Redefining the Lines

After spending nine months in the State of Israel, Bryan Turkel, a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a proud Zionist, returned to Claremont McKenna with full intention of displaying his identity. Upon his arrival, he placed a mezuzah at his doorpost. His father bought it for him in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city, and Turkel viewed it as a sign of his redefined commitment to his faith and culture. A week later, in a statement of Zionist pride, he hung a large Israeli flag over his window in Green Hall. To him, both items symbolized what was a transformative experience that defines him to this day.

However, within a week or two of it being unfurled, his Israeli flag was stolen. Someone had damaged the screen to his window and snatched the flag from the outside. This act was seen as a political act protesting his Zionism, and could not have been connected to his commitment to Judaism. However, someone stole his mezuzah three days later. The timing was suspicious, as he had been targeted for a second time and the culprit specifically targeted his cultural and religious identity. In a matter of 72 hours, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism became nonexistent; the vandals blurred the line that should have separated the two ideologies.

Unfortunately, such incidents have occurred frequently, but they intensified over the summer. Following Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorism, massive protests condemning Israel’s acts of self-defense spilled over into attacks against the Jewish people as an entity. In France, anti-Zionist protestors torched synagogues following anti-Israel rallies. When I was in Boston this summer, people held signs that used the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that he was thirsty for Palestinian blood. Even after the final ceasefire agreement came to fruition in late-August, many college campuses have experienced problems where Jewish institutions faced scrutiny and were targeted by anti-Israel groups for supposed or blatant support for Israel. This disturbing phenomenon of conflating Zionism with Judaism explains how the acts committed against Turkel unfolded.

This must end here and now. The misconception inspiring such attacks is that all Jews are Zionists and vice versa. Such notions are simply incorrect, as there are plenty of Jews that do not identify as Zionist and there are many Zionists who are not Jewish. When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures differ in dialects, customs, and food, but we all share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, and, most notably, land of origin. Jews also come from many tribes, including places like Europe; Ethiopia; North Africa Spain; Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. The Jewish people originated from the land of Judea, where the modern State of Israel lies. There are archaeological, religious, and historical connections between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Attacking a Jewish student in any of those aspects is anti-Semitic. But when it comes to Zionism, the Jewish identity must be separated from politics.

Like every other state in the world, the State of Israel is not perfect. It faces challenges within a hostile environment where its neighbors have historically or continuously called for its destruction. The same way Americans criticize the Obama administration or every other presidency, criticizing Israeli policy and its government has a place in dialogue and debate. But as long as individuals do not cross the boundaries of demonizing, delegitimizing, or holding double standards against the Jewish state, including calling Netanyahu a blood thirsty tyrant or denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then one can argue objections to Israel are not anti-Semitic. One can debate a Zionist or a pro-Israel student without incorporating aspects of Jew-hatred in the same manner that anyone can criticize the United States without being anti-American.

We as a community must redefine the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. If we continue to conflate political Zionism with Jewish identity and culture, then it will surely keep dividing communities and putting Jewish people in danger. Simultaneously, the same must be said about criticizing Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and terrorism while not conflating Arab and Palestinian identities as equitable to the terrorist-supporting governments. This means that one can be pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israel, since one can support the self-determination of both peoples while criticizing the actions of those in power in either or both sides of this emotionally-charged conflict.

My greatest concern, however, remains the safety of the Jewish community in Claremont. After Turkel had his second mezuzah torn down a few weeks ago, the end of the blatant anti-Semitic acts in the consortium seems farther than it should. If we wish to seek a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, as I do, then we must work together to encourage fruitful, respectful dialogue while fostering a safer place for every Claremont College student to show his or her identity proudly. But it starts with drawing clear boundaries between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. I will not stand idly by as the same hateful ideology that sent my people through gas chambers and pogroms mix with an opposition to the actions of a free democracy. Such conflations are baseless and have no place anywhere, especially on college campuses.

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CORRECTION: The sentence “When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, but our differences lie in dialects, customs, food, and, most notably, land of origin.” has been changed to: “When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures differ in dialects, customs, and food, but we all share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, and, most notably, land of origin.”

Image Source: Wikimedia

8 thoughts on “Redefining the Lines”

  1. Confused on one point: “as long as individuals do not cross the boundaries of … denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then one can argue objections to Israel are not anti-Semitic.”

    Anti-Zionism, however, includes opposing the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. I admire your point that people can and should be able to oppose Israel without being anti-Semitic, but many people justifiably believe that the establishment of the Israeli state in the land of Palestine, the displacement of the Palestinian people, the ongoing settlements in Palestinian communities, and the decades of oppression of Palestinians that have resulted from Israel being created on top of Palestine, are, profoundly and fundamentally, wrong — and should not have happened.

    So when you say that someone “denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” is not merely political opposition but anti-Semitism, what exactly do you mean? Do you think one must support the existence a Jewish state somewhere in the world, if not in Palestine, in order to not be anti-Semitic? (Genuine question — not clear from your language what you think about this.)

    1. I’m a little confused by your point: “Anti-Zionism, however, includes opposing the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine. I admire your point that people can and should be able to oppose Israel without being anti-Semitic, but many people justifiably believe that the establishment of the Israeli state in the land of Palestine, the displacement of the Palestinian people, the ongoing settlements in Palestinian communities, and the decades of oppression of Palestinians that have resulted from Israel being created on top of Palestine, are, profoundly and fundamentally, wrong — and should not have happened.”

      What I’m confused about is the Palestine that you speak of. Since quite frankly, its never existed. I’m not saying this to be naive or ignorant. I’m saying this because the historical facts go as follows: Jewish Kingdom -> Roman occupation -> Byzantine occupation -> Crusades -> Ottoman Empire -> British Mandate -> Israel.

      No where was there a Palestinian people or Palestinian state. The term “Palestine” comes from the the Roman occupation, to humiliate the Jews.

      The Arabs came in not as an indigenous population, they came in as invaders. On top of that, you fail to realize that IF there was an actual expulsion of Arabs from Israel, there would be no Arab population. The Arabs that left mostly left voluntarily, while there are obviously few exceptions to this.

      Lets talk about displacement too, over 800,000 Jews were displaced from the Arab world at the EXACT same time, they didn’t even get to leave voluntarily. So if you demand repatriation then these Jews deserve the same.

      You also speak of the ‘ongoing settlements’, I don’t think you realize that these ‘settlements’ rest on what is MAYBE 4% of the the West Bank, and most of them were established communities way before 1967 or even 1948.

      You also neglect to mention that the oppression of the Palestinian people has resulted from their own leadership, why is it that the President of the Palestinian Authority gets paid $1,000,000 USD every month while his people can barely afford anything? Why is it that Yasser Arafat had I believe near $1billion USD while his people suffered? Its because of corruption, and the lack of truly caring for what is the best interest of the Palestinian people.

      So, nice try.

      1. For the record, I just realized I have the same name spelt differently than the author… Just wanted to point out that I am a different person.

      2. Elliot, my brother. You forgot to mention that after the Byzantines, it was the Umayyads, then the Fatimids, then a few other Arab empires before the Crusades, then Saladin and a few others before the Ottomans. You also forgot to mention that Jordan illegally occupied Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) from 1949-1967, which is why there cannot be an occupation of those territories. Rather, those territories are disputed and are subject to negotiation of secure and recognized boundaries in accordance with Resolution 242.

        Otherwise, well said!

  2. Elliot, I think you’re absolutely right about needing to define the line between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. I think the line between those frequently gets blurry. For those of us (myself included) who are frequently critical of the policies of the state of Israel, this guide is helpful. http://this-is-not-jewish.tumblr.com/post/34344324495/how-to-criticize-israel-without-being-anti-semitic

    Similarly, Elliot, if you could adhere to these rules, I’d appreciate it, as a fellow Zionist (particularly with regards to the post above) I would appreciate it. http://this-is-not-jewish.tumblr.com/post/35969286556/how-to-support-israel-without-being-racist Please don’t deny the existence of Palestine or of Palestinians. They obviously exist.

    With regards to the first comment: I sympathize with you on a great deal, especially on the question of settlements, which are illegal and take away some 80% of Palestinian water resources, restrict mobility, impose a brutal occupation, et cetera. It’s true, Eliot, that they’re only on 4% of the land, but the way in which they’re set up effectively divides the West Bank into unviable cantons without resources. This has got to end.

    However: I am in agreement with Eliot that saying that the state of Israel has no right to exist blurs the lines between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Regardless of how we feel about how justified it was for Jews to settle in Palestine, the fact is that they are there. They, like the Palestinians, have the right to self-determination. In Palestine. We have a historic connection to the land, as do the Palestinians. And we were justified, I believe, in originally settling there in our flight from persecution.

    The state of Israel has a right to exist. The post-1967 occupation has no right to exist. A distinction has to be made between these. And international law makes this distinction. The 2004 court ruling on the wall says that “we look forward to when there can be two states,” living side by side peacefully. The two state solution is the outcome that’s ensconced in international law, and is the only solution that preserves the self-determination of both groups.

    In the meantime, Arabs and Jews must be able to recognize the legitimate grievances of the other. For Jews, this means acknowledging the pain of the mass Palestinian exodus of 1948, which was imposed on the Palestinians by the Israeli army. It means acknowledging the ongoing nature of this exodus. For Arabs, this means acknowledging the long history of Jewish persecution, including the exodus from Arab countries imposed on Jews by antisemetic governments that Elliot mentioned above. It means acknowledging that antisemitism hasn’t gone away, and that incidents like the ones Elliot pointed out are hateful and unjustifiable. It means acknowledging that Jews in Europe, as Elliot pointed out, are scapegoated for the actions of the state of Israel, even if they are not Zionists.

    There’s a lot of work to be done.

  3. I might add that the onus is on the Israelis to implement this two state solution. The Palestine papers show that in 2007 the Palestinians offered what was essentially a just partition of the land, which let Israel keep 63% of the (illegally there) settlers in place.

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