Every UC Berkeley student must recognize anti-Semitism on campus

Students sitting on steps near the Campanile with the sign "In Solidarity"
Samantha Patten/Staff

To deny the existence and pervasiveness of anti­-Semitism on UC Berkeley’s campus is to deny the current reality of American Jews. I’m writing this op­-ed to reach Cal students who did not find certain statements made in the ASUC Senate on April 17 to be anti­-Semitic. Condemning anti­-Semitism is imperative, considering its upsurge across the nation.

This article isn’t about the ASUC or the Israeli government. It’s about how anti­-Semitism was shrouded in anti-­Zionist rhetoric and how it convinced cheering and silent students alike that it was OK, even noble.

Many students believe that they can separate anti­-Semitism from their criticisms of Israeli politics. But the average student or campus leader can no longer recognize anti­-Semitism to begin with.

What measures have our communities, particularly social justice­-oriented communities, taken to call out anti­-Zionism when it crosses the border of anti­-Semitism?

None.

During the April 17 Senate meeting, several students spoke about how the loss of 11 democratically­ elected senators and three executives would impact the representation of different campus communities, including the Pilipinx, transfer student and Jewish communities. The one student to speak on behalf of the Jewish community didn’t mention Israel or Zionism.

A former student senator later dismissed these students’ concerns about their communities as “white tears” and “Zionist tears” and induced cheers of “F-ck Zionists!” from the crowd. Later, another campus leader claimed that the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, trains police officers to kill Black people in America and equated befriending Zionists with complicity in the prison-­industrial complex, modern­-day slavery and settler colonialism across Africa.

All because of a concern about Jewish representation in the ASUC.

I’ll unpack some of the anti-Semitic rhetoric from April 17, starting with “white tears.”
Jews are as pluralistic as we are misunderstood. First, “Jewish” is not synonymous with “white,” even though many American Jews are of European descent. Beyond Europe, Jewish communities hold long histories in Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mexico, Argentina, Panama and India.

Because of our diasporic history, Jews have white, black or brown skin. Many of these Jews exist on campus, and the fact that their concerns were also dismissed as “white tears” proves why Jews need representation to denounce basic misconceptions about our community in the first place.

Concerns over Jewish representation were also dismissed as “Zionist tears” and later as complicity in “oppression,” “modern-day slavery” and “colonialism.”

“Zionist” was used interchangeably with “racist” and conflated with “Jew.” Claims that the Jewish community is white — coupled with Zionism’s equation with racism on campus — implicates the entire Jewish community in white supremacy.

We’re not white supremacists; we’re victims of white supremacy.

To those who deny the above statements as anti-Semitic: Remember Charlottesville, where white nationalists chanted “Jews will not replace us?” Remember Pittsburgh, where 11 Jews (z”l) were murdered in the greatest act of anti­-Semitic violence in America? Did you read the manifesto of the Poway shooter, which claimed that “every Jew is responsible for the meticulously planned genocide of the European race?” White supremacists don’t recognize Jews as white, even if their skin is white or white-­passing.

One cannot also ignore that Jewish UC Berkeley students are descendents of exiled Sephardic Jews, Russian Jews who fled pogroms and Holocaust survivors who escaped genocide.

Anti­-Semitism exists in today’s America, too. According to a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic assaults have more than doubled in 2018 alone. Since I started this article, the Poway shooting followed only a few days after a blatantly anti­-Semitic cartoon in the New York Times.

So how do American Jews live in this anti-Semitic reality?

Refer to our voting patterns and history of advocacy in the past five decades. Refer to intersectional Jewish students in larger feminist, queer, trans, Black, Middle Eastern and North African communities.

To deny the American Jewish community’s diversity is ignorant. To deny our fight for justice and allyship with other minority groups — across the nation and on campus — is anti­-Semitic. To delegitimize the interests of intersectional Jews within larger campus minority groups is anti­-Semitic.

Lastly, I will address the comment about how “the IDF trains police departments (in America) to kill Black people.”

This conspiratorial lie conflated Jews with the IDF, since the only thing remotely related to the IDF in the senate was a concern for Jewish representation. This lie reinforced classic anti­-Semitic tropes of Jews wielding institutional power to kill people. I understand that other communities are infuriated about their lack of representation on and beyond campus, but that’s no reason to scapegoat the IDF — and Jews — for police brutality in America. To deny the importance of Jewish representation­­ precisely because Jews were seen in a position of power to perpetuate murder ­­is anti­-Semitic.

Denial of our representation in the senate parallels similar denials in the Diaspora. If Jews don’t advocate for themselves, don’t define their oppression and don’t keep others from co­-opting it for political gain, then who will?

Supporters of the above statements: How have you protected all Jewish life without politicizing Jewish identity?

Moving forward, students must renounce anti­-Semitism as passionately as they renounce sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and racism in social justice discourse. Students must stop using hostile intimidation and anti­-Semitic speech to “engage” Jews. Social justice groups must stop conflating Israel with global oppression. Members of minority groups must see Jews as allies if they preach intersectionality. They must stand for Jewish freedom if they claim that the freedom of all minority groups is intertwined.

Kayla Cohen is a freshman at UC Berkeley deeply concerned about campus climate. She implores student-readers to contact her directly with their questions, concerns and visions for better dialogue between UC Berkeley’s student groups.