Michael L. Brenner

A Letter to Vassar College From Pro-Israel Alumni

We represent the voices of hundreds of Jewish Vassar alumnae/i through Fairness to Israel, Vassar’s chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness. If the place where you got your degree is disappointing you right now, take action. Join an ACF chapter today, or start one if your school does not yet have one.

On Saturday morning, October 7, 2023, on the Jewish holidays of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, a time of celebration for Jews around the world, our community woke up to a nightmare. We learned that Hamas terrorists had invaded the kibbutzim of southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 unarmed men, women and children and kidnapping more than 200 others. Dozens of Americans were among the dead. Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into dense cities like Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem, forcing much of Israel to take cover in bomb shelters and causing tens of thousands of Israelis to be displaced. Hamas is not shy about anti-Jewish hatred; it is a part of their charter.

The terrorists gunned down some 260 young people dancing at a music festival for peace. On Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of Israel’s socialist communes, men, women and children were gunned down in their homes, some shot in their beds. Others were mutilated and burned alive. It was the deadliest day in Israel’s blood-stained history. The last time so many Jews died in one day was during the Holocaust. 

Since that time, Jewish communities have been grieving.  Regardless of our political leanings, we are united in sadness and outrage at the barbarity of what occurred in Israel. We are a tiny worldwide community of just 15 million people which has faced unspeakable persecution in recent history. The death of any of us is felt by all of us. Most of us have family and friends in Israel. This is extremely personal for all of us.

Though we share President Bradley’s hope that students express care for one another, we also know that the history at Vassar tells a different story and that this is a call that organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) never heed. Sadly, the same day President Bradley released her initial statement, Vassar’s SJP chapter, following the lead of its parent organization, National SJP, not only did not condemn the mass murder or even bother to offer their condolences, but defended it as “decolonial resistance”; two weeks later, SJP printed their statement in The Misc, Vassar’s student newspaper.

But Israel is no colony. It is the world’s sole Jewish state, a place where Jews have lived continuously for thousands of years. It is a democracy in a sea of dictatorships. In the mid-1940s, many Holocaust refugees made their way to Israel. In the 1940s and 1950s, Israel took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were ethnically cleansed from surrounding Arab regimes. In the 1980s, Israel welcomed tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees. In the 1990s, Israel became a home for Jews from the former Soviet Union and in 2022, a refuge for Ukrainian Jews fleeing Russian aggression and Russian Jews fleeing Russian antisemitism

National SJP’s response, now stealthily deleted, was even worse, glorifying the murders of 1400 people as an “historic win” for the Palestinians and stating that “armed confrontation with the oppressors” is what it means to “free Palestine.” But there was no armed confrontation with the people of Kfar Aza. There were only gunmen going house to house butchering unarmed men, women and children. There was no armed confrontation with the party goers that the terrorists mowed down in the hundreds. And there was no armed confrontation with the grandmas, grandpas, fathers, mothers and children who were murdered, burnt alive and taken hostage. These were homicides and kidnappings. These were atrocities that violated international law and every standard of human decency. Three weeks ago, Vassar SJP, continuing to follow National SJP’s pro-Hamas lead, led a march across campus during which students chanted popular Hamas slogans that call for Israel’s destruction.  

Hearing SJP’s words sends chills down our collective spine. According to a recent poll conducted by the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, 70 percent of Jewish students have personally experienced or are familiar with an act of antisemitism on campus. The Anti-Defamation League has documented a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents since Hamas’s atrocities. If the mass murder of innocent men, women and children and taking hundreds hostage is now defined as armed confrontation with oppressors, it is a short leap for disgruntled individuals to target our community, which is already the most targeted religious minority community in the United States according to the FBI’s hate crimes database. Our synagogues and institutions already must operate with guards to keep us safe from terrorists of all stripes, from white supremacists like Robert Bowers, who killed 13 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue and Stephan Balliet, who murdered two people outside of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, to terrorists and state actors, who have murdered us for who we are in countries from France to Argentina to Bulgaria to Pakistan

We are saddened that many Palestinian civilians have been killed in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 mass murder. Blame for their deaths, however, rests with Hamas, which for years has purposely used civilian institutions like hospitals, schools, and mosques as command centers and weapons depots to evade accountability, much like ISIS in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon; sadly, terrorist organizations seek to maximize civilian deaths in order to stoke international outrage so that they can continue to operate with impunity. 

We are all aware that innocent lives have been lost in both Jewish and Muslim communities, even if organizations like SJP are not. In mourning, and with a strong conviction that we will not be made to live in fear, whether in Israel, the United States or anywhere else, we proclaim our outrage and our pain. 

About the Author
Mike Brenner is a past co-chair of ACCESS NY, AJC’s young professionals wing, and a past ADL Glass Fellow. He co-leads Fairness to Israel, Vassar College’s chapter of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF). He lives in Woodmere, where he is active in Congregation Sons of Israel as a member and ba’al tefillah.
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