Anti-Semitism – FAU, Hillel, and SJP


So… if you don’t live in Florida, then you probably don’t know that this week, the Students for Justice in Palestine have been doing protests on behalf of Palestine here at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton campus, including an Apartheid wall on this past Thursday.

Also on Thursday, FAU’s Hillel; my Hillel; put out a statement.

And I… got really, really angry, because they decided to include this in their statement1:

We submit that when an organization is unabashedly outspoken against Israel’s right to exist, it is akin to anti-Semitism.

No.

No no no no no no no no no.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how a word becomes utterly meaningless and completely useless.

Even when someone contests Israel’s right to exist, please explain how that makes them anti-Semitic. A country is not a religion. As a very strong believer in the separation of church and state, I want that for Israel, as well. Israel should not be a “Jewish State”, and to conflate a country with a religion is to disguise xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and racism with patriotism which, if you pay any attention whatsoever, is a huge problem here in the USA with Tea Party Conservative Christians.

Further, let’s not pretend as if we can’t see the poorly-disguised suggestion, here. They are basically saying that any criticism of Israel is akin to anti-Semitism.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I absolutely 100% support Israel’s right to exist. I had an amazing time on Birthright and I will always support Israel as a country. I also very much recognize the existence of anti-Jewish bigots using the crisis in the Middle East as a cover for their bigotry. I wrote about them, after all.

However.

This does not mean I can’t also want a Palestinian state. This does not mean I can’t have major issues with the Gaza Blockade and the Illegal Settlements, both of which are, indeed, very much illegal under international law, and are human rights violations anyway.

Just because I loved my experience with Israel and I absolutely support Israel’s right to exist does not mean I can’t criticize Israeli politics and aggressive actions that I vehemently disagree with. And if you are going to call me and other people advancing legitimate criticisms anti-Semites, what you are doing is silencing people and tyrannically controlling the debate, trying your hardest to ensure that disagreements are unheard.

It does not make you look good. It makes you look evil, petty, pathetic, tyrannical, and sad. Please stop it.

So what am I not saying? I’m not saying that the idea that Israel should not exist is a good idea. It is indeed true that FAU’s SJP has suggested that Israel should not exist.

Evidence?

Um… this is also wrong. This is indeed a form of bigotry, though it is not anti-Semitism. What it is is Xenophobia and Ethnocentrism. And when you do this, you poison the conversation just as much as people who are pro-Israel silence criticism of Israel with charges of anti-Semitism.

Israel absolutely should exist. And whether you like it or not, it does exist. Now, comments on that video are trying to go with the argument that “the Jews were here first!” By that logic, we here in the US should give the US back to the Native Americans and go back to England (and Spain and all the other countries that led the conquest of the New World). Obviously I do not mean to de-legitimize the actual atrocities racist tyrant afflicted on Native Americans, and yes, I’m including leaders of the founded US for atrocities like the Trail of Tears and so on. This does not, however, mean that we need to pack up and move back to England and Spain and so on, and give the US back to Native Americans.

Israel has proven its self-worth and ability to self-sustain. It has earned its right to be a legitimate country. So to deny the existence of Israel is an absolutely disgusting thing to do. Be aware that you aren’t just erasing Jews, but also Christians, Muslims, Atheists, etc who also live in Israel. You are erasing the existence of an entire country; and that is evil. So SJP… stop it.

What we need is a two-state solution. But as long as religion is able to control the narrative, the conflict will never end. And that is what both sides seem utterly determined to ignore.

Religion.

As long as Jews, Christians, and Muslims continue to view Israel, and Jerusalem, as the Cradle of Civilization, because the Bible says that God created us there (at least… nearly all of them do believe that the Garden of Eden was there), and continue to view Israel as a “holy land” (which is an incredibly unintelligent concept on the face of it), no amount of green energy, surrenders, peace treaties, and two-state solutions will end the crisis. It is religion that is causing it, religion that is feeding it, and religion that is allowing it to get worse.

Make no mistake: World War I and II may not have been religious wars, but World War III will be a religious war. It will start in the Middle East, and it will destroy this planet worse than any war in the past ever has.

And yes, people the world over will insist on blaming literally everything else, but we’ll all know: it’s thanks to religion.

So Israel and Palestine… you guys want to end this crisis? You want to find a solution that will finally bring peace? Then you should unite against the real enemy: religion.

But you won’t, because most of you are religious anyway, so as far as you’re concerned, religion is even better than sliced bread and can do no wrong, so you will ignore the Bible’s influence and not at all do anything to actually end this crisis.

And for the record, if we’re not in World War III already, then it’s not a matter of if, but when. And it will be soon. I promise.

——————————————–

1: I don’t want to be accused of quote-mining, so I’m quoting the entire statement here since it can’t be found in any form online at the moment:

Dear Friends,

Two nights ago FAU President, Dennis Crudele, posted a statement on behalf of the University preceding the series of SJP activities that began yesterday. We want to commend the University for addressing these activities before they happened and for its communication with the Jewish community at every stage. We are pleased that the Administration has been proactive and forthright in its support of Israel and the Jewish community while also balancing the need, as a public university, to uphold the United States Constitution and the freedoms it affords all citizens.

We also want to express our appreciation for the President’s unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitism. We submit that when an organization is unabashedly outspoken against Israel’s right to exist, it is akin to anti-Semitism. Institutions of higher learning have the obligation to teach that, along with the freedom of speech, comes the responsibility of doing so in a manner that respects all voices and the facts. There is a distinct difference between honest dissent and speech that is hateful and incites emotions and sensationalism.  We will continue to work with FAU to ensure that these principles are applied both in and out of the classrooms on campus.

Freedom of expression is an inalienable right we hold dear.  Jews have been at the forefront of civil rights activism throughout history.  SJP, however, abuses this right by its demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.  While Hillel welcomes the opportunity to engage in civil dialogue and intellectual debate, we will not do so with any organization whose goals challenge the right of Israel to exist. Hillel encourages any occasion in which we can educate students of the facts: that the Israeli Knesset includes Arab members, that justice is administered evenly regardless of nationality or religion, and that minorities are afforded the same respect and rights as the rest of its citizens.  Those are not the signs of an apartheid state.

Hillel is not only a strong advocate on behalf of our students, but we also are providing training, resources and support that will enable them to respond to these kinds of activities both on campus and into their future adult lives. We believe that the best way to respond to these activities is to remain calm and quiet and not to give rise to media and other attention.  The less attention they get, the better.  There is no reason to fuel SJP with a media frenzy which will incite and encourage them. Our students are energized and motivated to provide educational programs that will tell Israel’s beautiful story.  Their response to the news about the activities planned by SJP was mature and rational.  We are proud of the work that we have done to educate our students in how to handle inevitable controversy. They are responding with calm, measured and intellectual programming that will advocate on behalf of our homeland. We want to instill in them a love of Israel and the confidence to enter into intellectual civil discourse so they may forever advocate on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people.

Already this week, Owls for Israel and AEPi fraternity members tabled in the FAU breezeway (a main thoroughfare) with information about Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), an Israeli organization that provides vital heart surgeries and post-operative care in Israel for children from countries in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. In their first few hours of tabling, students raised nearly $400 for SACH and a tremendous amount of awareness of one of Israel’s many positive contributions to the world.

We are also placing large informational panels, provided by StandWithUs, outside of our Hillel building, which is also a high-traffic area. These contain positive information about Israel – disaster relief, ecological advances, advanced technology, etc. Owls for Israel members also intend to table at least twice a week during the month of October to share a variety of information about Israel with the entire campus community.

Additionally, Hillel’s Israel Fellow, Lital Pendler, has been sharing an informational video that succinctly counters the claims of “Israeli apartheid” with students so that they have the knowledge and confidence to respond to any questions they receive from their peers who may see the misinformation that SJP is displaying. Lital is also launching an educational series about Israel’s history (from Herzl to the present day) and culture so that students can learn nuanced facts that will prepare them to educate their peers. We will also bring more than 20 students on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip this winter to see first-hand the beauty and importance of the State of Israel – and to involve each of them in pro-Israel activities upon their return to campus in January.

Owls for Israel is also partnering with the Haitian student organization on campus for a joint Shabbat dinner later this month, during which Jewish and Haitian students will learn about each other’s cultures and OFI will share information regarding Israel’s incredibly speedy and effective emergency medical response to the devastating earthquake that affected Haiti several years ago. In this way, our pro-Israel students are creating positive relationships and an alliance with one of the largest and most active student organizations at FAU, increasing the base of Israel supporters on campus. Hillel will continue to seek out opportunities for collaboration and foster these relationships on and off campus.

We are also pleased to report that our staff and student leaders observed that SJP’s first two days of activities seemed to be garnering almost no attention on campus. We are confident that our students’ ongoing focus on their proactive Israel education agenda will minimize the attention paid to SJP’s propaganda.

We will continue to update you as needed.  In the meantime, we take comfort in the fact that the University has kept us in the loop and sought our counsel every step along the way.  We appreciate the relationships that we have worked hard to cultivate and are gratified to be working together in meeting these challenges.  And, of course, Hillel will continue to do its work with and on behalf of our students. As always, any questions you may have are welcome.

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About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men. I also play guitar and sing, and I'm an atheist and anti-theist. What now?
This entry was posted in Antisemitism, Atheism, Bigotry, Bullying, Christianity, Government, Islam, Judaism, Law, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Anti-Semitism – FAU, Hillel, and SJP

  1. Thanks for your (typically) thoughtful reply. We are in 100% agreement.

    I often wonder if the cure for religion really is as simple* as the Nordic social democracies have demonstrated, i.e. top notch cradle-to-grave social safety net, including universal health care and education through university. These are officially “Christian states” that lost religion almost entirely in a generation or two.

    *Obviously even if worked, implementing this in the Middle East would be anything but simple, “it would be an insanely hard, and long, undertaking,” in large part due to the fundamentalists on every side. There’s a reason fundies bomb hospitals in Afghanistan, and keep girls out of school. It’s the same reason fundies bomb abortion clinics in the U.S., and want to deny people healthcare—especially birth control. *sigh*

    Always a pleasure corresponding with you. 🙂

  2. I’m curious, Nate, because I’ve read your views on various issues for some time now, and I’m having difficulty reconciling them: do you think Israel, as a “Jewish state,” is a de facto theocracy?

    If I were to argue—as I do—that the U.S. should cut off all foreign aid to Israel unless and until U.S. citizens enjoy universal healthcare (as Israelis do), does that make me an anti-Semite? I’m not arguing Israel has “no right to exist.” I’m arguing it has no right to exist on the U.S. taxpayer dime while my friends and family members suffer unimaginably because they cannot afford to see a doctor.

    Last, while I agree that religion obviously plays some part in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I think religion is also a distraction, a shorthand that elides a much more complex reality. If we could somehow wave a magic wand and eradicate every religion in that part of the world, we’d still be left with vast cultural differences, incompatible economic worldviews, class/race issues, etc.

    • According to Israel’s constitution and laws, it’s a secular country. However, with the amount of Haredi (and other fundamentalist) Jews in power, Israel is, in practice, a Jewish theocracy.

      As for Israel existing on the US taxpayer’s dime, I absolutely 100% agree with you there, but a) I think the US needs to temporarily go back to a policy of isolationism until we fix the economic, political, and social issues with our country, and b) I think there’s enough evidence that Israel does not need us as much as we like to think they do.

      As for there being a much more complex reality… I’m obviously aware that actually removing the religious influence in the Middle East would not end the conflict. But a) the religions are the reasons for those issues, and b) removing those religions would remove the easiest and most obvious, and perhaps only, excuse for the crisis.

      Would removing the religious influences be easy? Obviously not. It would be an insanely hard, and long, undertaking. But I would argue that unless those influences are removed, the only other thing that could end the crisis would be World War III, and I’d rather we avoided that like the plague.

    • So no, I do not consider your suggestion to be anti-Semitic. I wouldn’t anyways, because I don’t consider denying Israel’s existence to be anti-Semitism. I consider it to be xenophobia and ethnocentrism. But I don’t consider your suggestion to be either of those, either, because you’re not denying Israel’s right to exist. You’re saying that you don’t want them to have our tax dollars, and I agree with you there.

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