I’m crying today as I watch a YouTube video of US college students protesting the impact of the Israel-Hamas war. I find the protests disturbing and difficult to watch. Young girls with Israeli flags are holding photos of children and crying. Across the campus lawn, other protesters are engaged in a screaming match with them.
These two groups are obviously divided more by ideologies and philosophies than physical location. Figuratively, they seem to be worlds apart.
The campus chaos hits even closer to home now that we have a daughter in college for the very first time. She is caught in the middle. As an 18-year-old Jewish woman, she is trying to sort through all this by herself to determine where she stands. Like all of us, she is struggling. She tries to see both sides of the conflict.
My daughter is attempting to be objective, but I wish she, and everyone, really, would have a subjective, gut-wrenching response instead. Until I mentioned it to her, she seemed to have forgotten about our friends and relatives who live in Israel. Even if you have no associations, have compassion, empathy — or just a heart.
I hope that our daughter has not forgotten about the pogroms and the Holocaust, which her ancestors endured. I hope she can equate them with the recent terrorist attacks. I hope that, as one who has witnessed blatant antisemitism herself, she can make the connection because, even if you can’t see it, that – hatred of Jews – is really what this war is about. The kind of merciless killing Hamas engaged in is an expression of pure hatred, not a political statement or an attempt to bring about a major improvement in the lives of a group of people.
Ironically, just last month, before the start of this war, Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, sent out a statement that decried acts of antisemitism on college campuses. It stated, “Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is appalled by the escalating number of antisemitic and anti-Israel actions on college campuses across the United States.”
Though the statement referred to a “decision by nine student groups at the law school of the University of California at Berkeley to bar pro-Israel and pro-Zionist speakers from addressing them,” it seems even more applicable to Hamas’ recent acts of terrorism and escalation of violence. Those acts leave the door open for more antisemitism to appear, albeit in the guise of seemingly benign support for the Palestinians. This is already happening on college campuses.
Sometimes, you need to lead with your heart, not with your head. I would prefer that, after the brutal assault of civilians by Hamas, people’s reactions would come from the heart rather than being an intellectual or political response. As President Biden stated, “This is not about party or politics. There is no place for hate in America.”
Feel for those innocent lives lost and grieve with Israel. Stand with Israel against people who seek its complete destruction and will settle for nothing less. Stand up for Israel’s right to exist. While Israel is the Jewish homeland, it is home not only to Jews, but also to Muslims, Christians and people of other religions, to people from all over the world of many ethnicities.
Unfortunately, Hamas does not differentiate.
Our daughter has friends who support the Palestinian cause. She can sympathize with them, but not with people who believe that this cause is an excuse for the widespread slaughter executed by Hamas. President Macron of France said it best: “Those who confuse the Palestinian cause with justifying terrorism are committing a moral, political and strategic error.”
Thankfully, the protests I’ve seen so far on college campuses have remained peaceful. Please, let’s keep it that way. Let’s keep everyone safe. And, at a minimum, please, let’s show basic human decency.
Diane Gensler is a member of the Hadassah Educators Council.