May 10, 2017

GUEST ROOM | My Hope for CU Jewish Community

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A few years removed from college, I can still remember the uncomfortable, awkward and somewhat silencing experience of attending a Cornell Hillel Israeli Independence Day celebration while my fellow classmates stood outside, protesting the event and what it stood for. I was told that our Israel Day celebration was “apolitical,” and that celebrating the country’s birth was by no means taking a stance on the political situation there. Something about this didn’t sit right with me. But I did not speak up, because I was not willing to jeopardize my relationships with my friends and community.

Desmond Tutu, the South African social activist, once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”  As I move through life and continue to reflect back on this experience, I have come to the conclusion that in being neutral in this situation of injustice, I had chosen the side of the oppressor.  So this past Tuesday, when I opened my Facebook feed to find out that something similar had occurred at this year’s Cornell Hillel Israeli Independence Day celebration, I was moved to respond.

I write this column today as someone who is proud to say they served on their Cornell Hillel Student Executive Board, who developed a deeper spiritual connection to Judaism through Hillel and who made some of their closest friends at Cornell through Hillel. I also write this column as someone who is proudly anti-occupation and is committed to a fairer and more just reality for all Israelis and Palestinians.

The situation in Israel and Palestine is by no means an easy or simple one. At every turn, it appears complicated and nuanced. And in my experience, one narrative can oftentimes dominate at the expense of another. Learning and engaging with the issues is the only way to face them, and the more I have learned about the situation, the more I am motivated to work for freedom and equality for all Palestinians and Israelis. Working on this issue feels inherent to my own Jewish identity because so much of what happens there is done in the Jewish people’s name.

I believe Jewish students on campus who are grappling with the situation in Israel and Palestine deserve a space to do just that. It is central to Judaism to struggle with a question, and we are continually encouraged to do so as a Jewish people. I believe Hillel and its limiting tenants around conversations about Israel do college students a disservice by not creating a diverse Jewish space on campus for students to wrestle with the situation in Israel and Palestine. And in not looking at the issue with a critical eye or elevating under heard narratives, we will have chosen the side of the oppressor.  We as a Jewish community need to be having conversations about what we can do to work for justice in Israel and Palestine, and college campuses seem like a very appropriate place to begin these conversations.

Since college, I have had the opportunity to organize with fellow young Jews around Israel and Palestine and work toward a fairer reality for all Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t think I realized how much I needed this until I found it, and it has been a life-changing experience to organize with my Jewish peers around this issue. Having had many similar experiences growing up and in college, we are able to create both deep and welcoming dialogue that continues to fosters my views and motivate me towards action. And in doing this work Jewishly, I demonstrate that I am proud of my identity and want to use the power in that identity to work for what is right.

I hope that Hillels and college campuses can become a place where Jewish students are welcome to be proudly Jewish while engaging with their varied views on the situation in Israel and Palestine. I hope that where I am in my Jewish journey, there would still be a place for me at Hillel, and in the broader Cornell Jewish community, today.

  • Oyy

    Can you point to “Palestine” on a world map, please?

    • 123

      I could before Israel colonized and claimed it

      • You’re an idiot

        Do “palestineans” or Jews to further back on this land? Can you point to me the palestinean role in the Bible?

        • Nathanael

          Sure. Do you remember the various people who the Israelites violently attacked in Canaan? It’s right there in the Bible. There’s some dispute over whether they’re descended from Philistines (after whom the region of Palestine is named), Canaanites, or both, but they are now called the Palestinians. This is pretty much verifiable by archaelogy. They’ve been there all along.

          The long-time residents of this areas have had many religions over time (including Jewish, Roman, Christian, Muslim, Druze, and many others). But then so have Jews — modern Judaism is a wildly different religion from 2nd Century Judaism, which is wildly different from “David era” Judaism, and compared to earlier Judaism, King David was actually a heretic — he violated the commandent to not worship in temples, which is extremely clear and is never retracted. Modern Judaism itself is many different religions, from the Reconstructionists to the Revisionists to the Hasidim.

          Of course, from what we know from science and history, the ancient Israelites were basically the same ethnic group as the Canaanites. And they were never prisoners in Egypt (historical evidence is solidly against it) — the evidence shows that they were a province of Egypt, populated by Canaanites, before Egypt abandoned the area for its own reasons. And it appears that most of the ancient religious practices in the Torah (including circumcision, not eating shellfish or pork, and the procedures with the Ark) originated directly from ancient Egyptian practice, while using Canaanite gods — something which makes a lot of sense if you understand how ancient Egyptian religion worked.

          Sadly, religious extremists who believe that “God gave us this land” don’t want to know any of this. (The absolute worst have declared that their own particular warped version of their religion — whether it is Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — should rule over everyone else, and used their “religion” as an excuse to commit atrocities.) Those of us who are intellectuals, who study science and history, learn about history and archaeology and try to find out the truth. But even at a world-class university, most people aren’t intellectuals. Most people would rather believe what they want to believe rather than research the truth about anything.

    • Mark


  • Abe ’16

    Well I hope you won’t be celebrating July 4th. Another self-loather.

    Here’s my challenge to you:

    Go to Israel for a month. Live among the Jews and Arabs. Then go to any of Israel’s neighbors–you know, where Jews aren’t welcome. Live there for a month. Then talk to me about “oppression” and “justice” and “blah, blah, blah”

    • 123

      This has nothing to do with what she’s talking about. This is an issue of colonization, oppression and genocide.

      • Miransky

        It has nothing to do with genocide. I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word. By your definition, the Palestinians engage in genocide whenever they bomb an Israeli pizzeria, blow up a bus, attack a shopping center, hijack a bus and kill passengers, ram with trucks, and stab with knives. Their hands are covered in blood. I remember the proud Palestinian who showed the crowd his blood-soaked hands after he murdered an Israeli. And the PA encourages, endorses, and rewards this activity. They teach it to their children.

        • Miransky

          Excuse me. You do know the meaning of the word but you knowingly and cynically misuse it.

    • Nathanael

      I know a nice Jewish girl who did exactly that. Visted Israel proper, the West Bank, and IIRC Lebanon.

      She concluded that Israel’s government is a racist apartheid state and has been fighting for justice for Palestinians ever since.

      You clearly haven’t actually done what you recommend.

  • Thank you for speaking your truth. It is to important to recognize the nuance of this issue. Americans Jews shouldn’t be expected to blindly support everything Israel does, just as Americans are not expected to blindly support everything America does. We can support Israel’s existence and celebrate our Judaism, WHILE ALSO criticizing of Israel’s actions if we do not agree with them. A truly inclusive Jewish space would allow Jews with ranging political and social beliefs to engage in debate. I applaud you and your courage to write this piece- great job!

  • Joe

    Good Jews do not have to support everything liberal. Where is that message?

  • Ockie

    The Bible, Old and New testament, refers only to “Israel.” It refers to “Palestine” only once (see Bible concordance).

    It was the occupying British who called Israel “Palestine.” For decades Arabs objected to being called “Palestinians,” because it meant they were subjects of British occupation. It was only after 1964, when Arafat showed up in his phony military garb and stirred up Arab nationalism and terrorism against the Jews, that the Arabs started calling themselves “Palestinians.”

    Objectively, there is no “Palestinian” people. It is a political fabrication.

    Anti-Israel activism is often just poorly disguised anti-Semitism, esp. when referring to Israeli “occupation” and “apartheid,” and supporting BDS. Common hideouts for this kind of closet anti-Semitism is the Left, such as the British Labour Party and Black Lives Matter.

    Marine Le Pen, who got 35% of the French vote in the last presidential election, isn’t a closet anti-Semite. Her anti-Semitism is out in the open. She denial of Vel D’Hiv is tantamount to Holocaust denial. Imagine if David Duke got 35% of the American vote …

    According to the ADL, all Arab Moslem countries exhibit a rate of approx. 85% anti-Semitism. Iran is remarkable for having only 50% anti-Semitism. Recent poll indicates that 50% of Muslim immigrants in Germany are anti-Semitic. The claim that Islam is a “religion of peace” is a lie. Islam is particularly dangerous for Jews. The Koran exhorts Muslims to kill all Jews, infidels (non-Muslims) and apostates and blasphemers.

    Got to love Trump for calling out PA leader Abbas for incitement.

    • Nathanael

      Well, if you’re a big racist, you could claim that there’s no such thing as Palestinians. But that would be because you are obsessed with fake racial classifications. The thing is, there isn’t really such a thing as race — there’s only the human race. And classifications made by people based on perception.

      The fact is that Palestine is a geographical designation. And the Palestinians are the people who have been living there, and whose ancestors have been living there, for a very long time — many many centuries. The DNA and archaeological evidence says, since before Judaism existed: they just stayed in place as governments changed.

      Palestinians have, over the centuries, converted to many different religions. And they have absorbed immigrants form many areas, including Arabs during the Muslim conquest — but the Arabs of Saudi Arabia or the UAE or Kuwait ssneer and look down on them; Palestinians are certainly not considered Arab.

      Just before the establishment of the state of Israel, there were Palestinian Jews (including some *very* traditional Samaritan Jews), Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Druze, Palestinian Muslims of many varieties, and honestly probably a lot of non-religious Palestinians who just went through the motions.

      In 1948, a concerted and well-documented campaign of ethnic cleansing was organized by the Irgun, the Stern Gang, and other terrorist operations to expel all the non-Jews. They were chased from their houses on threat of death and rape, and the houses were then stolen. This is a matter of historical record; many of the actual terrorists involved have written about it. And signed their names. In Israeli newspapers.

      This is not something to celebrate. It is like celebrating the Trail of Tears.

      Have other countries done worse? Of course. The United States treated the Native Americans worse, and we have a duty to compensate their descendants which, disgracefully, we still have not done. (Canada is working on it; the US hasn’t really started.) Rwanda and Burundi have been much, much worse. Saudi Arabia… don’t get me started on Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst country in the world.

      This does not mean the state of Israel should get a free pass for its crimes against humanity.

      The Jewish people I grew up with thought that Judaism carried moral obligations.

      Apparently the people who founded the state of Israel through terrorism, and the people who currently run Israel, continue to steal Palestinian families’ houses, and continue to demolish orchards owned by non-Jews, in direct violation of commandments in the Torah — these people have a different vision of Judaism. These people give Judaism a bad name. The moral thing to do is to reject these evil people, to push for a moral vision of Judaism.

      As all my Jewish friends, in fact, do. The main non-Palestinian campaigners for just treatment of Palestinians are not Arabs or Muslims. They are Jews.

      • Nathanael

        It is worth noting that the very same people who continue to run Israel and continue to mistreat Palestinians are also responsible for massive amounts of bigotry within Israel *against Jews*; discriminating against Mizrahi traditions, against Sephardic traditions, against Reform Jews, and so on and so on and so on.