political statements to a blind hatred toward Jews, they obstruct the possibility for nuanced conversation and joint productive action.
I don’t want the Jewish state to disappear, but I am also not offended by criticism of Israel; in fact, I welcome it. I’m not going to blindly support the Israeli government while it carries out severe human rights violations, and I’m not going to support Israel’s prime minister while he denies these acts.
Though politically conservative voices supporting Israel’s current policies are more prominent on campus, they should not be viewed as more legitimate than underrepresented voices. The Jewish student body does not speak with one unified voice – and that’s ok.
As a Jew who is hurt deeply by anti-Semitism, a rigid definition of anti-Semitism that broadly equates criticism of Israel with hatred toward Jews does not represent me. As I find myself caught in escalating campus tensions concerning Israeli politics, I feel a responsibility to critique Israel’s policies not in spite of my identity as a Jewish student, but because of it.