Join the USG entering Standing with Palestine
Our new undergraduate student government has made the right decision to stand with Palestine and so should you.
Ben Gerhardt, a third-year college student, recently wrote an article titled, “SG’s recent statement in favor of BDS is deaf — listen to your constituents. Among other matters, he objected to our new undergraduate student government (USG) purported “performative and borderline anti-Semitic response” to the recent cruel attacks on Palestinians by the Israeli government and israeli settler lynchers.
Ben writes: “Yet while [USG] presumed [the need to speak on Israel and Palestine], they neglected to listen to the population they are in fact responsible for representing: the students of UCicago. So who, according to Ben, are the “students of the University of Chicago? It is apparently students like him who support Israel and think “Israel needs America’s support.” While some students may be content with an imaginary demographic campus where all of our peers support the occupation of Palestine, I am confident that when our new undergraduate student government wrote its original statement, they have did in fact speaking with the support of hundreds of students on this campus who, like me, care deeply about Palestine. They wrote to amplify the voices of Palestinian students, who are regularly harassed, doxxed, and invalidated, as is extensively detailed by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter of UCicago.
As the central argument of his article, Ben asserts that the USG’s willingness to issue a declaration on Palestine is not only outside its duties, but “needlessly inflammatory.” However, we are students at the University of Chicago. Our university is actively involved in maintaining political, cultural, financial and academic ties with the State of Israel, as evidenced by the USG original statement, which lists examples of this, including treks in Tel Aviv, study abroad in Jerusalem, and other opportunities for students to benefit from displacement of Palestinians. Visiting the occupied territories of 1948 means exercising a right of movement and return do not guaranteed to over 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, while financially and materially supporting the Israeli economy in violation of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It is about participating in Israeli apartheid. Plus, Ben himself emphasizes the importance Israel plays in his life as a Jew in America – I wonder why Ben has the right to write articles about the importance of Israel to him, but our US government does not deserve the right to call precisely the link of our institution with the Israeli occupation of Palestine? God forbid our student government to issue a statement that rightly raises the voices of Palestinian students – students with families, ties and lives in Palestine. No, according to Ben, it’s “bordering on anti-Semitism.”
If anything is “unnecessarily inflammatory”, it is the tide of the Israelis walk in the streets calling for “Death to the Arabs”, sacking and destroying the livelihoods of Palestinians in the occupied territories. It is the continuous effort and decades of both the Israeli government and settlers at ethnically cleanse the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, among many others. If anything deserves to be international and campus-wide protest, solidarity and outrage, it is the recent bombing of Gaza, which resulted in more than 200 deaths, including more than 60 children. The death toll is not the only indicator to understand the total terror that is the Israeli aggression against Gaza, as more than 91,000 Palestinians are now homeless. There is no other justification or explanation needed to focus on Israel and Palestine at this time – the overwhelming violence and destruction is on its own. Like Nadya Siyam, a Palestinian currently in the Gaza Strip, written: “Everything is red outside. Hellfire is coming for us. Sound is an endless cycle of horror. My sister reminds us to say our “chahada,”Of the words you say when you are about to leave the earth. But we have already done it, in silence. We are waiting. We die. We don’t. We live. We don’t. We die. We live.”
If it’s too intense, vulgar, graphic, or disturbing, so be it. This is the reality of the terror and destruction that the Palestinians face. There is no embellishment or exaggeration, for there is nothing more serious than Palestinian family after family to be slaughtered together in the Gaza Strip. Ben writes, “I ask why our US government has taken the time to criticize Israel. I rather ask why the others do not feel the need to explicitly name and draw attention to this violence. Ben writes that Israel “is constantly held to a higher standard than almost any other country,” but I wonder what standard could be lower than the pointless murder of families. Ben writes that Israel “is the only democratically elected government” in the region, but simultaneously calls Netanyahu’s government “undemocratic.” Instead of denouncing specific violence against Palestinians, Ben opts for vague mourning on “both sides” and claims that Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East to address “women’s rights and LGBTQ +” “. I can only think of the right to life that women and gay people in Palestine deserve – the right that Israel continues to disrespect by robbing them of their lives and their livelihoods.
It is telling that Ben feels that Israel is “the only nation where [he] can be safe observing [his] religion ”, because this is clearly not the case for the Palestinians, who are repeatedly subjected to brutal attacks and repression of their religious holidays. Just two weeks ago, thousands of Palestinians encountered deadly tear gas and rubber ammunition pray and gather at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the last Friday of Ramadan. 305 Palestinians have been injured and 228 others hospitalized. I would be more than happy to hear an explanation as to why Palestinian children deserve to run away from tear gas while others observe their religion “safely”.
Moreover, the ethnic cleansing and terror that the State of Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people goes beyond the mere actions of the past few weeks. This is the ghost behind our campus rhetoric around “Israel and Palestine”: the refusal to recognize the Nakba of the Palestinian people. As Kaleem Hawa writes in Jewish currents, “The Zionist project is a genocidal project. It is not a term that I invoke lightly; the violent expulsion and dispossession that began in 1948, and the ongoing attempts to disarticulate and destroy an indigenous people meet the definition of the genocide of the perspective of international human rights law. “I consider recognition and opposition to the Nakba to be paramount for any campaign dedicated to human rights and solidarity with oppressed people on campus and abroad, such as that of our new student government of first cycle.
Finally, Ben writes, “I understand that the USG may disagree with me, citing organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, but this organization does not speak for all Jews. Forgive me for feeling that we Jews have a wide range of cultures, origins, languages, politics and history – I will try to be more mindful of this pro-Israel monolith in which we are supposed to reduce ourselves to. I have to ask, however, what part of Jewish history and politics should I ignore? As a student of Yiddish literature, I myself am well aware of the history of the opposition of the Yiddish left to Zionism. So, I’m able to cover up my community’s century-old confrontation with Zionism, but what to do with those pesky other “bad Jews,” who run Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, or B’Tselem? Or stories of Jews who dissident of Zionism and supported a binational egalitarian state, like influential reformist rabbi Judah Leon Magnes? Or the Egyptian Jewish Anti-Zionist League? Or Ivan Slama and the Tunisian Communist Party of 1949, who opposed Zionism and argued that Zionism is an internalization of anti-Semitism in the newspaper The future of Tunisia (v. 29, n ° 265)? Or the many Jews on this campus this do to support IfNotNow or the Jewish Voice for Peace? The list could go on and on.
Since I am more of a secular Jew, I don’t think I should be the person to confront the principled and controversial story of Haredi anti-Zionism in the traditions of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, Hayyim Elazar Shapira de Munkacs, Elhanan Wasserman, Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, Rebbe Sholom Dovber Schneersohn and Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn; may all their memories be a blessing. This is just a very little taste of the diversity of Jewish political and theological views with regard to Zionism, which deserves a commitment.
But there is no need to offer a “Jewish” defense of opposition to Zionism and the current Nakba and the occupation of Palestine. It is not a Jewish problem but a humanitarian one. I am insulted by the accusation that as a Jewish student at the University of Chicago I must somehow oppose the USG’s statement in favor of a free Palestine. , or that it is “anti-Semitic” to oppose the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. A free Palestine means the end of the ongoing Nakba – genocide – of the Palestinians, the end of the Israeli occupation and apartheid, a right of return for all Palestinian refugees, and complete equality and agency for all who reside in Palestine.
I reject this insidious idea that nobody speaks on behalf of all Jews, and says, as a Jewish student of this university: Thank you, USG and SJP, for this principled and necessary statement in favor of Palestinian liberation. There are many more students like me supporting you. A correct view of the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the Nakba only leads to the following question: are you standing with the Palestinians in their struggle for full and unequivocal liberation, or not? Everything else is a distraction. I encourage more UCicago students to critically assess their position.
If you support the New Student Government’s solidarity with Palestine and are affiliated with the University of Chicago, please support BDS and sign this solidarity petition: https://forms.gle/HGfzhCUp1u1AHLht8
Eyshe Beirich is in her second year at the College.