JVP Student Network Statement on Intersectionality
As Jewish students active in intersectional struggles for justice, we are troubled by recent articles and opinion pieces published in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Jewish Daily Forward, the New York Jewish Week, the Daily Beast, and Haaretz that have suggested that Jewish students on college campuses across the country are ‘threatened’ by student protests against anti-black racism, sexual assault, and other forms of oppression, due to the alignment of these movements with the Palestinian liberation movement. As Jewish Voice for Peace chapters on campuses across the country, we challenge this view. We are committed to support of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, apartheid, and racism, which is bound up with our analysis of its intersection with the struggles of students of color, student survivors of sexual assault, and all others who on campus fight against oppression, whether imperialism, racism, patriarchy, police violence, or other systemic inequities.
Those who attempt to argue that campus protests over racial justice and sexual assault, to name two of the issues addressed in recent articles that have caught our attention, are threatening to Jewish interests make several fundamental mistakes. Chiefly, while one of the articles did mention Columbia’s Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, none saw fit to seek the opinion of any Jewish supporters of BDS and Palestinian liberation. Instead, the articles allowed Zionist students to speak for all Jews, perpetuating the mistaken idea that all Jews support Israel and that criticism of Israel is necessarily anti-Jewish. Secondly, such arguments further a false narrative that US campuses in general are becoming hostile or unsafe to Jewish students, supposedly because of rising support for the BDS movement. When genuine anti-Semitic incidents do occur on our campuses, they must be condemned. However, it’s important to recognize that these isolated incidents are generally perpetrated by the same reactionary and bigoted forces that progressive groups like JVP and SJP unite to fight. The idea that BDS and other oppressed peoples’ movements threaten Jewish safety is a false and harmful one, deliberately perpetuated by Islamophobic, pro-Israel organizations who feign no interest in justice or equity for Palestinians or minority students, as documented in a report authored by Jewish Voice for Peace.
Anti-Jewish bigotry is not equivalent to the structural oppression, experienced by students of color, which is maintained by state and university policies and violence. However, it is related to them and can provide a basis for historical analysis and a spirit of solidarity in struggle. This is because, on and off campus, contemporary white American Jews benefit, as all white people do, from a system of white supremacy. It is disingenuous to deny the fact that, while anti-black racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab racism run rampant on our campuses and in our society at large, acts of hatred directed against Jews thankfully remain isolated and fringe.
Today, African-American youth are struggling against systemic oppression, organizing to challenge its various manifestations from deadly police violence and mass incarceration in their neighborhoods to institutional discrimination and exclusion in the education system. Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students face rampant Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism and campus repression, particularly in response to their activism against destructive US government policies against their home countries. In this context, we can only see the narrative that these movements pose a threat to Jews as a cynical attempt to police the politics of both Jews and students of color. By alleging that the demands of BDS “divide” Jewish students from coalitions for social justice, this narrative seeks to accomplish that very division by insisting on the primacy of pro-Israel politics in Jewish students’ beliefs. This implicitly accuses any Jewish student who stands with Palestinians or puts their commitment to social justice over their feelings about Israel of being a traitor.
One recent example from Columbia University exemplifies the consequences of these dangerous and misguided priorities of the mainstream campus Jewish community. Recently at Columbia, the student anti-sexual assault group, No Red Tape, presented a list of demands to student government, calling on the university to create safer spaces and provide more resources for students and campus survivors of sexual assault. During the student government hearing, the president of Columbia Hillel spoke against accepting the group’s demands, citing its alliance with Students for Justice in Palestine, while the right-wing pro-Israel student group Aryeh rallied outside against the group for the same reason. In this discussion, it is also important to recognize that these struggles are often reflected in our own Jewish communities, filled as they are with survivors of sexual assault, Jews of color and other marginalized Jews.
With gestures like these on campuses across the country, Jewish institutional leaders, along with a small minority of Jewish students, shamefully place themselves against movements for equity, safety, and justice, and falsely claim that all Jewish students share their aversion to collective liberation. To be clear–in choosing to use criticism of Israel as a litmus test for aligning with social justice causes, Jewish communities are putting themselves on the wrong side of history, not only on the issue of Israel’s abhorrent treatment of Palestinians, but also on urgent issues of safety and justice for women and people of color.
As Jewish students who are conscious of Jewish peoples’ historical experience of oppression and rightfully proud of our traditions of solidarity and struggle for liberation, we commend all activists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who have carried on movements for for Black lives, Palestinian Liberation, and campuses free from oppression in the face of repression and false accusations of anti-Semitism. We call on Jewish students across the country to put their hearts into these movements for justice and be unafraid to examine their own societal positions as they trace the intersectional connections between racism in America, Palestine, and around the world.
Columbia/Barnard Jewish Voice for Peace
Vassar College Jewish Voice for Peace
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Jewish Voice for Peace
Wesleyan University Jewish Voice for Peace
Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of California, Berkeley
Jewish Voice for Peace at University of California, Davis
Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA
Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Chicago
Jewish Voice for Peace at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Champaign-Urbana Jewish Voice for Peace