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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I would like to respond to two responses to my letter of Oct. 30.

Asher Berlin states that my letter indicates ignorance of “legitimate fears of Jewish students on campus,” and does not address what students’ pro-Palestine protests are in his view supporting, which he thinks is the butchering of Jews. He also opines that I am “someone whose voice has no place on campus,” presumably due to my expression of a narrative that students from Palestine find normative. Do their voices have a place on campus?

To the first charge, I must acknowledge that I have not investigated the “fears” to which he alludes, other than to ask some students if they’d heard of any incidents of violence of any kind in connection with the protests. They hadn’t. But is it a matter of real fear for physical security? Might it be a matter of hearing things that are painful, that just don’t jibe with what they’ve been taught, and which, because they hate to hear them, strike them as “hate speech”?

To the second point, if Asher supposes that millions of people rallied around the world last week to celebrate the butchering of Jews, as opposed to defending the Palestinians from the current genocidal onslaught and demanding the ceasefire that Netanyahu refuses, I suggest he talk to some activists, who might very well be Jews. Jewish students spoke at pro-Palestine rallies on Harvard, MIT and Tufts campuses last month. They were not there to support the butchering of Jews.

Alum David Spalter writes, in response to the same Oct. 30 letter, that I made “misstatements of historical fact upon which” I base my views. He says the “notion that the Jewish people are colonial settlers in their native homeland is contrary to historical texts, archaeology and genetic studies.” Really? I think the current thinking of geneticists is that Ashkenazi Jews (half the world’s total) in 80% of cases have European, non-semitic maternal lineages. They have genes indicating a Middle East connection, to be sure, but it is likely that today’s Palestinian population is genetically closer to, say, the first-century rabbi Gamaliel than modern European Jews. Indeed, the Jews of ancient Judea were not all driven out of the area after the rebellions of the early second century; there was always a small Jewish community in Jerusalem. However, many Palestinian Jews lost their religious identity with conversion to Christianity or later, Islam. Which is to say: Some of those ancient Jews remained in their homeland, becoming Palestinians.

Shlomo Sand, professor emeritus of history at Tel Aviv University, has both famously disparaged the effort “to find a Jewish gene” and argued that “the justification of this land is not historical right. To say that European Jews settling in the British Mandate of Palestine were “returning” to their “native land,” because of some genetic link to the Levant two millennia ago, is a little more convincing to the outsider than to argue that Israel belongs to the Jewish people because God gave it to them. But of course, the religious argument is employed too, even if cynically, by Zionists when they fundraise among Christian evangelicals, who see in the establishment of Israel a sign that Jesus is coming soon. If you don’t believe in religion, the argument fails, just as it does if you don’t believe that people’s DNA gives them a birthright to settle in the land of their distant ancestors, regardless of what’s gone on there in the intervening centuries.

What archeology tells us is that there was a kingdom in Israel for about five centuries, followed by centuries under Persian, Greek or Roman overlordship, finally destroyed in the year 135. No one questions that there were Jews in what’s now Israel. The issue is the relationship between those Jews which dispersed throughout the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia even before the Roman diaspora and the European Jews settling in Palestine/Israel in the twentieth century. If one says the latter were “returning” to their “native homeland” (which I doubt a geneticist would ever do) one implies that, firstly, they have this significant link, and secondly, that it matters, conferring a “birthright” to settle down.

I am 61% Norwegian, genetically. I am quite sure that 2,000 years ago my ancestors were in Norway. That does not make it my “native homeland,” or give me the birthright to live there. The logic applied by Zionists — that we were there before, so we have the right to go back — applies so little to anybody else’s case that it’s always had to be augmented with the religious argument, the Bible citations that end the discussion.

I don’t know of any recent archeological discoveries refuting the fact that Jewish settlers began to arrive in Palestine in great numbers from Europe while it was a British colony. It was their “native land” in their imaginations only, and their determination to make it their own was the genesis of the current problem.

Historical texts? Tell me about them! What historical text affirms what Spalter seeks to prove, that colonial settlers are something else? Raw population data does not lie. Old maps showing vanished Arab villages do not lie. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s work, it seems to me, provides an accurate account of a colonial enterprise, abetted by terror.

After Oct. 7, Israel announced that all Palestinians in Gaza must leave the northern half of the strip within 24 hours, a physical impossibility, or risk death by bombing. That itself was a war crime. Now over 11,000 Palestinians have died under the Israeli blitzkrieg. One child every 10 minutes, according to Al Jazeera. This is genocide.

There is a war underway for public opinion. It pits the horror of Oct. 7, which the media reminds us of daily, against the ongoing horror of Gaza in the days and weeks since. The Israel supporters are losing the PR war, but in their rage at expressions of sympathy for Palestine — especially under present circumstances — they demand that these expressions be repressed (as “hate speech” of course). This is no time to appease them by shutting up.

Gary P. Leupp
Professor Emeritus
Department of History