The State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism reinforces the silencing of criticism of Israel

On October 27, the Regents of the University of California held a public forum seeking input from students & faculty on a new policy denouncing intolerance, including anti-semitism, on campus.  Below is the testimony delivered by UC Berkeley student and JVP-member Kelsey Waxman.

My name is Kelsey Waxman, and I am a fourth year student Jewish student at UC Berkeley who is committed to confronting ignorance and bigotry on my campus. I am here today to ask the Regents of the University of California to reconsider adopting this particular position on anti-Semitism, as it will make me feel even more threatened as a Jewish student on my campus.

The State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism reinforces the silencing of political criticism of the policies of the state of Israel rather than protecting students from hate.

The most unsafe I have ever felt as a Jewish student at UC Berkeley was when fellow Jews have attacked me for speaking up about the morally unacceptable state of the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

I am well known on my campus as a “self-hating Jew,” because I feel it is my duty to voice my concerns that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is in fact an act of oppression of another people and rooted in willful disregard for their historical narrative. I am dismissed as an inferior and unwelcomed Jew because I refuse to support the policies of Israel, which I consider incompatible with the teachings of Judaism. This sentiment, perpetrated by other Jewish students on campus, is anti-Semitic. It is a form of harassment, which goes largely unnoticed. It is born within our own community.

Last week, while speaking at a Day of Action for Palestine at UC Berkeley, another Jewish student made a sexually lewd gesture at me. Because of my public stance, I have received physically threatening anonymous messages online and through campus forums. A professor at UC Berkeley recently singled me out and humiliated me in a lecture because he was aware of my campus activism. When I pointed out that on no academic grounds could he prove that the recent surge of violence in Jerusalem was perpetrated by “young, bored Muslims,” he suggested that I knew nothing and should “just stay quiet.” A student on campus told me she could never speak to me again because my decision to go to Palestine and teach English to teenagers in a refugee camp was “an act of terrorism”.

Adopting the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which dangerously lumps together anti-Semitism and anti-Israel views in its definition, will only further reinforce the alienation of Jews like me who refuse to justify Israel’s inhumane and un-Jewish acts.

This effectively silences all voices, including Jewish voices, who do not see any part of Israel’s occupation of Palestine as justifiable, let alone Jewish or holy. Those of us who are working for justice and towards solidarity with Palestinians should not be silenced by the fear of being heckled by other Jewish student and community organizations.

The Regents of the University of California may believe they are acting in the “best interests” of students—but if they choose to enact a policy that will be used to delegitimize Jews like me, whose interest does that serve?

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