My Star of David Necklace
Every morning, when I clasp my Star of David necklace, I wear it proudly, for it is a symbol of my people’s persistence. Nonetheless, with the rise of anti-Semitism across the United States and more specifically at the Claremont Colleges, I cannot help but wonder, “will I be shamed, judged, or hurt because I wear my necklace? Will the most prominent symbol for my culture, the Star of David, single me out in public spaces, fueling harassment and hate speech?” Every time I slip the necklace beneath my shirt — so that I may shield my identity — is a moment in which I am ashamed. I am ashamed that bearing a symbol of Jewish pride could result in an act of intolerance against my people. I am ashamed that in 2017, 79 years after Kristallnacht, I must continue to be wary of identifying my Judaism even on my own campus, before my own community. I am ashamed to pronounce that anti-Semitism has reached the Claremont Colleges.
I can no longer remain silent. In the face of hate, I must stand up and speak out; the power of words are our greatest weapon towards fighting prejudice and bigotry, and we must utilize that weapon to shape campus dialogue, culture, and inclusivity.
On this campus, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have been regarded as two entirely different beings: one an ardent political view and the other an attack on a religious group. However, it is impossible for us to view the rise of these two ideals individually, for not only are they associated they are linked. A 2016 study of more than 100 campuses by the AMCHA Initiative revealed that “anti-Semitism was twice as likely to occur on campuses where [the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions campaign] was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as [the Students for Justice in Palestine], and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotters.” Therefore, to claim that anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are in no way associated is to ignore a blatant truth: the rise of anti-Zionist ideas on this campus has led to an increase in anti-Semitism.
The birth of the Zionist movement grew out of the extensive hate perpetrated toward Jews across the world, for they never fully assimilated or were even allowed to assimilate. Hitler came to power, proving the widespread anti-Semitism that pervaded Europe throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the prior need for a Jewish homeland. Hitler’s goal was to destroy the Jewish people and wipe them off the face of the earth forever, and while Hitler did not succeed, the results of the Holocaust continue to remain felt across the world today. Pre-1938, the global Jewish population is estimated to have been 16.8 million, and yet today, 80 years later, the world’s Jewish population has reached only around 14.2 million people. After the Holocaust, nations around the world accepted little to no Jewish refugees, ultimately leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, for the Jewish people needed somewhere to live. This is why Israel exists: the Jewish people must have a place to live where they are not subject to intolerance, hate, and more specifically, genocide.
Starting on April 3rd, 2017, the 5C Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization held their annual “Israeli Apartheid Week,” spurring widespread hatred and intolerance. While SJP claims to “promote justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the Palestinian people,” this narrative is false; their hateful actions prove otherwise and are emblematic of the group’s true goals. SJP is not pro-Palestinian; they are anti-Israel and anti-Jew. Student members of Zionist and Jewish groups on this campus have been systematically harassed, shamed, and silenced by SJP. SJP’s “anti-normalization policy” has made it impossible for students to hold dialogue. Further, voices on this campus have been widely one-sided, not because another side does not exist, but because those who disagree with SJP are afraid of their peers. They are terrified to speak out in fear that their community will not accept them and in fear of being isolated from the entire student body. On many of the college campuses at the 5Cs, to declare oneself a Zionist is to commit social suicide. SJP promotes a toxic environment that silences an entire population of students.
Not only does SJP incorrectly and unethically define Israel as an Apartheid state, it appropriates a term that denotes decades of suffering applying it to a very different situation, spreading lies about what Israel is really like. The basis for SJP’s hatred campaign — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions — stems from the idea that both the Jewish land, and thus the Jewish people, must be eradicated from the face of the earth. When SJP calls, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they call for the Israeli land to be free — free from the Israeli people, free from the Jews. Their message is not one of coexistence and peace; rather, it is drenched in the desire to annihilate the Jewish people.
At the Claremont Colleges, what started out as an “Apartheid wall” escalated into the vitriolic call for the Israel to be destroyed, wiped off the face of this planet. During Israeli Apartheid Week, or as the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance calls “Hate Week,” students who chose to stand up for beliefs that disagree with SJP were vehemently harassed. On countless occasions, pro-Israel and Jewish communities on campus were called “ethnic cleansers” and “racists,” as well as were accused of “liking genocide.” To call the very people whose ancestors have suffered time and time again because of bigotry is disgusting. There are students’ grandparents who were subject to Hitler’s persecution; some even having survived the living-hell of Auschwitz. Even more disturbingly, the leaders of SJP’s campaign have even shared articles about Israel on private Twitter accounts with the caption “I’m ready for Israel to f***ing die.” These words are explicitly violent and should unnerve the entire Claremont community.
On April 6th, at Claremont McKenna College protestors tried to silence the speech of Heather MacDonald, author of the book “The War on Cops.” Protesters decried students who stood on the sidelines of the protest, many unwilling to join solely because of the protest’s obstruction of free speech, as “Nazis” and the “K.K.K.” Utilizing these words to describe peaceful observers is blatantly anti-Semitic and hateful for a number of reasons. It ignores the mass suffering of the Jewish people who faced persecution during the Holocaust as a result of the Nazi regime and throughout the reign of the Ku Klux Klan. While many might argue that this group is one different from the SJP group that gathered throughout the week that is false. One minute the protestors called students Nazis, and the next they were calling for the destruction of Israel through slogans such as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” Both the leaders and followers of the Students for Justice in Palestine campaign should be ashamed of their actions, for they have created an environment at the Claremont Colleges that is unwelcoming and intolerant.
It is up to us, the students, to change campus climate. If we are a community that stands for diversity, then we must stand for all types of diversity. If we desire for this to be an all-inclusive community, then we must invite every identity to take a seat around the table, for without free speech for all parties it is not dialogue at all. This is my campus, and I want a seat at the table; I want to be a part of the conversation. I desire to proudly wear my Star of David necklace without fear, and so too want for others the same ability to embrace their identity with pride.