We are Jewish students committed to human rights and justice in Israel-Palestine. This week we felt both intense joy and intense sorrow. We are so honored to be part of a campus community that affirms justice and nonviolence, and that called upon the UC Regents to divest from corporations complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians. This is a historic victory that hundreds of students, faculty and community supporters have worked for over the course of three years. UC Davis now joins six other undergraduate student governments in the UC system calling for divestment from companies such as Raytheon, G4S, Veolia and Caterpillar, all of which conduct business in Palestine that violates international law.
We were then angered and disturbed when anti-Semitic graffiti appeared on the walls of a Jewish fraternity Saturday morning on campus. We condemn this in the harshest terms, and as Jews united for justice and against all forms of bigotry, feel it is our duty to examine the issue in light of the larger issues of campus climate present at UC Davis today.
Muslim and Arab students, especially those working for Palestinian human rights, have been subjected to censure and discrimination for years at UC Davis. Students have been called “terrorists” for wearing the keffiyeh, a traditional Arab garment. Furthermore, during the divestment campaign of 2014 a woman wearing hijab was verbally harassed, and a fellow student mimicked pointing a gun at her head with a hand gesture.
StandWithUs, a major organization circulating the petition against this hate crime, has a track record of systematically using anti-Semitic incidents to defame pro-Palestinian movements. One StandWithUs representative infiltrated a UC Davis seminar in December on colonialism in the U.S. and the Middle East, secretly filmed students without their consent, harassed and intimidated those in attendance and then uploaded the film to YouTube.
When a group of students and community members met with administrators last month to ask for a statement condemning Islamophobia, the administration claimed they could not. While they acknowledged that these actions were deplorable and “uncivil,” they asserted that StandWithUs’ filming constituted protected speech. Indeed, the administration has not condemned a single instance of Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab hatred on campus. In contrast to this position, the administration quickly reached out and denounced the vandalism that occurred on January 31. This double standard should not stand.
Additionally, while this individual incident is undeniably chilling, in general the institutional Jewish community enjoys great support and immense privilege – yet as Jews supporting justice in Palestine, that community is often closed to us. Neither Hillel nor AEPi welcomes Jewish students with diverse opinions on the topic of Palestine; our involvement in Hillel is in fact forbidden by their Standards of Partnership. Over the years, some of us have been subject to harassment from fellow Jewish students and staff because of our politics. The idea that this incident shows a “wave of anti-Semitism” is patently false. Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, and we reject all attempts to cobble these incidents into a false narrative. It is especially appalling to see those who perpetrate Islamophobia call for the resignation of administrators for failing to condemn anti-Semitism. We feel much safer in the multicultural, multi-faith coalition that Students for Justice in Palestine has cultivated, than in any Jewish institutions that insist we must toe their ideological line or be ostracized.
The noted civil rights leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “Who is a Jew? A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.” We call upon our fellow Jews to stand against hatred in all its forms, not only when it affects us, but also when it affects any member of the Davis community, and to stand for justice in Israel-Palestine.
Hannah Kagan-Moore is a master’s student at UC Davis and the Davis Bylaw Representative to UAW 2865, the UC Davis Graduate Student Union
Eran Zelnik is a Ph.D student in the history department at UC Davis.