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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Op-ed: Tufts’ campus climate is unsustainable for Jewish and pro-Israel students

On Oct. 7, the worst terror attack in the history of the State of Israel occurred. What took place on this day was devastating and horrific. This indescribable massacre affected so many — innocent women, children and elderly civilians. If we truly value moral clarity, humanity and decency, condemning these attacks should not be controversial. Calling out these attacks for what they were — barbaric and atrocious — is a must. As of Thursday, there were still over 240 innocent Israelis being held hostage by Hamas terrorists, about 30 of whom are children. We are praying for their safe return.

On the Tufts campus, however, some students not only ignored the hurt, pain and suffering this caused Israelis and the global Jewish community, but also applauded the “creativity necessary to take back stolen land,” as Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine put it. Days after sending this to their e-list, SJP argued that Palestinians have a right to resist Israel by “any means necessary.” Given Hamas’ unprecedented butchering of innocent Israelis, is this not an open call for terrorism? Does this include the Hamas-led call to repeat the Oct. 7 massacre “again and again” until Israel is wiped off the map? It is not only shocking that our classmates lack basic compassion and humanity when Israelis are butchered, but also terrifying that they believe in the annihilation of Jews to pursue justice for Palestinians.

So, when Jews say they’re scared at Tufts, look no further than the hatred that their classmates are spewing. The threat of antisemitism is real, credible and apparent on our campus. It’s clear as day. If Tufts is to be a bastion of free expression, diverse ideas and intellectual curiosity, calls for terrorism cannot echo throughout our hallways. Moreover, Jewish students should not have to hide their identity in the classroom or dorm room, self-censor their Zionist views or fear for their safety.

Yet, since Oct. 7, a paradoxical narrative has been building on campus. Many students, who are informed by their progressive beliefs in humanitarianism, social justice, racial equity and peace, were unable to condemn Hamas’ attack on thousands of innocent Israelis. They also neglected to address Hamas’ highly advanced weapons systems and network of underground tunnels that allowed them to use innocents as human shields.

These same students openly chanted for Palestinian statehood “from the river to the sea,” an implicit endorsement for the extermination of some seven million Jews from Israel. In addition, they argue for a fairer, more just Palestinian existence through a “settler-colonial” narrative that pins the plight of the Palestinian people on an Israeli system of oppression. This “settler-colonial” narrative is completely inaccurate, as Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, and Jews have a similar right to the land. This narrative has dehumanized Israelis to such an extent that university students and scholars can excuse Hamas’ terrorism as within the normal scope of political liberation and resistance efforts.

What is particularly disturbing about this rhetoric is that moral empathy for innocent Palestinians is nowhere to be found when Hamas inflicts damage on the people it is supposedly liberating. After a missile meant for Israel broke up midair and landed in the parking lot outside of Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City (according to U.S. intelligence assessments) and killed innocent Palestinians, activists on our campus and elsewhere immediately posted flyers that blamed Israel for this tragedy. After it became clear that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — another terrorist group in the Gaza Strip — was responsible, these same activists fell silent on the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Do those lives not matter when they come at the hands of Hamas or PIJ, as opposed to Israel? The weaponization of anti-Israel propaganda has caused peace activists to disregard the loss of innocent Palestinian and Israeli lives. It seems that the primary goal of these activists is not to save lives but to demonize the Jewish state at every turn.

Given the atrocities of Oct. 7, Israel has every right to defend itself — just like any other nation — and root out terrorism in the Gaza Strip. As we watch this war unfold, we must also acknowledge the pain and suffering of innocent Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire between Hamas and Israel. While waging war against Hamas, Israel should do everything in its power to limit the deaths of innocent Palestinians and the destruction of vital infrastructure while allowing humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.

It is in this context that support for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself while empathizing with the plight of Palestinians are not mutually exclusive values. Moreover, support for the security and survival of the only Jewish state should not be confused with support for Israel’s government, which is presently represented by many far-right politicians who are deeply unpopular among many Jewish Americans, ourselves included.

Friends of Israel has sought to bring this level of nuance to the campus debate and encourage dialogue on this conflict. Yet all too often, this conflict — with its enormous complexities and rapidly shifting realities — is boiled down to trendy one-liners and overly simplistic dichotomies. This has contributed to a campus climate where many pro-Israel and Jewish students feel intimidated or downright fearful to express a pro-Israel viewpoint, as the very notion of support for Israel can be horribly misconstrued. Somehow, supporting Jewish self-determination has become conflated with oppression, violence and genocide.

These associations are not only false but also deeply hurtful to progressives who are also proud Zionists, including many Jewish students at Tufts and elsewhere. This divisive atmosphere, perpetuated by SJP and other groups that engage in political extremism, is unsustainable. Given that antisemitic incidents from Oct. 7–23 have surged by 388% across the U.S. compared to this time last year, the lines between toxic anti-Israelism and overt antisemitism have been blurred.

The Tufts campus is approaching a breaking point — one where hate speech, divisiveness, ideological positionality and belligerent activism will soon completely replace nuance, productive dialogue, mutual understanding and decency. The glorification of terrorism and violence cannot stand, particularly at a university with a penchant for respectful civic engagement. Political speech is no longer so when it veers into incitement of terror and violence.

To our fellow classmates, we simply ask that you consider how our progressive values as an institution could possibly be squared with supporting Hamas’ terrorist attacks. It is, in fact, possible to support the Palestinian cause without endorsing the mass murder of innocent Israelis. It is similarly possible to support Israel’s cause and existence as the only Jewish state while sympathizing with the plight of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and calling for Israel to be responsible as it roots out terrorism.

This is not to say that pro-Palestinian groups on campus should not have a forum for expressing their views. In fact, just the opposite: We believe that pro-Palestinian students should have a place to do so — but not at the expense of Jewish and pro-Israel students’ safety and security at Tufts.