7C community members continue to organize, release statements regarding violence in Gaza

As tensions surrounding violence in Gaza continue to rise across the nation, community members at the Claremont Colleges speak out. (Annabelle Ink • The Student Life)

Following a protest by hundreds of 7C students urging Pomona College to divest from Israel, students, staff, faculty and administration at the Claremont Colleges have become increasingly vocal about their varying stances on recent events in Gaza, releasing statements, hosting processing spaces and organizing informational panels.

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, Jewish Voice for Peace at the Claremont Colleges (JVP) emailed a letter commenting on the community’s disunion and declaring its condemnation of Israeli apartheid and occupation to Claremont College Presidents Gabrielle Starr, Strom C. Thacker, Amy Marcus-Newhall, Hiram Chodosh, Harriet B. Nembhard, Len Jessup and Sheldon M. Schuster. The letter was also emailed to the presidents of the student governing bodies at the 7Cs.

The letter began with the authors grieving for all lives lost, “[refusing] to make [their] empathy selective,” and noting how their grief and identities were being used against Palestinians.

“Even as we mourn, our grief and our very identities are being weaponized by Israel and pro-Israel organizations to justify genocide against Palestinians,” the letter reads. “Spurious accusations of antisemitism and statements made on behalf of Jews as a collective are being used to stifle Palestine solidarity organizing. We understand this violence as being committed in our name, and we refuse to be made complicit.”

The letter then went on to criticize previous statements released by 7C groups that it says conflate Palestinian solidarity with antisemitism. Among the statements referenced were those by Claremont Hillel and Haverim, organizations that the letter says have claimed to speak on behalf of the Jewish community at the 5Cs.

“Let us be clear: we condemn this conflation,” authors of JVP’s letter wrote. “Those who present justice for Palestinians and safety for Jews as opposing issues are misguided at best. At worst, they are engaged in a bad-faith effort to silence activists who support Palestinian freedom and safety. They do not speak for us.”

Ezra Levinson PZ ’27, the letter’s primary author, detailed their personal frustrations with organizations they say attempt to speak for Jewish individuals such as themself.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to see this narrative presented that Jewish students are unsafe because of organizing in solidarity with Palestine,” they said in an interview with TSL. “I organize in solidarity with Palestine, and I do that because I feel it’s right and because I feel a distinct responsibility as a Jew — growing up, I was taught that Judaism is a culture that stands for values of justice and stands with the oppressed.”

According to Levinson, JVP’s letter was meant to emphasize the distinction between Judaism and Zionism and to encourage a safer and more just environment for all students at the 5Cs.

“We’re building a Judaism beyond Zionism,” Levinson said of JVP. “We’re envisioning a world where all people live in freedom, justice, equality and dignity… I started drafting this letter with that in mind and with the goal of expressing Judaism as a call for justice rather than a tool to stifle justice.”

The letter ends with a call for the Claremont Colleges to work against all forms of discrimination and encourage political discourse and activism on campus. It also urges readers to understand the division on Palestinian solidarity within the Jewish community.

“And while we emphatically oppose Zionism and condemn Israel’s genocidal violence, we are not writing this letter to ask that you do the same,” the authors wrote. “At this moment, we simply ask you to understand that the Jewish community is not unified on this issue.”

JVP’s emphasis on the distinction between antisemitism and Palestinian solidarity provides a new perspective on what some community members from other Jewish groups feel has been a rise in antisemitic behavior.

“You can absolutely have solidarity with Palestinians without being antisemitic, and you can organize without being antisemitic,” Haverim, a student group devoted to fostering understanding around Judaism, said in an email to TSL. “But often, these organizations focus more on hatred of Israel and Zionism than on the plight of the Palestinian people.”

To Haverim, rhetoric focusing on the hatred of Israel and Zionism is rooted in antisemitism. They said the intertwining of this rhetoric with some students’ pro-Palestinian activism has contributed to an unsafe environment for some Jewish students on campus.

“A number of Jewish students have left campus since October, with many of them intending to transfer,” Haverim said. “If that’s not evidence that Jews in Claremont do not feel safe, what is?”

Haverim also defended their condemnation of Hamas, stating that in doing so they did not conflate Palestinian solidarity with antisemitism.

“Hamas’ charter is antisemitic and expresses their will to exterminate all Jews,” they said.  “Palestinian solidarity should not come over the expense of the right of Jews to self-determination — the existence of the State of Israel. These are not either or, one can be both Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine. It even has a name — supporting the two-state solution.”

With a rise of Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents in other parts of the country, some administrators have expressed concern over potential reverberations on campus. On Monday, Scripps College President Amy Marcus-Newhall released an email to students, faculty and staff expressing concern for antisemitic and Islamophobic behavior in the broader community and its impact on individuals at Scripps.

“The Scripps College we know, love and continue to build together is not a place for hate, discrimination or violence, and such behavior will not be tolerated,” she said. “Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents are on the rise worldwide, and I am deeply concerned for those in the Scripps community who are feeling vulnerable as a result.”

Citing Scripps’ Principles of Community and Principles of Diversity, Marcus-Newhall emphasized the importance of fostering a safe community. She also expressed the college’s commitment to free speech and academic freedom, so long as this speech does not evolve into “behavior that disrupts the ability to live and learn safely on campus.”

Marcus-Newhall ended her email by encouraging people to connect with other community members and to take advantage of the educational and healing-based resources available at the Claremont Colleges.

Just hours after her email was sent to the Scripps community, Pomona College’s Asian American Resource Center, Pitzer College’s Center for Asian Pacific American Students, and the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies at the Claremont Colleges co-hosted a 5C Asian American Solidarity with Palestine Panel at the Motley. Addressing dozens of people, student organizers declared the organization’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

 “We register Asian American solidarity with Palestinians’ long struggle to end settler colonial occupation, apartheid and genocide as unconditional,” an organizer told the crowd.

They then defined a series of terms, including “settler colonialism,” “settler migrant” and “apartheid.” One organizer emphasized that, while it is important for students to educate themselves about these definitions and the history surrounding the ongoing violence in Gaza, having this knowledge is not enough.

“For us to know about settler colonialism and colonization and the history of all of this is not sufficient for us as diasporic settlers of color,” they said. “We cannot excuse ourselves from doing the work of solidarity and decolonization just because we know about it.”

Organizers then spoke on settler colonialism and violence beyond Palestine, seeking to relate current events to Asian and Asian American history, including the 38th parallel that divided the Korean Peninsula in 1945.

“This is about finding meaningful parallels and recognizing that U.S. imperialism and settler colonialism has been a method of violence in both [Palestine and Korea],” an organizer told the crowd.

One organizer pointed out that, while it proved useful at times, relating current events in Palestine to similar examples within Asian and Asian American history should not be necessary to motivate people to take action.

“I want to emphasize that we should not need to be drawing parallels in our historic situations just so that we can be opposed to genocide,” they said. “We should be opposed to genocide period, and then we can also draw on history in order to figure out ways to actively resist it.”

Organizers concluded the panel by encouraging students to speak out on social media, leverage their institutional and leadership positions, contribute to mutual aid, engage in campus activism and call or fax their representatives.

Community members at the 7Cs have been hosting events meant to address the more personal consequences of ongoing violence as well as the historical context. On Nov. 10, the 5C Arab Students Association and Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a vigil and processing space at Scripps’ Elm Tree Lawn.

According to one attendee, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns, the event offered students a low-pressure environment where they could come together and share how they were feeling. Students listened to prayers, talked to one another and wrote letters to Palestinians in Gaza.

“[The event] was really, in a way, therapeutic,” they said. “It felt like exactly what I needed in that moment, because prior to that … I didn’t really have anybody to discuss things with or process my emotions with.”

They also commented on the student-run nature of the event, saying that, although Pomona’s administration had previously taken the lead in organizing resources and spaces for students to process traumatic things, they were not doing this with Southwest Asian, North African, Muslim and Palestinian students being affected now.

“I am disappointed in the fact that students who are going through a lot have to simultaneously process their emotions, convince people that Palestinians are deserving of humanity and also organize these events and resources for one another,” they said. “That’s a lot for students, and I think the administration should take more initiative in catering to us.”

In their recent resolution, “A Resolution Acknowledging the current Palestinian Genocide and Ongoing Apartheid in support of the Palestinian People,” the Pitzer Student Senate echoed this call for increased administrative action at the Claremont Colleges.

On Nov. 5, Student Senate President Sanya Dhama PZ ’24 released an email to Pitzer’s students, faculty and staff members introducing this resolution. Initially introduced on Oct. 8, it condemned the violence in Israel and Palestine and mourned the recent deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians.

“The loss of any and all life is a tragedy,” the resolution says. “We abhor all violence towards civilians on both sides.”

It also called for the acknowledgment of the broader historical context surrounding recent events. 

“And whereas, as the Hamas attacks have already been institutionally, and rightfully, condemned we must also condemn the 75 years of apartheid and current genocide towards the people of Palestine,” the resolution reads.

The resolution alluded to a slew of statements released across the 5Cs over the past few weeks, including Pitzer President Strom Thacker’s Oct. 13 statement, which received criticism for denouncing Hamas’ attacks without commenting on what Thacker referred to as the “larger historical conflict.”

“This has been an enormously difficult time, as the world struggles to come to grips with the horrific loss of lives during and since the heinous terrorist acts by Hamas this past week,” Thacker said in his statement. “Regardless of one’s perspective on the larger historical conflict, the intentional killing of civilians — anytime, anywhere — is abhorrent.

Pitzer’s student senate resolution went on to declare its support for the recent Claremont Consortium Faculty Statement on Gaza and for students’ political organizing on campus. It also condemned “scare tactics,” citing doxxing, hate speech and non-consensual photography and videography as examples. The resolution ended by asking Pitzer’s administration to provide increased support for its Palestinian students, calling for them to “continue finding ways to support Palestinian students and their voices for justice.”

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