Dov Factor

Let’s talk about GW’s antisemitism task force

Students Listen to Michael Koplow and Ghaith Al Omari describe the future of the West Bank

If a Jewish student can mention their support for Israel with zero intent to harm or offend a Palestinian student, yet that Palestinian student genuinely feels that comment was racist…. 

And if a Palestinian student can mention the trauma caused by Israel’s actions with zero intent to harm or offend a Jewish student, yet that Jewish student genuinely feels that comment was antisemitic…

Who are we to tell the Palestinian student they’re being sensitive and who are we to tell the Jewish student that they’re being paranoid?

At a school like ours where narratives about antisemitism stem by and large from Israel-Palestine spaces, something inherently political and fueled by trauma narratives for Palestinians and Israelis alike, how can it make sense to address that through the lens of antisemitism? 

How can we relegate political differences catapulted by immense trauma to hate speech in the process?

 I’m a sophomore at GW who was raised in Jewish and Zionist spaces – camp, school, and youth groups. I took a gap year in Israel before coming to GW and I recognize the glaring bias present in my upbringing as a result. That’s why my Zionist identity – my belief in an entity designed to ensure the Jewish people’s security in their only homeland – is deeply rooted in the same thing as my Jewish identity: debate and criticism. 

It’s why I’ve tried to argue against the delegitimization of Israel on campus while actively voicing my anti-occupation beliefs. My Zionist identity is also not mutually exclusive from my unrelenting belief in the need for Palestinian statehood and the wrongful victimization and senseless oppression of Palestinians living under occupation. 

When I first noticed that GW was including an antisemitism task force as part of the student association, though, I was confused. I feel safe on campus. I thought about my experience at GW Hillel during my freshman orientation, where I met my best friend at school. I thought about the mentors that it has provided me, who I meet with each week. I thought about how the issue at GW isn’t a lack of Jewish representation but actually an issue at times consisting of warring Chabads both seeking to engage Jewish students on campus. 

That changed when I learned of StandWithUs’ pending lawsuit against the university over alleged comments about Zionism in class. I thought maybe I was wrong – maybe as such a strong place for Jewish life, precisely that backdrop allows it to occur unnoticed, even in academic settings. But evidence from GW’s independent investigator cuts right through those claims, not only cutting through the case but lowering the credibility of those who opposed. That confirmed what I already believed: that these issues are growing so significant on campus that actual lawyers believe they can force the administration’s hand against an outspoken anti zionist professor.

How can we then say that a task force — one whose purpose is purportedly to research antisemitism on campus — but refers to it as “rampant” in its own legislation, does not have a predetermined conclusion?  

I won’t be participating in this task force nor will I advocate for its termination. I won’t participate because of something I believe many around me know but that I have spoken to few about explicitly. I understand the Jewish students – the feeling of having a hard fought homeland questioned and trifled with feels painful, potentially a source of paranoia. And I try as best I can to imagine how Palestinian students might feel, up against extremely well-funded programming, legal teams, and often quick to condemn administration. I feel uncomfortable during apartheid week, knowing that it misrepresents my people greatly. I also feel discomfort during Israel fest, knowing how it distracts from issues of great importance.

But I won’t advocate against the task force, either. As Holocaust survivors dwindle to a final few and as education surrounding it is few and far between – there is no reason to shut down a group if it truly fills gaps in education. I can speak for my peers and my own experiences alone, but I hesitate to generalize such to diminish the many other Jewish students’ experience with whom I have not interacted.

Just know that any activity such as this that waters down the definition of antisemitism in a way that allows it to become politicized such that it no longer carries weight when it matters, is dangerous for Jewish students. Any time we dissolve political disagreement rooted in decades of trauma into a narrative of pure hatred toward one group, we do an obvious disservice not just to the group from which we claim that hatred stems, but to the legitimacy of the group making the accusation. That’s my ultimate fear with washing the whole Israel Palestine debate on campus through an anti semitism task force.

Yes, I remain extremely skeptical of this antisemitism task force. But if you are invested in making a difference, choose substance instead. Use resources in DC and bring dialogue around policy to your peers about what we must do to oppose judicial reform and advocate for Palestinian statehood. Let go of the gamification of the Israel Palestine conflict on campus that, for Israelis and Palestinians three thousand miles away, is their daily life.

About the Author
Dov Factor is a college student who took a gap year in Israel during operation Guardian of the Walls and was present at the Meron incident. He currently attends the George Washington University where he has served as both an ICC Fellow, fighting BDS on campus and an IPF Atid Campus Fellow, advocating and educating on the viability of the two state solution.
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