Reading Mr. Robert Gardner’s submission in the Daily Bruin, I was bewildered and angered. It is one thing to criticize the policies of the Israeli government, as I do frequently. It is another to presumptuously define another’s identity and fallaciously mask bigoted rhetoric.
Mr. Gardner begins by attacking the “conflation of Jewishness with Zionism to launch political attacks and accusations of anti-Semitism.” It is both offensive and patronizing to criticize a Jewish student’s expression of her identity and to in effect say, “You don’t know who you are, but I do.” Zionism is the ideology of Jewish nationalism — that is, the belief that the Jewish nation merits a nation-state and the Jewish people deserve a home. Jewishness and Zionism are intrinsically bound. Also objectionable is his claim that Jewish students who accuse Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) of anti-Semitism are disingenuous and politically opportunistic — this is simply offensive.
Mr. Gardner is an African-American man, and I am not. I would never presume to publicly lecture him on the subject of his identity and its political implications because I am white and thus entirely unqualified to do so. I question why Mr. Gardner, a non-Jew, felt qualified to paternalistically (and erroneously) define the Jewish community and our values for us.
The statistics Mr. Gardner presents are equally misguided. He claims that a Pew Research Center study proves that American Jews are turning from Israel, when the Pew study he links in fact states that “emotional attachment to Israel has not waned discernibly among American Jews in the past decade” and that “overall, about seven-in-ten Jews surveyed say they feel either very attached (30%) or somewhat attached (39%) to Israel, essentially unchanged since 2000-2001.” The American Jewish Council’s 2017 survey came to roughly the same conclusion. His other source, a survey of the youth Jewish community of the Bay Area, samples a very far-left community that is not representative of Jewry as a whole and should not be masqueraded as such.
Reading his article, I suspect that Mr. Gardner has had little contact with the UCLA Jewish community, and I would encourage him to open a dialogue with members of Hillel, JAM, Chabad, and other popular Jewish organizations. He will find that, in fact, many young Jews still feel a strong affinity for their historical homeland and the survival of their tribe.
I would remind Mr. Gardner that the slogan “from the river, to the sea” was originally the territorial claim of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) when it was founded in 1965 and set about launching armed attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets. In 2001, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein declared that “Palestine is Arab and must be liberated from the river to the sea and all the Zionists who emigrated to the land of Palestine must leave.” Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal jubilantly insisted in 2012 that “Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north” and declared the entire state of Israel illegitimate. I fail to see how the contemporary use of this slogan by UCLA students represents anything less than a denial of Israel’s right to exist and a threat to the statehood and security of the Jewish people. If Mr. Gardner is indeed concerned with the equality of Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps he and SJP should create a new slogan that doesn’t call for the displacement and/or genocide of Israel’s Jews. Mr. Gardner’s defense of this chant betrays his historical ignorance.
It is disheartening that I felt the need to write this response to Mr. Gardner. Defending my identity and my people’s right to peoplehood grows tiresome quickly. I hope that Mr. Gardner reaches out to the Jewish community in good faith; I, for one, would be more than happy to sit down with him and explain why I object to his rhetoric.
As a general rule, one should not presume to speak for others from a place of ignorance, nor should one dismiss those who point out instances of marginalization, bigotry, and hateful language. If Mr. Gardner and SJP are accused of anti-Semitism, the intersectional response is not to hand-wave these accusations away as inconveniences that “discredit our activism,” but to come to the table in good faith and forge new, productive coalitions with Jewish advocates on campus.