This past week, the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance (CPIA) released two videos as a response to the activities hosted by Claremont Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as a part of their annual “Israeli Apartheid Week.” The videos sought to “refute some of the misinformation SJP has spread during Hate Week.” While these videos claim to provide an alternative perspective on the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they claimed to represent the Jewish voice on campus as a means to further justify their response. We find this categorization of the Jewish voice on campus to be disturbing and highly inaccurate.
What we find most disturbing is the claim of Jewish “otherness” and oppression as an inherent quality of the Diaspora with Zionism as its only solution. This is a staggering rejection of two thousand years of Jewish narratives. In Iraq, New York, and Poland, for example, Jews faced severe persecution. Many saw their oppression not as call to abandon diaspora, but a call to seek the collective liberation of themselves and others in their own lands. While Zionism, for many, was a legitimate response to widespread anti-Semitism, it has never been and never will be the only response to the “otherness” of Jews.
We at Nishmat are committed to fostering authentic, vibrant, and inclusive Judaism and an honest interaction with our contemporary identities. We will not be silent in condemning the ways in which the oppression of our own people has been used to undermine the rights and dignity of Palestinians. No longer can we stand idly by while our Jewish institutions actively uphold the occupation using our self-interest as a means of justification.
The message conveyed in these videos that describe Israel as the “only homeland” for the Jewish people are misguided and categorically group Jewish students as identifying as Zionist, and characterize Zionism as a necessary element to one’s Jewish identity. It is important to note the diversity of Jewish identities, and that many Jews do not find Zionism to be an integral part of their Jewishness. Ideology aside, the claim that Jews cannot have a “homeland” outside of the Land of Israel has been used repeatedly throughout history to justify our subjugation. The video states that “there is no homeland for any Jew, except Israel.” This claim is inflammatory and destructive, implying the inability for Jews to be full-fledged citizens of any country outside of Israel. This assertion has been used to justify a distrust of Jews, our patriotism, and our worth as members of society.
We recognize that a large group of Jewish students have felt unsafe, uncomfortable, and targeted during “Apartheid Week.” With this in mind, labeling all of SJP’s activities and messages as inherently hateful or anti-Semitic is misguided and unjustly vilifies many students who share a common goal of universal dignity. Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that, for many of us, involves deep-seated emotion and personal connection. It is important that both SJP and CPIA be mindful of the ways in which the rhetoric and actions of certain members make students, Jewish and non-Jewish, feel targeted,uncomfortable and alienated. As Jews around the world observe the holiday of Passover, we hope that Jewish students can be reminded of our legacy as an oppressed people, struggling for dignity and empowerment, and to recognize how our liberation is intertwined with the liberation of all peoples. Thus, we will never truly be free until all peoples are free — as the Torah states: “Remember the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The Board of Nishmat at the Claremont Colleges
August Kahn PZ '20
Ittai Sopher PZ '19
Josh Scal CM '19
Ranen Green PZ '20
Gabe Gluskin-Braun CM '20
Miriam Bankier SC '20
Harper Mills SC '20
Sarah Landau PO '20
Nishmat is a grassroots, intersectional Jewish spiritual community committed to fostering an inclusive, vibrant Jewish life at the Claremont Colleges.