No, University of Rochester students are not calling for a genocide of all Jewish people.
On Thursday, the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester issued a security alert warning Jewish community members of an anti-Israel rally occurring at the UR. “These rallies call for intifada and genocide against Israel and the Jewish people,” the alert said, painting some UR students as rabid antisemites eager to resume the pogroms from which my family fled so many years ago.
The statement was striking and portrayed the University as a dangerous place for Jewish students and a refuge for antisemitism and vitriol. The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Rochester, Meredith Dragon, went so far as to tell Spectrum News that UR should ban its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter like Brandeis, Columbia, and George Washington Universities have done.
I was shocked to see my campus community portrayed as a dangerous place for Jewish students and decided to attend Friday’s protest to see for myself. Were my peers calling for a massacre of Jews? Did these organizers actively pose a threat to my safety on campus?
No, my peers and community members were not calling for a genocide of Jews. They gathered calling for the Israeli government to stop indiscriminately bombing the Gaza strip, a campaign that has killed over 11,100 civilians — one of every 200 people living in Gaza. Some of the speakers were Jewish themselves and echoed the sentiments of the majority of Americans in calling for a ceasefire.
Conflating any criticism of the Israeli government, which the majority of Israelis disapprove of, with criticism of Jews themselves is itself an antisemitic trope equating the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Does every person with French heritage agree with Emmanuel Macron? Does every person with British heritage blindly agree with Rishi Sunak?
Outside of a temple or family gathering, I feel safest as a Jew at UR. It is one of the few places I feel comfortable enough to wear my chai necklace outside of my shirt, and this has not changed with the protests on campus. I’m not sure where the Jewish Federation got the idea that all Jewish students live in fear here, as the experiences of both my Jewish friends and myself contradict that narrative.
Jews across the world are primed to live in fear due to our traumatic past of persecution. We are quick to worry about suspected antisemitism to ensure that “never again” really means “never again” and to stop hate before it spills over to bloodshed. I hope that the Jewish Federation of Rochester recognizes the power of their speech and is more careful with future alert messages so as to not dilute real threats against Jewish life with these disingenuous communications. It is not appropriate to fan the flames of fear when a threat is not real.
No, UR students are not calling for a genocide of all Jewish people.
This article was published as part of the Campus Times’ Nov. 21, 2023 Special Edition on Israel-Palestine.