(Update Nov. 1, 9:47 a.m. MT: Since this column was originally published, the CU-Boulder Ethnic Studies department has “revised” their statement. Here’s a screenshot of the original version as published before it was replaced.) To read my response to this new, “revised, revised statement” head over here.
“Anti-Zionism is NOT antisemitism!”
For many years, this has been the battle cry of the Progressive Left who have seen fit to blast their opinions onto social media platforms about the situation that has unfolded in Israel and the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza. The point of that quote, they say, is that they should not be labeled as antisemites for criticizing Israeli policy and government officials regarding their interactions and treatment of the Palestinian population in those areas.
And yet, despite these claims, it’s now inarguable that regardless of their stated intention, the practice has become crystal clear: antisemitism is just fine with them.
On U.S. shores, the Anti-Defamation League is reporting a nearly 400% surge in antisemitic incidents for the time period since Oct. 7, 2023 until now as compared to the same time period last year. And it’s even worse around the rest of the world. As you may recall, Oct. 7 is when Hamas terrorists staged a multi-pronged incursion into Israel and slaughtered more than 1,400 Israeli citizens and nationals from other countries while taking more than 200 people hostage. Most of the dead are non-military civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. It was the single deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust. A massacre in no uncertain terms.
And since that time, the idea that antisemitism can be divorced from the actions of the Israeli military in response to that incursion or any other actions taken by the Israeli government is clearly nothing more than obfuscation — a talking point shouted by the kinds of people who show up to pro-Palestinian rallies brandishing swastikas, or who would tear down “missing children” posters of Jewish children who were kidnapped by the Hamas terrorists. And while this is occuring world-wide, there’s more than enough to keep us busy — and American Jews terrified — here at home. In the less-than three weeks since the Hamas attack:
- At Cooper Union College in New York on Oct. 25, Jewish students were locked in their school’s library for 20 minutes as pro-Palestinian demonstrators pounded on the doors and shouted anti-Israel slogans.
- A Jewish Professor was pushed down a flight of stairs at UNC Chapel Hill during a pro-Palestinian rally
- Four students were accosted by another student at Manhattan Beach Middle School who told them “All Israelis and Jews should be killed,” and school officials defended the attack as “political speech.”
- In New York, On Sept. 14, a man randomly punched a 29-year-old woman in the face. When she said, “why did you do that?” he replied, “Because you are a Jew.”
- Telegram has seen a 1,000% increase of violent messages mentioning Jews and Israel in White Supremacist and extremist channels.
- The Goyim Defense League performed another flier drop of messages containing anti-Jewish hateful rhetoric in a neighborhood in Akransas on Oct. 16
- The president of a synagogue in Detroit was stabbed to death at her home on Oct. 14. (Police haven’t identified a suspect or declared a motive yet).
- Federal law officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have issued a joint statement that it “has seen an increase in reports of threats against Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions” and that, “recent events have increased the possibility of potential attacks against individuals and institutions in response to developments in the Middle East.”
- An official with the Denver Police Department confirmed that a department-wide bulletin was issued to increase police vigilance at local Jewish and Muslim institutions.
- Bomb threats have been made against multiple synagogues and Jewish schools across the nation, including in Utah, Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Massachusetts.
- At Tulane in Louisiana on Oct. 26, pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with pro-Israeli protesters, with injuries sustained by the latter.
(And in what’s being charged as an anti-Muslim hate crime, a man stabbed a 6-year-old Palestinian boy to death and gravely wounded the child’s mother in Illinois.)
In Colorado, a Rabbi of the Chabad Center at the University of Colorado reported to the Anti-Defamation League that the center received a threatening antisemitic call. Given what appears to be a very one-sided atmosphere in certain places on campus, it’s not all that surprising.
On Oct. 23, the Department of Ethnic Studies at CU released a “Revised Palestine Support Statement.” (The “revision” apparently refers to a previously released support statement they issued during the hostility flare in Israel as a result to pending evictions in the Sheik Jarraf/Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood of East Jerusalem in May of 2021.)
The 870-word missive leads with: “This statement was first released in May 2021 when the Israeli state had escalated its violence against Palestinians. Unfortunately, starting October 7, 2023, over two years later we witness another unprecedented genocidal attack on the Palestinian people, an intentional collective punishment and forced displacement with unprecedented levels of air bombings on civilians.”
Curiously, the author doesn’t mention what the so-called “collective punishment” is retribution for. Indeed, the word “Hamas” isn’t to be found anywhere in the statement. That’s right — the statement reads as though Israel just woke up on Oct. 7 and decided to begin unilaterally bombing Gaza for no reason. The omission of the Hamas terror attack that predicated the response — the refusal to acknowledge the 1,400+ dead and 200+ kidnapped, comprised of civilians from more than 33 countries — is an act of such willful disregard for truth that it recalls the kind of twisted lies that fueled the Nazi war machine in WWII.
Further, it’s clear that the Ethnic Studies Department has no issue actually justifying the Hamas terrorist attack on non-combatant civilians, which they explain later in the statement as such: “We also reject the language of ‘terrorism’ used by the US and Israel to justify the Israeli state killing machine. We reject such specious and obfuscatory language, and call for anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-carceral, feminist, and abolitionist academics to recognize and name settler colonial violence for what it is: whether in the case of Israeli state violence in Palestine, Indian state violence in Kashmir, or US state violence on Indigenous lands and across all occupied territories.”
Talk about specious and obfuscatory language.
That’s a doozy of a sentence, and it reads almost as though it’s coming from a sketch comedy show poking fun at the “university-educated woke liberal mob.” Sadly, it is not. But that’s also subordinate to an earlier passage that’s certainly a head-scratcher:
“Palestine is a Feminist Issue:
The Department of Ethnic Studies stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination. Full stop. We loudly condemn the horrific on-going settler violence of the Israeli state occupation and the brutal bombing of innocent Palestinian people in the Gaza strip by its military, going on since October 7, 2023, with no signs of abetting even as families are pushed south and over five thousand Palestinians have been killed. We join the Palestinian call for liberation in every corner of Palestinian lands, adding our voice to the protests that have been taking place across the world, including in Colorado, in support of Indigenous Palestinians’ right to life, land, and return.”
Granted, I’m no expert on intersectionality or feminism, but I’m not seeing the link here based on what was written as to how “Palestine is a feminist issue.” And no, the rest of the statement makes no effort to bother explaining it (save for an embedded link at the end of the statement to what appears to be a white paper aimed at projecting a set of gender issues onto the conflict as a whole. Or, more succinctly, in academics, once you spend a lot of time and money learning to be a hammer, everything looks like a nail).
Ultimately, the prose here really has nothing to do with the overall message, which is that the Ethnic Studies Department is operating on a simple, base platform of antisemitism — from a perspective that belies any understanding of the history of the indigenous Jewish population of Israel, or the many attempts proffered by Israeli leadership to craft peace agreements with Palestinian leadership that have been soundly rejected — regardless of how loudly the ESD would like to argue otherwise. For example: there was no mention of the fact that Egypt is blockading Gaza to the south in their statement. No mention of the fact that Jordan and Egypt have flat-out refused to welcome any refugees from Gaza. No mention of the fact that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2005, even dragging some Israelis out of their homes who lived there, and handed complete governing authority over to the PA at the time. No mention of the Hamas civil war in 2007 that deposed Fatah leadership in Gaza via a bloody coup. And again, absolutely zero mention of the Hamas terrorist attack that slaughtered so many innocents while placing other innocent people in Gaza in the line of fire that sparked this war.
Here’s another very simple litmus test: In the grand total of a whopping 12 “department statements” dating back to November of 2016 posted on the ESD website, only two are written about anything occurring outside of the United States. And both of those are focused on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Nothing about Ukraine. Nothing about the civil war in Syria, which has claimed more lives since 2011 than in the entirety of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back 80 years. Nothing about the Yemeni Civil War. Nothing about the civil war in Sudan.
What’s the difference? Well, there are many, but the most glaring one is that, for whatever reason, CU’s Ethnic Studies Department feels compelled to release a statement when it’s regarding Israel and Israel only. I reached out to Arturo Aldama, who is listed as the chair of the department of Ethnic Studies at CU, and asked him the following questions via email:
- Who are the specific individuals who authored this statement, and what are their titles?
- What input was sought out and/or received from Jewish members of your department and/or the greater Boulder Jewish community?
- Who were the Jewish staff members or community members who provided that input?
- If no input was sought out from Jewish staff or community members, why?
- Why was Egypt’s involvement in the Gaza blockade not addressed in this statement?
- Why was Jordan and Egypt’s refusal to accept Palestinian refugees of this conflict not addressed in this statement?
Additionally, I went looking for the Department of Ethnic Studies’ statement on the Civil War in Syria and could not seem to find it. In fact, I went through every article tagged “statement” on your site, and it appears that the Palestine Support Statement is the only example of your department releasing an official statement on a conflict of any sort happening off U.S. soil. Can you explain why this is the case?
I have yet to receive a response.
I also contacted Professor Thomas Pegelow-Kaplan, who is chair of the Program in Jewish Studies at CU, and forwarded him the email I sent Aldama. I asked what his opinion was on the ESD statement and whether they’d bothered to contact him for input prior to releasing it. Shockingly, they did not.
“The Program in Jewish Studies (PJS) did issue its own statement after Oct. 7,” Pegelow-Kaplan wrote back. “We also ran a first panel discussion with Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian colleagues to which ESD was invited, but declined to participate. And no ESD, which is also housed in another college, did not coordinate, consult with, or seek any kind of feedback from PJS before re-issuing their statement. We are very concerned and committed to the well-being and safety of our students and community, and we act in accordance with these commitments. Many of our members have lost friends and loved ones in Israel and/or Palestine this month and are grieving.”
The differences between the statement PJS released and the one the ESD released could not be more stark. Here’s the meat of the PJS statement: “CU’s Program in Jewish Studies and its members are deeply shocked by the mass death and suffering in Israel and Gaza after Hamas’ terrorist attacks last Saturday. There are no words adequate to grasp the horror and trauma. Many members of the CU community – be they Jewish, Israeli or Palestinian – have family, friends, and acquaintances in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank who are directly affected and are hurting. Some of them have been murdered, many more wounded and others kidnapped. Our heart goes out to all members of our community and beyond. We very much hope for everyone’s well-being and healing.”
On Oct. 26, CU President Todd Saliman tweeted out that the ESD statement was “appaling,” and shared another statement from CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano that seemed more concerned with simply distancing CU’s administration from the ESD, rather than taking the ESD to task for the statement they released.
Additionally, the duo released a joint statement back on Oct. 11 concerning the Hamas terrorist attack, which both acknowledges the evil Hamas perpetrated while providing support resources for the entirety of the CU community who might be impacted. A far better example of what we should expect from leaders or faculty of any American educational institution, and a far cry from what the ESD published.
My own experiences over the last three weeks align with what appears to be playing out at CU and around the nation, which is a steady avalanche of hate-filled rhetoric and action aimed at Israel and Jews alike. I have fielded numerous emails and phone calls from friends in the Jewish community in Colorado and other states seeking advice and sharing their personal stories of shockingly blatant antisemitic messages they’ve seen on social media — many from people they called friends prior to the Hamas attack on Israel — rife with nearly gleeful response to the carnage and horror unleashed by Hamas terrorists. Where, for the last several years, we’ve been far more focused on the far-right fascist hate coming from neo-nazi organizations, by overwhelming majority, this new wave of antisemitism is coming from the left side of the political aisle.
All of this reminds American Jews — and Jews the world over — of a very depressing and sobering adage:
Together, we stand alone.