Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University organized three vigils relating to October 7 and the Hamas Israel war, responding to the staggering loss of human life. A few other protests have been more narrowly circumscribed as political. I’m sharing here a letter to the editor I wrote that was published here at the Daily Orange. I would not have responded necessarily except for two things. The first was that I wanted to reflect on the genuine insistence by activists that the protests against Israel (the charge of genocide, calls to liberate Palestine from “the River to the Sea,” and that justify “resistance”) are not anti-semitic. I wanted to address that issue about anti-Zionism, also in regards to statements made by individual speakers that crossed very clear red-lines re: intimidating and threatening speech. I wrote the letter and I was going to retract it. I did not want to exercise a heavy hand as a full professor. I was assured by the editors that there was going to be at least one other senior colleague weighing in. And colleagues have been reported at the DO weighing in at faculty Senate. And I thought about my Jewish students at this moment.
The editors chose the title, which I think is pretty much right. Here’s what I wrote. I did not go into long detail about the history of Jewish anti-Zionism. The letter is short and simple.
Last Thursday, activists on campus protested the staggering loss of human life in Gaza following in the wake of the unprecedented assault and abuse of civilians in Israel on Oct.7 by Hamas, including murder, rape and abduction. Ignoring the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas terrorists, speakers at Syracuse University claimed that anti-Zionism does not constitute antisemitism. They did so without understanding what constitutes antisemitism or how anti-Zionist activism manifests anti-Jewish animus.
Binary settler-colonial rubrics and the hostile cacophony of calls to “free Palestine from river to sea” under the banner of “resistance” mean nothing other than the elimination of the State of Israel. Israel is itself a politically and morally fraught, but a central fulcrum of contemporary Jewish life.
The State of Israel was established as a place of refuge for a long-suffering people. It became a national home for the renewal of Jewish life after the Holocaust, an in-gathering of the Jewish people from across the world, including refugees from Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere from across the Middle East and North Africa.
As reported by The Daily Orange, SU protestors chanted “Zionism has to go,” accused the SU Administration of aligning with so-called “Zionist donors” and targeted by name all the Jewish organizations at SU at a time of rising antisemitism and antisemitic violence in North America and Europe.
Calling for the destruction of a national entity is included in the very definition of genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948. Associating Jews with money and power is an antisemitic staple. The public calling out of Jewish organizations by name is a threatening act. It is safe to assume that most protestors know little about Jewish history or the history of Zionism. Student activists and their supporters seem unable to grasp that it is possible to be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel, anti-Hamas and anti-Netanyahu.
Students and faculty with direct contact with people in the region are reeling from the violence of the Israel-Hamas war, the loss of life in Israel and acute Palestinian suffering. In response, anti-Zionism isolates the larger Jewish student and faculty body while losing sight of principles of mutual human recognition upon which a just and peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict depends.
Zachary Braiterman, Professor, Department of Religion/Jewish Studies Program