As you read this, if it troubles you, if you feel that you are being attacked, know that it isn’t an attack on you, because it isn’t just you. I wouldn’t have written this any differently before I met you. I’m not writing this because of what happened on Thursday. I’m writing because I knew what would happen on Thursday before it occurred.
I am about as Jewish as you can be (my parents are both Rabbis), and about as well-informed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as any layman. My mom was a Hillel director for over a decade, so from a very young age, I knew that college students could say very hateful things. I’ve heard people say horrible things because they genuinely hate Jews, and I’ve heard them do it because they genuinely don’t understand the effect of their words.
I’ve participated in thought-provoking conversations about the conflict with Palestinians in Israel. I’ve also been on the receiving end of misinformation, hate-mongering, and disingenuous tactics from both sides of the conflict. But what causes me the most pain is when many liberal people, with whom I see myself aligned, make antisemitic comments without understanding the consequences.
When I tell you that many people on this campus slip from criticizing Israel (a state that certainly earns it) to employing language that personally offends me because of my ethnic and religious background, I expect you to believe it.
I expect you to believe it because when you tell me the same, I will believe you.
I am white. I would never presume to tell a Black person that a comment I made that offended them wasn’t racist.
I am male. I would never presume to tell a woman that a comment I made that offended her wasn’t sexist.
I am Jewish. I would never presume to tell someone who is Muslim that a comment I made that offended them wasn’t Islamophobic.
And if I have said something offensive to you, please tell me. I will listen to you explain how I hurt you, and do the best that I can to understand experiences of yours that I cannot share. I will learn and grow and do what I can to make myself better, and to make things right.
I am an imperfect person in an imperfect world. I do my best to live up to my ideals; I don’t always succeed.
These are all of the things that leaders of liberal movements of all stripes request — that they be allowed to have the ultimate authority on prejudice against them.
I don’t feel that me or my people have been granted that authority.
I am terrified every time someone tries to create a forum to discuss antisemitism, because I know it is a coin flip away from turning into another room full of anti-Zionists yelling that they aren’t antisemitic bookended by comments that make my stomach turn.
If you’re part of any marginalized community, you know the feeling.
The feeling that you can’t trust these people who refuse to trust you about your own experiences.
The feeling that it doesn’t matter if you speak up, because they won’t listen.
The feeling of fear in a place where you should feel safe.
I am Jewish. Don’t you dare tell me what antisemitism is.
To clarify my positions on the conflict — I believe in the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank as quickly and safely as possible. I also believe the the Palestinian Liberation Organization does not have the best interests of their people at heart, and know that Hamas is a terrorist group which causes as much — if not more — harm to Palestinians as it does Israelis. Because of this, I’m not sure it is currently possible to establish a Palestinian state without starting a war, and so believe that as many efforts as possible should be directed towards feeding, clothing, educating, and supporting Palestinians on their land until a government that isn’t bent on war with their neighbors can take shape. I also believe that it is a travesty that Palestinian self-determination should be dependent on Israelis’ goodwill, but the reality is that it is, and that reality must be respected if conditions are to improve. My ultimate hope is for Palestinian people to have a home where they can thrive in safety, and for both peoples to no longer experience the kind of fear that drives them to commit atrocities.