On Sunday night, I stood in White Plaza and for the first time in my life felt embarrassed to be Jewish. On stage, members of Cardinal for Israel (CFI) led the small crowd assembled below in a Jewish song for peace that goes, “indeed, peace will come upon us” in Hebrew, and then says “peace” in Arabic. I have sung this song countless times: amongst peers at Jewish day school, in my community at synagogue and with friends and mentors at Hillel at Stanford, and have always felt a soaring, perhaps naive, sense of hope. This time was different. This time, I was at a “Vigil for Recently Murdered Israelis,” an event that refused to acknowledge Palestinian lives lost, excluded mainstream Jewish perspectives on the conflict, and branded Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as anti-Semitic. I could not sing about shalom/salaam/peace in good faith at an event that leveraged Jewish identity to legitimize ongoing suffering and violence in Israel-Palestine.
Rising tensions in Jerusalem have reignited the Israel-Palestine discussion on campus. Last year saw a fierce debate over Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine (SOOP)’s proposed divestment bill. The undergraduate senate ultimately voted to pass the resolution calling on Stanford to divest from “corporations identified as complicit in human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine,” as reported by The Daily. It was a largely symbolic victory for SOOP, as the resolution had no effect on Stanford’s investment practices.
A faction of the resolution’s losing side, Coalition for Peace, has since intensified its rhetoric. The resolution’s opposition comprised Hillel at Stanford, prominent Jewish professors and the Stanford Israel Alliance (SIA). SIA has rebranded itself as Cardinal for Israel (CFI) and has adopted a stance that is an affront to campus discourse and the Jewish community.
In terms of campus discourse, this event was troublesome because it ignored the fact that both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered as a result of the same wave of violence. There have been innocent people killed on both sides. Most recently, an Israeli mob mistook a man in Be’er Sheva bus station for a “terrorist” and beat him to death. Failure to condemn this type of violence or even acknowledge that Palestinians have died is deceptive and ethnocentric.
The event also conflated Judaism and Zionism, deeming valid critiques of Israel automatically anti-Semitic. A CFI leader told the crowd: These people were murdered simply because they were Jews. Anyone who says that there was anything else, that they were murdered for any other reason, is “a liar and an anti-Semite.” She added that some of those people were here three days ago.
“Three days ago,” SJP was at White Plaza leading a silent protest of the recent violence. Broadly (and falsely) accusing pro-Palestine activists of anti-Semitism is not only morally reprehensible, but also self-sabotaging because it creates a disjuncture between current Jewish institutional access (in Israel and in the U.S.) and past systematic violence against Jews. How can American Jews claim to be an oppressed minority when we have so much institutional power? Within this gap is an observer’s tendency to then deny past systematic injustices against Jews (and contemporary incidences of anti-Semitism).
In the Jewish community, we have allowed marginal views like those of CFI more airtime than we should. Judaism and Zionism are not one in the same. Though today many American Jews are Zionists, it does not mean we should stay silent when the Israeli government expands settlements, or when members of our own community would like to pretend an occupation is not happening. CFI initially invited other members of the Jewish community to speak at the vigil, but at the last minute wouldn’t let them on stage unless they omitted the word “occupation” from their speech. I witnessed this conversation, and was horrified to watch CFI bury its head in the sand.
Where members of the Jewish community enforce silence, mainstream American politics are filling in. In reference to the current situation in Jerusalem, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.” A large sector of the Jewish community would agree. We just have not been as vocal for fear we will labeled “self-hating Jews” or terror apologists.
Despite my grievances, I am glad I went to the vigil. It shed light on perspectives that I had not fully considered, and has made me more empathetic to students with intimate connections to the conflict. A freshman spoke movingly about a stabbing taking place near his cousin’s house in Jerusalem, and how he fears for his family’s safety. I only wish he had gotten the opportunity to hear different perspectives as well.
On my way to a meeting earlier that Sunday, I passed a line of posters advertising the vigil. Another student was there reading the posters, shaking his head in disgust, and muttering, “What about the Palestinians?” I inspected the poster that listed only Jewish-Israeli names, and saw no written mention of CFI hosting, but instead a big Stanford “S” and a Jewish star on top of it. By the time I looked up he had biked away. I wanted to chase after him screaming, “Wait! I’m Jewish and they don’t speak for me!” But it was too late. So instead, I am writing it here: Not in my name!
Contact Madeleine Chang at madkc95 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
An earlier version of this article stated that the Jewish Student Association comprised part of the opposition. The JSA did not take a position on Divestment. The article has been updated to reflect that.