“How Can You Not Speak Out?”

I am a firm believer in standing up for what is right and true. I believe that all people have the right to live in peace and security and that all people should not feel in danger or at risk. When I see or hear about Jews or Israel supporters experiencing hate and threats, I cannot sit back. When it happens to my own family, I must speak out.

I recently read an article about retiring New Jersey State Senator, Loretta Weinberg highlighting her statement, “How can you not speak out?” in the New Jersey Jewish News. These words hit home. Loretta Weinberg is a role model in standing up for what is right. She has been a dedicated NJ government official since 1975, when she was the Board of Freeholder’s Clerk, and then Assistant County Administrator. She eventually moved onwards and upwards and was appointed to the state’s General Assembly in 1992. She served in this role for 13 years until 2004 when she won her seat in the state Senate. She has been a feminist role model and a Jewish role model for years. She has been honored for her dedication to public service by many organizations, including Hadassah Northern NJ, where I am a life member and a past region president. Her goals struck a chord with me. I also cannot NOT speak out when something is wrong. I must act.

When my daughter, who is a senior in college, told me that she had a professor who was espousing the view that Zionism is a genocidal movement intent on ethnic cleansing, I was in shock. Her small liberal arts college has always seemed welcoming and supportive of the Jewish students they actively recruit. They give credit for gap year programs to Israel, such as Young Judaea Year Course, and they promote study abroad in Israel. The college has a well-funded Hillel and an active Chabad. When a crisis hits the Jewish community, such as three years ago, when the Tree of Life massacre occurred in Pittsburgh, the college sends out letters of support and provides counseling for students in need. With this in mind, our family was quite floored by the experience our daughter was having with a visiting professor who was rabidly anti-Israel and was teaching the students that Zionism was equivalent to White Supremacy. How could a college community, so supportive of their Jewish students allow a professor to espouse this false narrative?

Our daughter does not like to be the center of attention, but she could not sit by and let the teacher’s claims go unanswered. She stood up in her class multiple times to question the teacher, and to share her knowledge of the true nature of Zionism. The teacher’s claim of Zionist colonization and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population, was constantly referred to as fact. My daughter’s claims that this was false and that the Jews came back to Israel as a return of the indigenous people of the land, was said to be controversial and in question. The teacher backed her claims up by telling our daughter, to read up on Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that is virulently anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. The teacher thought that since it was a “Jewish” organization, they were obviously accurate in their claims against Zionism. She constantly stated that many Jewish people agreed with her positions on Israel, or as she called it, “Occupied Palestine”.

I knew that this situation was deeply upsetting to my daughter because she told me about it. If she wasn’t concerned, I don’t think she would have shared it with me. But as the semester progressed, it grew and became significantly worse. My daughter knows me very well, and she knows that I cannot sit by and hear of injustice and slander against Israel. I must speak out. All my life I have been standing up for what I believe in. As a college student myself, I went to the rally in Washington, DC, in support of the Soviet Jews. As a young adult, I participated in numerous rallies in support of Israel. In my adulthood, I have advocated with my Hadassah community in support of Israel and against BDS and antisemitism. Earlier this month, I participated in the “Shine a Light on Antisemitism” rally in Times Square, NYC organized by the ADL and the JCRC of NY. This was a personal situation in which I knew I must stand up.

We told our daughter, she should take the lead and speak to the department chair. She was not sure she felt comfortable doing that. This is the case with many Jewish students. They don’t want to feel exposed. I couldn’t blame her. However, as a result, I felt compelled to step in, I couldn’t hold back. I talked with people from various organizations, specifically Hadassah and JewBelong, to get advice on what I should do. I started by writing to the president of the college and explaining what was going on in the course. I had quotes from the professor and slides from the course that showed exactly what she was teaching. She was equating Zionism with White Supremacy. She was describing Zionism as a racist movement. I wanted the teacher removed.

Positively, within a day of my email, the college was on top of the problem. They immediately spoke to the professor and reached out to me that they were investigating. My daughter reached out to Hillel for support and shared what she was going through. Within a week, she spoke to the department chair but felt little support. She spoke to the provost for academic affairs and shared her concerns. At this point in time, the semester is ending and she is done with the course, however, the professor is remaining at the college next semester. The college is attempting to educate the professor to share the “other side”, however, she has dedicated her life’s work to focusing on colonization and White Supremacy in Asia and how it bleeds into all aspects of life around the globe. The intersectionality of her claims against Israel are remarkable. Her White Supremacy claims seem to be that anyone “White” has no right to live anywhere that’s not where they originated. She gives Mizrachi Jews, more rights to live in Israel than Ashkenazi Jews, but she still claims that they displaced the indigenous people and have created an apartheid state.

What this experience has shown me, is that we cannot be complacent. We cannot sit back and think that antisemitism is going away. It’s not. We must continue to push our academics and our government representatives to stand up for what is right and true. Jews have been discriminated against for centuries. It was not only the Nazis, during the Holocaust who persecuted Jews. We can go back in every generation and every century and name specific events in which the ruling party discriminated, persecuted, forced conversions, or death to Jews. We Jews have been pushed out of our homes and forced to leave the countries which had given us haven for periods of time. The only place that the Jews call home is Israel. It’s in the Torah. We pray to return to Jerusalem in our Passover seder. Jerusalem is mentioned over and over in our tefillah and in our Torah. Israel is not a random place that the Jews picked out of a hat and decided to conquer. It is the place that G-d gave us and told us to return to. We are the “People of the Book”. From Abraham until today, we are returning to the land that G-d told us to go to.

Jews are attacked from across the spectrum of political divides. The far-right are Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists. The far-left progressives see Jews as colonizers taking over a land that was not theirs. We cannot seem to win the fringes. What we must do, is win the center. We must educate with the actual facts. We must give our children the knowledge that Jews have always been trying to return to our homeland after each expulsion by an oppressor. Sometimes we were invited back, as with Cyrus the Great and other times, we chose to make our way back. We have always tried to go home. Theodor Herzl determined that the Jews needed their homeland to be accepted as members of the global community. To end antisemitism, we needed self-determination in our homeland. That was the only way to be a true people and be free of discrimination. The Land of Israel is our homeland. We need our children to understand that, so they can stand up when they need to. The fight for our right to exist as a people in our own land is now in the hands of our children. They need to feel the same fervent Zionism that many of their parents learned as children. They are our future, and they need to know that they too, should feel “How can you not speak out?”

About the Author
Stephanie Z. Bonder is a proud Jew and lifelong Zionist. Stephanie studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for her junior year abroad and is currently pursuing her masters in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University Melton School of Education. In her volunteer hours, she is on the National Board of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America where she currently serves as Chair of the Speakers Bureau and team member of the Education and Advocacy division. Stephanie teaches teens and adults on Jewish Peoplehood, Zionism and current events in Israel through her involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest and her synagogue, Congregation Agudath Israel. All of her blogs are her own personal opinions and do not represent the organizations with which she is affiliated.
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