I am a Jewish student at DePaul University in Chicago and I am scared. Over the last couple of months, Students for Justice in Palestine has been making more and more accusations about Jewish organizations; specifically, Hillel and Birthright Israel. Out of context, their messages don’t seem harmful, but by calling out Jewish organizations as oppressors, it’s no longer about the Israeli government or Palestinian statehood but about the Jewish people. And that’s where anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism. Which is why I’m scared.
When SJP dropped tons fliers from the top of Arts and Letters, they didn’t speak about Christian trips to Israel or Muslim trips to Israel or interfaith trips to Israel… all of which exist. They only spoke about Hillel and Birthright, which just so happen to be major Jewish organizations. So, what happens when a call for Justice is actually activism against Jews?
Well. You get an event like the one that SJP held on February 10th. Where an outside speaker, was brought in to talk about how Birthright is “sexual tourism” and mentions of “mythical historical Judea.” The presentation painted Birthright as a sneaky tool of control to sexually manipulate the world, rather than what it truly is, a Jewish identity and community building trip to Israel. The presentation was a disturbing display of antisemitic tropes, all trotted out under the guise of justice. But if this really is all about Palestinians, why is their focus on the Jewish community?
We see this again in their current petition that is being sent around to other student organizations. While most of the things that they’re asking for I actually agree with, such as creating campus resources to support students from Southwest Asia and North Africa (SWANA) region. All students from Palestinians to Ethiopians to Israelis to Kazakhs to South Sudanese deserve equitable care and support. However, the most prominent request, which is antithetical to equitable care, is a demand that DePaul denounce Hillel’s birthright trip and the interfaith leadership delegation trip to Israel. Neither of which are funded by DePaul but both of which are run by Jewish organizations and serve DePaul students.
And this… this is why I’m scared as a Jewish student. Because if the University can’t understand that being Jewish is not a political stance, then I have no chance of being safe on campus. Public expressions of hatred for any other group would be met with strong and appropriate condemnation from the University administration. We are at a very dangerous precipice. Either the administration stands up to the people spreading antisemitism or we’re going to have a situation where Jews are fully unsafe at DePaul.
The same group calling Jewish identity programming “sexual tourism” is calling for another intifada (via Instagram) which they know most students don’t understand. But Jews and Israelis understand all too well. It’s a call for bombings, stabbings, and just so much death. The first two intifadas cost thousands of lives. A few weeks ago in Chicago, a woman threw a glass at a bartender wearing a Jewish star while shouting at the bartender about Israel and that she hates Jews.(1) And while these things seem abstract to some, recently 13 Israeli civilians were killed in multiple attacks and many more injured. (2) While not all of the victims were Jews they all lived in Israel. These calls for terror have a real impact. They cost real lives.
Personally, what I find so interesting is that while SJP is calling for the administration to protect Palestinian students, they are also vilifying and attacking the Jewish community. Why can’t Jewish students be protected? Why are calls for terrorism met with administrative silence? Why shouldn’t I be able to feel safe on campus? And what makes me, a Jewish Israeli DePaul student, worth less than others?
Because if they deserve to feel safe, which they do, so do I.