Jewish Columbia students appeal to anti-Zionist peers for peace and empathy in bid to ‘repair’ campus

Letter reveals worrying experiences on US college campuses as Jewish students outline ‘hateful rhetoric’


Student demonstrators vandalised the university building in their takeover effort, Columbia administrators said (Photo: Getty)

Jewish students at Columbia University in New York have made a plea for tolerance in a letter to the university community.

Around 300 Jewish students at the Ivy League university have written to their peers appealing for “peace, truth and empathy” in the face of mounting antisemitism on campus.

The letter comes as around 2,500 students in the US have been arrested in connection with anti-Israel protests. Columbia University has been at the centre of the storm, with police called to campus last week to clear protesters from its campus in Upper Manhattan, leading to more than 100 arrests.

In a letter that seeks to help “repair our campus”, Jewish students said that the university “may be riddled with hateful rhetoric and simplistic binaries” but appealed to peers to “repair the fractures and begin developing meaningful relationships across political and religious divides.”

Describing their attachment to Israel, students addressed their Jewish peers who have distanced themselves from the Jewish State.

Addressing those who want to “speak in our name,” including “our Jewish peers who tokenize themselves by claiming to represent ‘real Jewish values,’ and attempt to delegitimize our lived experiences of antisemitism [...] We are here, writing to you as Jewish students at Columbia University, who are connected to our community and deeply engaged with our culture and history. We would like to speak in our name.”

“Most of us did not choose to be political activists [...] Those who demonize us under the cloak of anti-Zionism forced us into our activism and forced us to publicly defend our Jewish identities.”

It goes on to explain the link between Zionism and Judaism.

“We proudly believe in the Jewish People’s right to self-determination in our historic homeland as a fundamental tenet of our Jewish identity. Contrary to what many have tried to sell you – no, Judaism cannot be separated from Israel. Zionism is, simply put, the manifestation of that belief.”

The letter explains that “a large and vocal population of the Columbia community does not understand the meaning of Zionism, and subsequently does not understand the essence of the Jewish People.”

“We connect to Israel not only as our ancestral homeland but as the only place in the modern world where Jews can safely take ownership of their own destiny. Our experiences at Columbia in the last six months are a poignant reminder of just that.”

“The evil irony of today’s antisemitism is a twisted reversal of our Holocaust legacy; protestors on campus have dehumanized us, imposing upon us the characterization of the ‘white colonizer.’ We have been told that we are ‘the oppressors of all brown people’ and that ‘the Holocaust wasn’t special.’ Students at Columbia have chanted ‘we don’t want no Zionists here,’ alongside ‘death to the Zionist State’ and to ‘go back to Poland,’ where our relatives lie in mass graves.

“This sick distortion illuminates the nature of antisemitism: In every generation, the Jewish People are blamed and scapegoated as responsible for the societal evil of the time.

“We are targeted for our belief that Israel, our ancestral and religious homeland, has a right to exist. We are targeted by those who misuse the word Zionist as a sanitized slur for Jew, synonymous with racist, oppressive, or genocidal. We know all too well that antisemitism is shapeshifting.

The letter goes on to explain: “Our love for Israel does not necessitate blind political conformity. It’s quite the opposite. For many of us, it is our deep love for and commitment to Israel that pushes us to object when its government acts in ways we find problematic.”

“All it takes are a couple of coffee chats with us to realize that our visions for Israel differ dramatically from one another. Yet we all come from a place of love and an aspiration for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

The letter outlines moments in the last seven months when Jewish students “sounded alarm”: “We sounded the alarm on October 12 when many protested against Israel while our friends’ and families’ dead bodies were still warm.”

The letter describes people screaming “resist by any means necessary,” and telling Jews that they were “all inbred” and “have no culture.” It describes an “activist” who held a sign telling Jewish students they were “Hamas’s next targets”.

Jewish students say they were unsurprised when an encampment leader said, “Zionists don’t deserve to live”.

“We felt helpless when we watched students and faculty physically block Jewish students from entering parts of the campus we share, or even when they turned their faces away in silence. This silence is familiar. We will never forget.

“One thing is for sure. We will not stop standing up for ourselves. We are proud to be Jews, and we are proud to be Zionists.

“We came to Columbia because we wanted to expand our minds and engage in complex conversations. While campus may be riddled with hateful rhetoric and simplistic binaries now, it is never too late to start repairing the fractures and begin developing meaningful relationships across political and religious divides.

“We hope you will join us in earnestly pursuing peace, truth, and empathy. Together we can repair our campus.

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