Bonnie Levine
Of ITP synagogues and Paramount's "Wife Swap"

Dehumanizing Jews with fake “eviction notices”

I recently learned that a group called Students for Justice in Palestine posted flyers labeled “Eviction Notice” in dormitories where Jewish students are known to reside–this action is simple hatred, and cannot be construed this as a legitimate means of criticizing government policy.  To the extent that any Emory administrative staff approved this posting, that compounds the egregiousness exponentially.

For reference, the text reads in relevant part:

If you do not vacate the premise by midnight on April 5, 2019, we reserve the right to destroy all remaining belongings.  We cannot be held responsible for any property of persons remaining inside the premises.  Charge for demolition will be applied to your student accounts.

Eviction notices are routinely given to Palestinian families living under Israeli occupation for no other reason than their ethnicity.  Forced evictions are arbitrary, racist, humiliating, and a violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Palestinian homes are destroyed as part of [] Israel’s ongoing attempt to ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants and maintain an exclusively ‘Jewish’ character of the state.  By destroying Palestinian homes, the [Israeli government] makes room for illegal Israeli settlements.  The Israeli government itself describes this process as ‘Judaization.’

Copy of the fake “Eviction Notice” posted where Jewish Emory students live.

I will set aside both the potential legal issues and the blatant factual inaccuracies aside in my commentary, but both are important topics for another space.  “No one would think this is a real eviction notice” is probably true, but not a defense.  A document entitled “eviction notice” says “we don’t want you here.”  The property threats escalate the make-believe threat further.

What is it that these students seek to accomplish?  Its stated purpose is to “draw attention.”  OK.  Using shock tactics to increase awareness is a dubious tactic in most situations.  More often than not, the actual purpose of such campaigns is to upset people.

Many “shock” campaigns aim to terrorize a specific category of individuals they deem morally abhorrent (rather than the public at large), this one takes another step, and this one is closer to a burning cross than a bloody fetus poster.  It’s self-evident that the notice aims to provoke, intimidate, and embarrass Jewish students.  The campaign was, no doubt, calculated to maintain plausible deniability on this point by shrouding itself in “the Israel debate.”  But the inflammatory language, direct threats to property, the use of “Jewish” in scare quotes…these choices speak for themselves.

Making the most generous assumptions possible, we are dealing with, at best, a group of students who consider the existential fears of the Jewish people unworthy of reflection before engaging in gratuitous shock tactics likely to trigger that population’s existential fears.  Such willful blindness flies in the face of intersectionality, the now-ubiquitous concept demanding that anyone engaged in modern activism accept the burden to avoid marginalizing or intimidating other discriminated-against groups.

Unless, of course, one disqualifies Jews qualify as an oppressed group — at best, with the most generous of assumptions, this disqualification is exactly what these flyers demonstrate: a room full of student activists failing to recognize the Jewish people as a targeted and oppressed minority who reasonably feels attacked by a made-up “eviction notice” that draws a dotted line between “Jewish” and “ongoing attempt to ethnically cleanse.”

Less than a hundred years after the Holocaust, this willful blindness emits the familiar aura of dehumanization.  The consequence is to fuel an already-escalating narrative that first conflates Israel and the Jewish people to vilify both (for example, implying to various extents that Jews are responsible for the acts of the Israeli government), then conveniently separates the two to duck any accusations of anti-Semitism.

I have written to the Jewish community about ways in which we, the Jewish community, can improve our activism–in part by acknowledging that “strong anti-Israel sentiment” is not always equivalent to “anti-Semitism.”  I believe this.  But when left-wing intersectional movements exclude us consistently, failing to defend us and sometimes even targeting us –and anti-Semites on the political right wing embrace swastikas and shoot up our places of worship — labels cease to matter.  Even if you can wriggle out of straight-up anti-Semitism, failing to foresee the anti-Semitic implications in a document like this is an absolute outrage that American society should feel obligated to denounce without equivocation.

To dehumanize Jews, one must paint Jews as universal oppressors, which means that historic atrocities against them must be denied or downplayed.  These subliminal messages invade public consciousness quite easily — including those who would never themselves deny the Holocaust.  As the Holocaust fades into the past, and education of non-Jewish children about the Holocaust seems to be dying with it, one hardly even needs the crutch to propagate the “Jewish Oppressors” narrative.

When I read the sign, I see “Get Out, Jewish Oppressors.”  That is exactly what this college-student-drafted fake eviction notice embodies, whether or not anyone specifically intended it.  And I am losing faith that anyone besides Jews sees it.

About the Author
Bonnie Levine is an attorney and musician, as well as a wife and mom of a three-year old son and a five-year old daughter. She writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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