Share anti-Semitic experiences with UMass department heads to help stop anti-Semitic panel

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To the UMass Departments Co-Sponsoring the panel “Exploiting Anti-Semitism- How the Charge of Anti-Semitism Silences Criticism of Israeli Policy,

As a Jewish former student, I was shocked and saddened to learn that five academic departments were co-sponsoring a panel whose sole purpose is to misrepresent the anti-Semitism that has tainted the college experiences of so many in the UMass community and on campuses across the United States.

Within the Jewish community, there is a huge spectrum of opinions on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, ranging from Jews affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine, Jews who fully support the current Israeli government, and Jews who have no opinion whatsoever on this issue. And even among the majority of our community members who largely and actively support the Jewish state, there are nuanced opinions on the politics and policies of a foreign government 7,000 miles away from campus.

However, this political conflict (and our personal stances on it) are irrelevant to any discussion of anti-Semitism on campus. No community should be asked to account or apologize for the policies of governments across the world. No matter how someone feels about the existence of the State of Israel, there is absolutely no justification the myriad of anti-Semitic incidents experienced by individual members of the Jewish community, American Jewish college students, and the Jewish population of the United States as a whole.

This is not just a problem at UMass. Students at universities across the United States have reported a rise in anti-Semitic sentiments and actions. We that the Departments co-sponsoring this panel will understand the full scope of the issue after hope reading about our real, painful, and personal experiences with anti-Semitism.

Some of us might have chosen to share these experiences with our friends, family, community, school administration, or even members of law enforcement. If we did, it was due to the range of emotions these experiences made us feel, from fear to sadness to that nagging sensation of not being fully accepted in the university and country that we call home. The choice to share these incidents is never a tool for us to push a political agenda. It is simply an attempt to feel safer or to feel that those around us understand our pain. Many others may have chosen to remain silent in part out of concern that we would not be taken seriously, among other reasons.

The insinuation that reporting these experiences or sharing them with others exploits political tools is a shocking claim that ignores the feelings of sadness, fear, and ‘otherness’ that result from the incidents of clear anti-Jewish animus. Rather, this claim exploits the pain and fear of a marginalized community in the interest of pushing a political agenda. It is dishonest and false to claim that the lived experiences of the Jewish people are being exploited to support a political stance that these panelists disagree with. Anti-Semitism, like any form of bigotry, must be defined in terms of how it is perceived by its victims, and not in terms of how its perpetrators wish to characterize it. UMass needs to stop allowing the politicization of anti-Semitism, as such politicization contributes to an environment where Jewish people will feel uncomfortable calling out future anti-Semitic incidents.

While we are always open to legitimate and unbiased criticisms of Israel—and understand that even some unfair and fictitious claims are protected speech—this panel seems to go out of its way to justify maligning Jewish students and other supporters of Israel while claiming that such attacks are anti-Israel, not anti-
Semitic. This is the opposite of the nuanced conversation that this complicated, sensitive issue deserves and that we know this university is capable of. Instead, the panel seeks to delegitimize experiences of anti-Semitism at a time when hate crimes and bias against Jewish people are rapidly rising in the United States. While we respect the freedom of the panelists to express their opinion, we hope that you will reconsider your departments’ sponsorship of such events in the future, and that any UMass professors that are members of the panel will do the same. We also urge the UMass administration to take more concrete steps to combat anti-Semitism on campus. Thank you.



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