As a Jewish student on UCSC campus, I would like to speak out about the email I have received from the Chancellor with concern that the recent resolution advocating Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions from the State of Israel by the University of California creates a hostile environment on campus for Jewish students.
The email in question is titled “Campus Civility in The Midst of Turmoil”. The title and subsequent content of the email posits that movements for freedom, such as that as the Black Lives Matter movement and the Palestinian liberation movement, constitute “turmoil”, rather than the racist turmoil and violence those movements oppose. The call for “civility” posits that people of color do not know how to be civil when opposing their oppression. The title and the email itself is bold, unfettered racism.
The email obliquely seems to liken this resolution with recent movements on campuses across the country, namely the movements initiated by Black students to fight against the prevailing racism inherent to institutions of power such as colleges and universities, movements that are in response to or have been met with white supremacist hate crimes. The Chancellor vaguely warns against “hatred” on campus, but we don’t know if this refers to the black protesters or the white supremacist attacks, we do know however that the email confusingly points to the resolution to divest from Israel as an act of “hatred” which creates a hostile environment for Jewish students.
To the Chancellor’s Office and to the Faculty and student body I have this to say in response, as a Jewish student:
It is disgusting that the Chancellor has sent out an email on my behalf, telling the campus that us Jews are afraid of Palestinian liberation and those that advocate for something so necessary. The only hostile environment here is that towards students of color, among them those who have suffered under violence from the state of Israel. The Chancellor alleges that the democratic resolution for divestment has sent a “chilling” response to Jewish students, when his own email ironically chills the freedom of speech and political activity of all those opposed to Israeli occupation.
The only thing that contributes to a hostile environment for me as a Jew is this email that alleges that Palestinian freedom from violent occupation is a threat to my well being as a Jew. The Chancellor also perpetrates a racist and nationalist understanding of Jewishness; Zionism appropriates and deploys Jewish identity for a nationalist project, and to assume that the Right-wing ideology of Zionism is representative or all-encompassing of my Jewish identity is anti-semetic. To locate me as a Jew, and because of my identity as a Jew, on a side that is necessarily against the right to life, housing, safety, and dignity of the Palestinian people is a gross affront on my understanding of my historical responsibility as a Jew towards liberation causes. The Chancellor has naturalized Jewishness as one necessarily on the side of a particular nationalist ideology and in of itself I find that to be a base, a-historical understanding of the Jewish identity. Jews have a long and diverse history of being on the Left as a way of being Jewish, and many Jews across the world have advocated against Israeli occupation of Palestine, against the use of our identity for war and violence, and against the anti-Arab racism and paranoia that emails such as this one promote.
Moreover, the idea that those who are fighting for Palestinian liberation from continuous bombings, illegal settlements, occupation, death, and restrictions of movement are people who are at all comparable to perpetrators of “hatred” on campus merely contributes to the already dangerous culture of Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism in the aftermath of 911 and most recently the Paris attacks. That the chancellor dares to allege that students concerned with Palestinian liberation contribute to the hostile environments that Black students have been protesting is ludicris; white supremacy and the apartheid program that the state of Israel has institutionalized in Palestine have more in common. If anything, the Chancellor’s email advocates for reactionary nationalism, supremacist values that have long haunted both African Americans in the US and Palestinians in Palestine.
Chancellor, there are many Jewish students on campus that are anti-Zionist, and in favor of Palestinian liberation. We will fight not only alongside Palestinian students, but alongside all students of color. Invoking our Jewish identity for racist causes in of itself is a racist appropriation of our history for your own political will, we will have no part of it. Jewish self-determination must come from a place that draws on the rich history of Jewish participation in leftist, liberatory movements, particularly in the US slavery abolition and anti-Black racism movements, as well as early immigration and unionism movements.
I am Jewish, I am an anti-Zionist and I am anti-white supremacy. I refuse to have my history and identity become part of a racist, apartheidist cause perpetuated by the UCSC Chancellor’s Office.
Barucha Peller, UCSC undergrad