Sarah Boxer
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What I learned at Harvard

As a Jewish progressive in the Diaspora, I have never felt so betrayed as I have by these so-called human rights defenders

My entire life, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends have shared their accounts of horrific antisemitic violence spanning Poland to Iraq. Their proud Zionism stemmed, in part, from a firmly held belief that a Jewish state would prevent their children and grandchildren from being subjected to the same terror.

As a second-year Harvard Law student immersed in international law and human rights courses and dialogues, I have often urged my family members in Israel and globally not to let trauma determine our destiny or policy decisions. I spoke of my education in narratives, humanization, dialogues, conflict resolution, and transitional justice. I let things slide when acquaintances and friends dabbled in antisemitic rhetoric while supporting Palestinian human rights.

I suppressed parts of myself completely so I could fit into spaces that would not want someone proud of their Israeli-Jewish identity to be a part of their organization. In these spaces, I could not express my love for my family in Israel, our culture, or our traditions without simultaneously condemning the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. I did all of this under the presumption that the so-called human rights defenders in America had a line they were not willing to cross. That, fundamentally, they saw me, my family, and my friends as human beings first.

October 7th was a rude awakening that shattered all of my naivety. All I am left with is anger and heartbreak. I saw images and videos I will never be able to forget, the social media posts of friends and family in Israel in which they shared photos of loved ones missing or presumed dead, and read stories of sexual violence, murder, torture, and kidnapping. My Jewish and Israeli family, friends, and peers around the world are experiencing a mass traumatizing event, in line with 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in Manchester and Paris.

The terror marks the single deadliest day for Jewish people globally since the Holocaust. That these crimes occurred on Israeli soil only makes them more catastrophic. We are living in a nightmare and experiencing our worst fears in real time. The casualties and injuries are still being reported as cousins my age are being called up to the reserves – not being given the ability to process this tragedy before having to be subjected to the trauma themselves.

While I spent the last 48 hours sobbing next to my parents, calling family members, frantically checking the news and social media for updates to gain the illusion of control, and sitting quietly in shock, my peers at Harvard were drafting a statement rationalizing the massacres, rapes, and torture without so much as a sentence expressing empathy or condemnation. Educated “human rights defenders” that I share classes with, people in the human rights student organizations I am a part of, and those who call themselves my friends – celebrating publicly as my people are being slaughtered, tortured, and brutalized in cold blood in their homes. Acts reminiscent of pogroms.

They are conflating the liberation of the Palestinian people with the indiscriminate violence of Hamas – a terrorist group. They are cheering on documented, transparent war crimes and violations of international law. And these people call themselves progressives and defenders of human rights. Antisemitism runs so deep. I have never felt so angry or betrayed in my life.

For me, as I am sure for many in the diaspora, October 7th signified a turning point. No longer will I sit quietly. No longer will I shy away from sharing my identity or heritage. No longer will I give people the benefit of the doubt when they dip into antisemitic tropes and rhetoric. No longer will I welcome into spaces I hold dear people who want me, my family, and my community dead. I refuse to sanitize my identity and my family’s history to make others more comfortable.

These people have shown us who they are. Progressive Jewish peers across the country have reached out making the same realizations. Others in the non-Jewish and Israeli world have shown us who they are too, reaching out with open hearts and support without equivocation. Thank you to those who have checked in on and supported their Jewish and Israeli friends. We need you more than ever.

Unfortunately, the horrors of this weekend have forced me to understand what my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends understood long before me. I now recognize what it means that antisemitism is in peoples’ psyche to the point that they will twist and distort the truth to suit their ends. Anyone who can justify and even celebrate documented massacres of civilians, sexual violence, torture, and kidnapping without hesitation has no moral compass. And yet, countless people globally, at shiny institutions like mine, have proven themselves Jew-hating hypocrites. We will not forget.

About the Author
Sarah Shiloah Boxer is a second-year J.D. student at Harvard Law School. She has previously been published in Hey Alma. In 2022, she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in International Affairs, concentrating in Middle East Studies and Conflict Resolution, from the George Washington University. She was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee.
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