One of the largest divisions in the Zionist community is between Jews and Non-Jews. As someone who is neither culturally nor religiously Jewish, I’ve noticed something pretty awful happening at UC Irvine. The Zionist community has been split along these Jewish and Non-Jewish lines and this has influenced both groups’ approaches on campus.
The Non-Jews – at least on my campus – generally want to be more aggressive about how to respond to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The Jewish community wants to take a more low-key response, if respond at all, so as to not give SJP the legitimacy they think they deserve. As a member of the former, it’s frustrated me and I’m sure frustrated others as well. This difference, in opinion, threatened to split the pro-Israel group on my campus.
It was only after a great deal of explaining and introspection on both sides that one of my Jewish friends and a fellow member of the board narrowed in on why exactly this split in opinion existed at UCI. It truly opened my eyes to exactly how SJP and anti-Semitism have strategically handicapped the Zionist movement on my campus.
Not much has changed since the Irvine Eleven incident in 2010. For those who are unfamiliar, Former Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren spoke at UC Irvine and was interrupted by MSA (Muslim Student Association) students numerous times. These students attempted to shut down the event and his speech, were escorted out and arrested. Even though the MSA was “brought to justice” by being disbanded, Jewish students have felt physically threatened and intimidated on campus by the new face of the MSA, which has been cleverly rebranded and renamed SJP.
As a non-Jew, I was skeptical whether SJP really intimidated Jewish students. I had heard stories, but never experienced it for myself. I knew they were belligerent and vicious, but I never felt violently threatened by them and when I was around my Jewish friends, SJP did not seem any more aggressive than when I was around them myself.
I was wrong.
This past fall, UCI hosted former Chief Justice of the Israeli Supreme Court and renowned human rights activist, Aharon Barak. The event – protested by SJP – was supposed to be in the form of a speech and then Q&A. SJP members disrupted Barak’s speech and would not allow the Q&A to proceed, leaving him no choice but to cut the event short and leave abruptly.
After the event, SJP members harassed several members of the Jewish community, both adults and students, by videotaping them leaving the event and following them to their cars. I am not someone who is scared easily, but even I would be intimidated by a group of students following me around campus at night. I can only imagine how much more frightening that was for a female Jewish student, who also happens to be my fellow board member.
Jews have been persecuted throughout history and I have been told that some Jewish parents are teaching their children to lay low, stay out of situations that could inflame SJP, or be dangerous. While above all, these parents are telling their children this because they want to them to be safe, students all over the country are being told that they cannot fight for their rights because it might inflame SJP enough to result in violence. Furthermore, municipal and campus police alike are telling pro-Israel students that they are in no real danger and when situations get heated, they stay out of it, so as not to appear to “take sides.”
Non-Jews like myself cannot understand this fear – until it is put into perspective for us. We have not grown up with it or around it and were not really told by our parents that we could be in physical danger if we ever had the audacity to fight for our right to exist. What is truly sad is that these parents are not being overprotective; their fears are completely legitimate.
Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, stalking, physical and cyber bullying, and other harassment committed by the members of SJP has split the Zionist community between Jews and non-Jews. For me, the idea that I may be followed to my car and hurt by these people never crosses my mind. It does for Jewish students.
We’ve allowed them to do this, we’ve allowed them to split us and intimidate us. I want to proclaim to my Jewish brothers and sisters and fellow supporters of Israel that we, Non-Jewish Zionists, will always stand by you ideologically, morally, fundamentally, and even physically.
We cannot lie down and allow SJP to trample over the basic right of students to feel safe on campus. This is not about being “triggered” or needing a “safe space” because someone hurt your feelings; but students legitimately feeling threatened over life and limb.
It is not okay, but the only way we can stop this, and eventually reverse it, is to show others that we have a strong Zionist community on campus, that we do not fear SJP or their intimidation tactics.
If we fight, we take away their power over us and show the next generation of Jewish and Non-Jewish Zionists that they will be safe on our campus and around the country because all Zionists – Jewish and Non-Jewish – stand united with Israel.
To be clear, I’m not proposing we switch to SJP’s tactics, however I’m also against passively doing nothing. The best defense is a good offense, but we cannot lead an offensive without the support of the community and we cannot expect anything to change unless we lead an offensive.
Being passive and positive simply has not done anything in the years since the Irvine Eleven. With that, I call on my Zionist brothers and sisters to band together. Our rally cry must be, “united we stand, divided we fall” in contrast to SJP’s war cry which is, “divide and conquer.”