Tag Archives: Israel

We Shall Remain

Last winter, I had the privilege of returning to Israel for the first time in over five years. During the trip, my group paid a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum. As we entered the museum, we zigzagged around the story of European anti-Semitism, how Hitler acquired his influence, got into power, and slowly carried out genocide against eleven million people. We saw how society stood by quietly as the Nazis rampaged through Europe, and how it failed to stop the round up of Jews from the mass graves of Babi Yar to the death camps of Treblinka. It served as a warning against silence in the face of bigotry.

Today, I walk around campus vigilantly, worried that I will face scrutiny or attacks for my beliefs. Recently, anonymous students targeted Claremont Students for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group over which I preside, via Yik Yak. When I was informed of the commentary spewing around Yik Yak, including: “it was time to fire up the ovens” and “Heil Hitler,” I instantly had flashbacks to the imagery I saw at Yad Vashem. I closed my eyes and saw the abandoned shoes of the nameless victims of state-sponsored genocide. I saw the scrolls of the Torah destroyed and desecrated. I recalled the photographs of my people heaped in a mass grave as soldiers shot them in the head. But here I was, in Claremont of all places, experiencing the same gut-wrenching feelings that I did in a Holocaust museum.

This is not the only instance of anti-Zionist and/or anti-Semitic bigotry I have seen over the course of my four years in Claremont. Earlier this year, three mezuzot were ripped off the doorposts of proud Jewish men at Claremont McKenna College. During the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration night at Garrison Theater, we heard Marc Lamont Hill refer to Israel as an “apartheid state,” one of the most factually inaccurate and libelous charges against the Jewish state. The Student Life included a problematic article in its news section calling for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which holds a double-standard against Israel rather than condemning the rest of the Arab world for oppressing Palestinian-Arabs. Claremont Students for Israel had event flyers ripped off from buildings across campus. Finally, we have people posting anti-Semitic comments on Yik Yak.

Anti-Semitism takes various forms. Unfortunately, this includes rhetoric from people who criticize the State of Israel who cross the line and foment anti-Semitic commentary. As President of Claremont Students for Israel, I cannot help but notice the connections between rising levels of Israel hatred and rising levels of anti-Semitism over the past decade. The metastasis of this anti-Semitic cancer in Claremont started with an Israeli flag being ripped from a windowsill. An anti-Israel divestment resolution was passed at UC Davis, and the Jewish fraternity had swastikas on their house two days later. At Northeastern University, Students for Justice in Palestine hijacked a Holocaust commemoration event waving a PLO flag chanting the genocidal chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” SJP chapters have also been known for posting Nazi-era cartoons directed toward the Jewish state. It does not surprise me that after my group’s flyers were ripped down from the Hoch-Shanahan dining hall, we had to hear Nazi sympathizing comments and anti-Jewish rhetoric from either trolls or Jew-hating cowards hiding behind Yik Yak. Whether or not the administrations or the student body wants to admit it, Claremont faces an anti-Semitism problem.

Claremont cannot stand silent on this issue anymore. As Yom HaShoah approaches, the Jewish community will honor the six million Jewish lives brutally lost under the Nazi’s regime once more. Over that period of time, I expect the Jewish community to put aside their differences and unite to make a statement against anti-Semitism and against unreasonable bigotry. During that time, we cannot, and we should not, allow these anti-Semitic events to instill fear. We should not allow people and/or organizations to hijack the Jewish community’s attempts to live peacefully in a diverse college environment without facing hatred. Messages of peace, love, and unity should not be met with calls for separation, violence, and hatred. This is something that our entire community should theoretically stand with us on. I hope to see us all there.

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

Jewish Student Target of Anti-Semitic Crimes on Campus

In the span of one weekend, the same Claremont McKenna College student was the victim of two separate crimes that targeted his Jewish heritage.

Bryan Turkel CMC ’15 first had his Israeli flag, which was draped across the window of his ground-floor dorm room, stolen the night of Sept. 18.

“The next morning, when I came back from breakfast at 8:30 a.m., I realized that my screen door was off, but figured that someone had been drunk and ripped it off,” Turkel said in an interview with the Claremont Independent. “But then, it was only later in the day that, when I went to go hang something up, and I was like, ‘Wait, my flag is gone.’”

“They ripped off the screen door, must have just grabbed a handful of flag, and ripped it down.”

Turkel reported the second incident when he noticed that his mezuzah, a scroll commonly hung on the doors of Jewish homes, was missing the afternoon of Sept. 22.

While Turkel noted that the first crime could have been perceived as purely politically motivated, the theft of the second item, which carries no political significance and only relates to his status as a Jew, leads him to believe that both crimes were motivated by anti-Semitic attitudes.

“Non-Jews might hang up an Israeli flag, but non-Jews do not hang up mezuzahs,” Turkel said. “[Stealing] the mezuzah is not a political statement, the mezuzah is anti-Semitism, and the mezuzah is a hard-line hate crime. And the fact that the two were linked so close in time takes the doubt out of my mind that the first one was politically motivated and not anti-Semitic.”

Turkel also said that outright anti-Semitism is often allowed to operate under the guise of anti-Israeli political views.

“[These incidents] serve as a great example for how classic anti-Semitism is being cleanly repackaged as anti-Israeli sentiment and then perpetrated under that name,” Turkel said. “It’s still the same old hatred that caused the Holocaust; it’s still out and about today. But it operates under the name of something else today.”

“People are not realizing the severity and the implications of something like, in Belgium, a woman putting up a sign saying, ‘Dogs are allowed, but no Jews,’ and this is 2014, this isn’t 1939,” Turkel said. “The fact that this is happening and the world is basically ignorant or apathetic to it is very dangerous. Jews are feeling unsafe.”

Although he reported the first incident to Campus Safety, Turkel said that the investigation got several key facts wrong, including calling the Israeli flag a “Jewish” flag and misreporting that he had never been the victim of anti-Semitism on campus before (he was called a “Kike” his sophomore year), which led him to go straight to CMC’s Dean of Students office to report the second crime.

“[Campus Safety] did not seem to give the appropriate tone and severity to responding to a hate incident,” Turkel said. “In their report to Dean Spellman that I got to see, it was very obvious that they did not listen to anything I said.”

“The way that they handled it was so unprofessional, that I didn’t go back.”

CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman sent out a campus-wide email informing students of the incidents Sept. 23.

In Defense of the Independent

The Claremont Independent has come under fire recently. Not only were several copies of our most recent issue physically torn apart on the Scripps campus for brandishing the sign of the devil (the drawing on the cover was of the GOP elephant), but the magazine also found itself being torn apart within the opinion pages of The Student Life, where one columnist opined on what he found most “incredulous” about the Independent.

It is worth pointing out that we believe it a complete coincidence that the columnist only stopped to share his thoughts about the Independent after it published a not-so-flattering rebuttal to one of his previous columns, in which he urged the Claremont Colleges to join in the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions. But, ulterior motives aside, the author’s criticisms of the magazine hold both little weight and scant coherence. From the top:

First, the author notes his disappointment that “the magazine was not at all the source of libertarian or even classically conservative journalism that it claimed to be,” which assumes that we claim to be anything at all. If the author had taken the time to read our mission statement, talk to any of our magazine’s leadership or staff, or even read closely the name of the magazine (ClaremontIndependent”), this initial disappointment could have easily been avoided.

Second, the author censures the Independent as “…just another digest of popular Republican Party talking points,” no doubt referring to our piece about Republicans’ increasing odds of taking back the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections; however, this criticism does not have a leg on which to stand. Analyzing trends, polling data, and candidates to form an election forecast is hardly the same thing as espousing “Republican Party talking points.” In fact, since publishing our article, The Economist, The Atlantic, and Nate Silver’s “Big Data” website, 538, have published articles concurring in our view. We look forward to an upcoming TSL column deriding these media outlets as nothing more than purveyors of “Republican Party talking points.”

Third, and perhaps most bizarre, the author claims that he – by taking the stance that the Claremont Colleges should boycott Israeli universities – is the true standard-bearer of the classically conservative spirit, and the Independent does “a disservice to the real principles of conservatism and libertarianism when they champion the intellectually bankrupt Republican platform.” Furthermore, the author blames this perversion of “true” conservatism, to which perversion the Independent has purportedly succumbed, on none other than Ronald Reagan (for reasons unknown).

Rather than squarely address the rebuttal that the Independent wrote of his column, the author shifts the battle to one over undefined terminology. This shift to the undefined and infinitely flexible has a rhetorical purpose: it helps the author avoid a fact-based discussion and replace the real debate with a series of random and incoherent bursts of unsubstantiated assertion that simply tend to shut-down understanding, if only because the reader can’t imagine where to try to begin. But try we must.

The only hint that the author gives about what he might mean by “conservative” is that he appears to see liberty as its end goal: “…the Claremont Colleges should embrace the ASA boycott because in doing so, they will be contributing to the preservation of what the liberal arts are truly about: liberty.” But if the supposedly “conservative” principle of boycotting Israeli universities is simply a means toward the end goal of “liberty” (a dubious proposition through and through, but we’ll play along with it), then that would not make the principle conservative in the classical sense at all. Rather, it would almost by definition be liberal in the classical sense (or based on ideas rooted in liberty).

Furthermore, perhaps it is worth asking from whence the author gets the bold idea that pre-Reagan conservatives often took anti-Israel stances. Even if one were to take his claim that perversion of the Republican Party began with Reagan at face value, then would the author have us believe that, say, Richard Nixon was a relentless antagonist of Israel? That’s a somewhat curious suggestion. It is now well known that President Nixon – a die-hard, pre-Reagan Republican – threatened thermo-nuclear war (by raising the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces worldwide) to protect Israel and to deter Soviet intervention on the side of an attacking Egyptian army during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Is that the move of a conservative who would want to boycott Israeli academics? Did the writings of the influential and legendary conservative scholar Irving Kristol, who is also Jewish, indicate some sort of pre-Reagan maliciousness toward Israel? Or maybe the author believes that the father of modern American conservatism and National Review founder William F. Buckley, who was so deeply fond of Israel that he proposed in 1972 that it become the 51st state, secretly held very anti-Israeli sentiments.

Both in the perfectly malleable and therefore incoherent definition of conservatism he advances and in the entire history he completely overlooks, the author leads his helpless readers on a disorienting tour through the unexplored recesses of his own intellectual idiosyncrasies. But perhaps more important, this debate illustrates exactly why academic freedom should not be treated like just another piece on a political chessboard. By engaging with the author and pointing out the blatant flaws in his reasoning, we actually do more to alleviate fallacious speech than by allowing it to fester beneath the surface unchecked (as Clay Spence expands upon in this issue’s cover article). If the purpose of the liberal arts is to liberate the masses, then its instrument in doing so is truth. And we can only arrive at truth when the free exchange of ideas goes unfettered and academic freedom reigns supreme.

[This article has been edited to correct a misquote in the article referenced. The Claremont Independent regrets this error.]