Terrorist attacks in Israel in late March and early April have claimed the lives of 14 Israeli civilians. Many are worried that the region is again spiraling into war. Yet when messages of hope and calls for dialogue are most needed, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine has expressed support for violence against Israeli civilians: “SJP supports the full range of Palestinian resistance against settler-colonialism,” students wrote in a Tufts Observer op-ed published prior to the attacks. SJP has also begun calling on Tufts students to boycott a number of Jewish-led student groups, including Tufts Friends of Israel, in which we serve as student leaders. Tufts Friends of Israel condemns this recent effort to marginalize Jewish students.
All the groups targeted by the boycott — Tufts Friends of Israel, J Street U Tufts, TAMID, Visions of Peace and the Tisch summer fellowship with the Anti-Defamation League — either are Jewish or have Jewish leadership. The boycott forces Jewish students to renounce their Zionism in order to be accepted on this campus, imposing a litmus test on Tufts’ Jewish students that implies that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Jews. We oppose this attempt to divide Tufts’ Jewish community.
Moreover, the boycott implicitly targets Jewish life on campus more generally, using language that certainly includes Hillel and Chabad. SJP even explicitly attacked Tufts Hillel in an April 7 Instagram post, asserting that the Jewish organization “support[s] a genocidal, settler-colonial state” and calling for the creation of an “alternative Jewish community.” Jewish students of all backgrounds rely on Hillel and Chabad for religious services, weekly Shabbat dinners, social events, study sessions of Jewish texts and programming on a whole range of Jewish issues and ideas. To attack Jewish groups that do not focus primarily on Israel is shameful and leaves little doubt that SJP does not aim to advance justice but to vilify Jews.
SJP’s renewed advocacy of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement on our campus may inspire more antisemitic attacks against our community. This is not hyperbole. Research from the AMCHA Initiative, an antisemitism watchdog group for college campuses, has found a strong correlation between BDS activity on college campuses and the targeting of Jewish students. The group reported that “56% of schools with evidence of BDS activity had one or more incidents that targeted Jewish students for harm, whereas of the schools with no evidence of BDS activity, only 23% had incidents targeting Jewish students.” For a student population that is ~20% Jewish, an increase in attacks on Jewish students would be catastrophic.
We at FOI are particularly disturbed by this boycott because it attacks the very existence of the state of Israel. The idea of Israel goes back thousands of years in Jewish history; what started as a religious and spiritual yearning to return to the land of Israel after 2,000 years evolved into a coalition of pious and political Jews, from all walks of life, attempting to resurrect a civilization in its ancestral homeland. The state of Israel, for all of its flaws, is still an integral facet of Jewish identity for the vast majority of American Jews and Jews worldwide. The state of Israel is important for a multitude of reasons: it advances the security of the Jewish people, it promotes Jewish culture and it realizes religious values embedded in the Jewish tradition. Boycotts such as SJP’s seek to undermine all of these ideas.
SJP’s boycott also undercuts productive dialogue by advocating that students refuse to engage with those who hold different perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Refusing to engage in civil conversation with those who hold perspectives from one’s own is contrary to the university’s academic mission and reflects a lack of confidence in the strength of one’s arguments. FOI believes that engagement with a wide range of ideas concerning the conflict is crucial to advancing and strengthening the political discourse on this campus. We provide a forum for multidimensional discussion of Israel and we offer a space for members to voice their criticisms of the Israeli government. We have repeatedly reached out to SJP student leaders to have a productive conversation about these issues. These requests have never even received a reply, indicating that SJP is not interested in dialogue about the Middle East but the silencing of Jews who support Israel — which is to say, the overwhelming majority of us.
FOI demands that the university take steps to promote robust and multifaceted discourse about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to counter SJP’s attack on open dialogue. In a Jan. 20 email, President Anthony Monaco called for “conversation, dialogue, and discussion forums on understanding better the geopolitical situation in the Middle East.” To that end, Tisch College of Civic Life and the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at The Fletcher School ought to host a wide range of events with speakers who represent the multitude of opinions of Israelis and American Jews. Given the complexity of the conflict, it is vital that students hear from all perspectives.
Jewish life at Tufts is in peril if Jewish students cannot engage with all aspects of their identity — which, yes, includes their ancestral homeland. FOI stands against this boycott and proudly affirms its commitment to Zionism and the state of Israel.