Two days ago, as I sat in the cafe at Rutgers Hillel working on a paper, I overheard my friend Becca Raush talking about getting published in the Times of Israel. We chatted about the process for a bit, talked about the end of the semester, and returned to our tables.
Last night, after checking the Live Updates on the war, I noticed that Becca’s article was trending in the Blogs. Excited, I read through the piece, and found that her experience has thankfully been quite different from many of my other friends here. Part of me immediately wanted to respond, to make sure that other perspectives from our campus were also going to be heard. But I decided to sleep on it, and make my decision in the morning.
By today, the comments section of the article was filled with vile hatred, spewed not by Hamas-supporters but by fellow Jews. While some of the responses were thoughtful disagreements, others were filled with threats and accusations. Somehow, dozens of people read an article calling for dialogue and mutual understanding and concluded that the appropriate reaction was harassment. I still want to voice my concerns, but I don’t feel that I can do so without addressing the obvious.
As we face the most challenging time for Jews in modern history, as Jews across the world are at risk for simply existing, we cannot ostracize each other. We have always disagreed as a people, and that has been our strength for millenia. But we can never allow our internal debates to become attacks, accusations, or external threats. I know that it can feel disheartening to see disagreement within the Jewish community right now, especially while we are attacked all across the world. But our history shows that when Jews go after each other for our ideas, only our enemies benefit. Anyone who sees the current war and worldwide crisis as an opportunity to isolate and excommunicate segments of the Jewish people needs to seriously reassess whose dirty work they are doing.
I would ask that anyone who wants to keep reading bear in mind that what follows is only my perspective, which is no more or less reflective of reality than anyone else’s. If you are just looking for counter-arguments to keep bullying a college student, I’d advise you stop reading now.
Returning to the actual content of the article, it is true that dialogue is crucial for our campus. Jewish and Palestinian students alike have been scared to walk in the streets, and both feel that the university has failed to meaningfully address any of their concerns. In that climate, the only possible way to restore the campus is by meeting each other where we are.
After all, what is the alternative? Should we lock ourselves in our Hillels and Chabads until we graduate? Should we make ourselves an island and lose any possible friends and allies who aren’t Jewish? If the university continues to fail at a top-down approach, our only option as students is to try to at least sympathize with each others’ pain.
The article makes all of these points, and effectively identifies that all university students need to appreciate that opposing views exist and have the right to continue to do so. Students at Rutgers and beyond have worked to create spaces to facilitate this dialogue, such as the Hotline for Israel/Palestine and Rutgers’ own “Peace is Possible” student club.
However, we cannot obscure the difference between opposing views and thinly-veiled antisemitism. Since the war began, Rutgers-affiliated departments and organizations have accused Jews of fabricating antisemitism to stifle Islamic voices, called Jewish students “psychotic” for being scared on campus, claimed that both Hillel and Chabad on campus are being favored by the university for being Zionists, and accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians as part of a 75 year long genocide.
These are not calls of mourning, liberation, or peace. These are organizations directly attacking Jewish students and institutions on campus. The university must be willing to tolerate a diversity of perspectives, but attacking and lying about Jews are not political stances. They are dangerous echoes of antisemitic tropes that have gotten our people killed for millenia. Jewish organizations cannot be expected to try to dialogue with groups that deny our experiences and right to exist at all.
Beyond just organizations, I have personally seen multiple Jewish students try to reach out to individual Palestinian classmates, only to be told that there is no possible dialogue with Zionists. I have also watched Jewish students lose many of their non-Jewish friends, as caring about Jewish life has become too controversial for some.
These incidents are not representative of all pro-Palestine students. Some are Palestinians simply mourning their families trapped in Gaza, and many more are undereducated Americans who just want to help. Their voices should be elevated, because they are the people with whom dialogue is essential right now.
But their attitudes are not the ones leading the conversation, and very few organizations have been espousing them.
I wholeheartedly agree that we as Jewish students need to be comfortable with hearing opinions that disagree with ours, no matter how deeply held they are. But we cannot and should not become tolerant of Jew-hatred on campus, especially when it is fostered and encouraged by the university. There is no path to reconciliation if we can’t agree not to hate each other.
The article concludes with the hope that students stop seeing each other as threats. I share this hope. We must recognize that most students do not even understand that they are spreading antisemitism, and offer them opportunities to learn. We must have the strength to be understanding even as the entire world refuses that grace to us. But we cannot allow our understanding to become complacency, and we must make it clear that antisemitism has no home. Not on Rutgers campus, and not in our attempts to find peace.