For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that a lot of people want me, my family and all my fellow Jews dead. I saw this when I learned about the murder of 6 million Jews, including all my father’s grandparents, in the Holocaust. I saw it in the fact that the Nazis and their allies got most of the votes in German elections in 1933 and in the role local antisemites in many European countries played in the brutalization and murder of millions of Jews. I was reminded that this hatred is not merely part of history, but persists today, when I read about the ongoing 21st-century horrors of Holocaust denial and admiration of Hitler. My awareness of anti-Jewish bloodlust grew after the murder of Jews in Pittsburgh, Poway, Monsey and Jersey City. In 2014, the Hamas terrorists who kidnapped and murdered Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaer, and then indiscriminately fired rockets at Israelis on the last day of my first trip to Israel, made me viscerally aware of the brutality of Hamas terrorism. Since then, I’ve learned about the massacres and ethnic cleansing Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews have endured and seen the Hamas terrorists who govern Gaza, as well as extremists in the West Bank who get funding even from the comparatively moderate Palestinian Authority, continue to murder people. Their murder is indiscriminate and includes Israeli Jews, as well as Israeli Arabs and foreign workers, students and travelers who committed the ‘crime’ of sharing space with the biggest Jewish population in the world.
When I came to UCLA, I entered a large and beautiful Jewish community and connected with wonderful students and professors from many backgrounds. However, I also saw groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) celebrating Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in May 2021 when the aforementioned terrorist groups murdered innocent people, including 5-year Ido Avigal, Soumya Santosh (an Indian woman working in Israel as a caregiver), 16-year-old Israeli-Arab student Nadine Awwad, and her father Khalil Awwad, with murderous rocket barrages. Nonetheless, although I should’ve seen it coming, I was somewhat surprised when the Cultural Affairs Commission refused to condemn the murder of 1,200 Israelis.
The Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC) is a branch of UCLA’s undergraduate student government, which is called the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC). USAC controls a 11-million-dollar budget which is financed by mandatory student fees. At best, the allocation of student fees to support USAC enables students to have reliable support for our basic needs, mental wellness and academic endeavors, engage in community service, and enjoy the arts and unique forms of learning. However, USAC’s resources are an appealing target for those seeking to hijack the noble mission of the University of California and turn it into a vehicle for bigotry. This is a threat to human life, liberty, and dignity because atrocities begin with lying and cruel words and end in blood. The manipulation of German universities by antisemitic students, professors, and politicians played a key role in the Nazi takeover which led to the Holocaust and World War 2.
I don’t need to say much about Hamas’s most recent and most deadly attack on Israel. I imagine all of you are aware of it. Tragically, many of you have lost loved ones and been traumatized by it. May you all see justice and be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. These horrors have been written about eloquently in the webpages of Ha’am and other newspapers. Principled people around the world, of all backgrounds and worldviews, have responded to these atrocities with sadness, anger, and solidarity with the Israeli people. Instead of joining this rejection of terrorism, on October 9th, the Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC) published a statement on Instagram, claiming to express “solidarity and unwavering support for Palestinian Liberation”.
Despite Hamas’s well-documented historic and ongoing oppression of Palestinians, CAC did not feel the need to condemn Hamas as an enemy of Palestinian liberation, nor did it express any support for Israeli victims of Hamas brutality or Israeli students at UCLA. Instead, they denounced Zionism as innately oppressive only two days after over 1,300 Israelis were murdered because, for several hours, their government and army were unable to defend them from Hamas murderers.
Zionism is a broad spectrum of ideologies and movements, united only by the principle that Jewish people in Israel should have their own state and army, to promote their survival and free development and to provide a safe haven and spiritual/cultural heartland for all Jews. Especially after witnessing the horrific massacres, Hamas was able to perpetrate during the fairly brief period on October 7th during which the Israeli government was unable to protect Israeli Jews (as well as Israeli Arabs and foreign workers, student and travelers in Israel, who Hamas decided to brutalize as well, presumably to punish them for living alongside Jews in a free society), I shudder to imagine what would happen if Zionism was somehow crushed. This likely would mean that Israeli Jews would be permanently denied the protection they normally get from having their own state and their own army.
Anti-Zionists often argue that Zionism is the cause of–rather than a solution to –antisemitic violence. They claim that before the Zionist movement became active in the Holy Land, or before Israel was created, the Jews and Muslims of Israel-Palestine lived together in peace and equality. While there arose many beautiful and sometimes heroic instances of Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-Arab solidarity, from the seventh century to today, the truth is that for hundreds of years before Israel was created, Jews in the Holy Land were oppressed and periodically massacred by antisemitic governments and mobs. As Hillel Cohen, a thoughtful and conscientious left-leaning Israeli scholar, documented thoroughly in his excellent book 1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, some of the worst anti-Jewish violence in the modern history of the Holy Land took place before the Jewish state was created. Cohen’s accounts of Arabs saving Jewish lives and Jews saving Arab lives in that dark time demonstrate that Arabs and Jews are not inevitably enemies, and that Victor Frankl was right to say “there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society”. With that said, the work of historians like Cohen and the brilliant Debbie Lechtman, as well as the wisdom of Jewish collective memory, makes it equally clear that whatever the intentions of anti-Zionists (some are well-meaning, some are malicious and some are in between), the success of their efforts to deprive Jews of the protection we get from having our own state and army would surely have a disastrous outcome.
To me, the cruelest part of the CAC’s statement was: “We also stand on the grounds that decolonization is not a metaphor. Thus, we honor the Palestinians on the frontlines taking their land and sovereignty back!”. The “Palestinians on the frontlines” murdered 1,200 Israelis including babies, Holocaust survivors and entire families.
How can we Jewish students, professors, university staff and workers and community members and our friends deal with the statement made by the CAC? CAC’s expression of support for terror is not an isolated incident; on October 12, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA hosted a rally (cosponsored by many groups including CAC) where many students and others chanted slogans like “when people are occupied, resistance is justified!” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”. National Students for Justice in Palestine, which coordinates the activities of over 250 SJP chapters throughout the US and Canada including SJP at UCLA, put out a statement celebrating Hamas’s brutality against the Israeli people. While I am confident that many of the students who attended SJP rallies at UCLA and elsewhere do not know this and simply intend to promote justice and protect Palestinian civilians, the fact remains that supporters of antisemitic murder have gained influence on our campus and succeeded in manipulating well-meaning people into aligning with them. We cannot stand idly by and allow this to go unchallenged.
We must meet this crisis with an unyielding, principled, multi-pronged response. Firstly, we must double down our Jewish pride and our love for Israel and the Jewish people. Let us all give what we can to trustworthy, verified funds meeting the Israeli people’s material needs in these terrible times, pray and participate in pro-Israel rallies and Jewish communal activities like Shabbat services and meals. You can find upcoming Jewish events by following @hillelatucla and @bipacucla and on pages 54-55 of the Jewish Journal’s print edition (which is available at Hillel and online). Now more than ever we must speak and act kindly and lovingly towards each other, refrain from disparaging each other over political, cultural or religious disagreements, due to differences in race, (dis)ability, socioeconomic status, sexuality etc or for any other reason, and make sure to preserve our ability to be gentle and not take our righteous anger out on each other or on our allies. While we will have to examine and debate what mistakes and failures on the part of the Israeli and American governments and other institutions allowed Hamas to kill so many Israelis, and allowed support for Hamas to proliferate in academic and other spaces, we must do so with respect for fellow Jews and for everyone who is standing in solidarity with us.
We must also stand together as Jews to express unity. While we must protect ourselves and generally should not directly confront SJP rallies or expressions of antisemitic hate, we must continue to publicly gather and speak out as proud Jews and defenders of Israel. On October 11th, Jews and allies gathered for a vigil in Bruin Plaza. UCLA’s chapters of Chabad, J Street U, Hillel, Students Supporting Israel, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Bruins for Israel united to organize this communal assembly. I was there, and it moved me more than I can say to see a huge group of Jews and our friends standing together at Bruin Plaza. In times like this, there’s something very powerful about seeing our people taking and holding space. It’s a visible, tangible expression of our strength, grief, determination, unity and love. I think we should keep organizing and attending gatherings like this. I feel heartbroken, scared, and betrayed and so does every Jew I know, but we are determined, we will not be intimidated, and we must make this clear to the world and to ourselves and each other.
Secondly, political advocacy is essential now. At UCLA’s last USAC meeting, many members of the Jewish community gave public comment denouncing the CAC statement. USAC meets every week at 7 pm on Tuesday, and all UCLA students have the right to give public comment in person or online at any USAC meeting. UCLA Students spoke about the atrocities Hamas has committed, the horrible pain these evil acts have inflicted on us, our families and our people, and Hamas’ genocidal antisemitic motivations. You can hear the meeting comments and USAC President Naomi Hammond’s beautiful expression of support for Jewish Bruins from 9:12-34:50 here. The vast majority of USAC members responded admirably to our comments, expressing support for Jewish students and condemning Hamas atrocities. This shows despite the horrific presence of immense ignorance in academia, our voices still matter. There are still many decent, principled, compassionate people who will stand with us, especially when we take the initiative to protest the evil perpetrated by Hamas and the decision of some of our fellow students to support that barbarity. There will be another USAC meeting this upcoming Tuesday (10/17) at 7 pm; you can give public comment in person in the Bruin Viewpoint Room (Ackerman Union, A-Level) or online at this link (the Zoom password is 245694). I would appreciate it if you could give public comment on negative experiences you’ve had with CAC, whether they involve antisemitism or something else (i.e if you’ve ever been harmed in any way by their mismanagement of USAC funds).
It’s even more important to advocate for our federal, state and local governments to continue and increase their support of Israel. While the vast majority of elected officials-both Republicans and Democrats-are already supporting Israel, it is still important to thank those who have our backs, call out our enemies in the halls of power, and urge those who are on the fence to take a stand. AIPAC’s website contains lots of information and tools to help you advocate for Israel both immediately and in the long term. The Bruins for Israel Public Affairs Committee is a wonderful student group dedicated to Israel advocacy through volunteering on the campaigns of pro-Israel candidates, lobbying and education; you can join their efforts by going to and volunteering at their events, following and amplifying their Instagram account, encouraging student organizations you are involved in to collaborate with them. and if you have the time and interest, by applying to join their board next year.
Finally, like the brilliant Rabbi Menachem Leibtag said when he spoke to UCLA students on October 10th, our best long-term response to the horrors Israel is facing is to become Jewish leaders who can prevent this nightmare from repeating itself. Take time to learn about Israeli and Jewish history, Zionism, antisemitism, geopolitics and Jewish traditions and values. Read the words of the Jewish prophets; whether you’re religious or not, their wisdom is relevant to you. Read the work of people like Theodore Herzl and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Figure out what your greatest strengths are so you can find the most effective ways of contributing to our people. Deepen your connections with your fellow Jews and with principled people of all backgrounds. Take time to engage deeply with politics and history; remember that being politically active in a thoughtful way can save lives. Set aside time for spiritual practices and increasing your own strength and resilience. Be gentle with yourself and others. You didn’t get us into this mess, but you have what it takes to play an important role in getting us out of it.
You are not alone. You are the daughter, son, or non-binary descendant of an ancient, proud, courageous, compassionate, fierce, loving, beautiful people. We will never surrender to evil. We will outlive and defeat our enemies. We will secure justice for our sisters and brothers who have been murdered, raped and tortured and a future for Jewish people and for humanity as a whole, since the evil of Hamas threatens the basic moral standards all decent people stand for and rely on. Our people will prevail. Humanity will prevail. I love you all. Am Yisrael Chai!
Cover image: Student-captured image from Vigil for Israel hosted on UCLA campus on October 11.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.”