Campus must address anti-Semitism, work through pain

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I voted in favor of condemning Bears for Palestine’s posters in Eshleman Hall on Feb. 10. I also vehemently reject the violence threatened against my Palestinian peers during that same meeting when a student voiced a desire to “eliminate Palestinian nationalism and Palestinians.” There is no place for such hatred and violence on our campus. If this community truly stands against hate in all of its forms, we must stand together to reject it whenever we see it.

I don’t intend to equate the impact of these posters with this student’s words; it is never productive for us to compare our pain and compete for victim status. Yet, we cannot condemn one without condemning the other. We must be able to hold space for all of our pain. It would be inhuman to neglect the pain that the Palestinian community is feeling in the wake of the violent language we heard last week. Likewise, it would be heartless to ignore the pain of Jewish students upon seeing photos in a campus building of women who have killed or sought to kill people like them.

Many in the Palestinian community on campus have expressed feeling consistently marginalized and frequently subjected to intimidation and prejudice, and the vile language at last week’s ASUC University and External Affairs Committee meeting left some members of this community with even more fear and an even greater sense of isolation on campus.

It suggests to students that anti-Jewish violence is not only tolerable but praiseworthy when they see displays featuring individuals who have been convicted of the bombing of a supermarket, arrested for the hijacking of two planes full of Israeli passengers or imprisoned for attempting to bomb a movie theater in Jerusalem. In a time of heightened antisemitic violence and rhetoric, it is deeply disturbing that we as student leaders would allow these posters to go unacknowledged. While it is certainly true that students are free to express themselves, we as an institution are no less free to express our condemnation of imagery or speech that appears antithetical to our principles of community and inclusion.

Opposing the presence of these three specific posters in Eshleman Hall does not silence an entire community or undermine Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination, despite rampant claims to the contrary. Condemning violence against innocent civilians is not a normalization of the occupation nor an affirmation of the Zionist cause. To suggest otherwise is a perversion of the truth, and I am disappointed by the use of these manipulative tactics — and even more so by the senators who fell for them.

Advocacy for one cause should never include or justify the demonization of another. A display of Palestinian leaders and heroes need not include these women. A condemnation of the said display should not include an elected student official vandalizing the cubicle or disparaging BFP members as being “godless.” A lamentation of a campus climate seemingly hostile to Jewish or Zionist students should never have amounted to a threat of violence against Palestinians.

The bill’s protesters need not have called its Jewish supporters Nazis and fascists (especially when many of us are the descendants of victims of these ideologies), and these same protesters did not need to shout down public commenters who shared opposing views. Disputes over photography and videography should not end with students being chased out of the room or with ominous threats. As Jewish students walked out of the Feb. 3 meeting out of concern for their safety, they should not have been applauded and cheered by those advocating against the bill.

It goes beyond the words that were spoken or the actions that were taken. It was each side’s apparent refusal to even consider for a second that their adversaries might be hurting just as much as they are. It seemed to be everyone’s determination to be crowned at the Victim Olympics. It was the implication that by taking a stance on this bill, one would be permanently cast as an enemy in the eyes of the other. And the list goes on.

This rhetoric and behavior, however, does not represent our campus. Unfortunately, the most outrageous voices have come to dominate our narratives and define our communities. I hope that it goes without saying, but I am afraid it still needs to be said: A few loud, extreme, bigoted individuals are not reflective of the Jewish community, the Zionist community, the Palestinian community, the Muslim community or any community, for that matter.

But from superlatives and generalizations I have seen online, it seems as though my peers think that all Jewish students — except the self-identified anti-Zionists — are white, racist, illiberal and anti-Palestinian. But our community, like all others, is far from monolithic. We have Mizrachi Jews, mixed Jews, liberal Jews, conservative Jews, observant Jews, Reform Jews, Israeli Jews, Zionist Jews, anti-Zionist Jews, confused Jews and indifferent Jews.

I wish that I could detail the nuances and complexities of the Palestinian community. But much like how others seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of my Judaism and my community, I too am unfamiliar with theirs, evidence of our inability (and unwillingness) to build the bridges that we so desperately need. Instead, we continue to exist in seemingly alternate realities and only cross paths in these toxic senate chambers.

While there is much to take away from these past few weeks, I hope that we can all at least acknowledge that we are all humans; we are all students on this campus; we all hold thousands of years of trauma and pain; and we all just want to be heard.

Maybe soon we’ll start listening. I challenge ourselves to try.

Shelby Weiss is a junior at UC Berkeley and an ASUC senator, majoring in political science and minoring in public policy.