The Undergraduate Council’s vote to fund Israeli Apartheid Week generated more conversation than anyone had expected. When prominent newspapers framed the UC decision as controversial, and when members of Harvard Hillel claimed that IAW risks the safety of Jewish students on campus, there is a need to remind ourselves of some definitions that were lost during this week.
I am an Israeli Jewish student and I am against the appeals made by some Hillel members to the UC. I am against the occupation, but my religion has nothing to do with it and neither does anyone else's religion. The situation in Israel-Palestine is political and is a matter of human rights and justice, not one of ideology or religion as we so often hear.
The fact that certain Jewish students feel attacked by IAW has no connection to their religious affiliation. These students feel attacked because of their political views. They feel attacked because they support a country that was politically criticized and condemned during the events held last week. As a Jewish Israeli student, IAW did not deal with my religion. It did, however, challenge the political actions of the country I come from. As long as we wish to adhere to democratic values, IAW, as any other political activity, should not be silenced.
The blur between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel is a phenomenon that we should all resist. A religion and a government's policy are fundamentally different things. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are not the same, and we should refrain from putting them under the same umbrella.
The fact that we even need to emphasize this raises concerns. Claiming that by criticizing Israel one makes a claim about Jewish people in general is in fact an anti-Semitic statement. There are many Jewish people around the world that have no connection to Israel. Jewish people, like anyone else, have the right to adopt their own political views. Attributing Zionism to any Jewish student on this campus violates their right to freedom of thought and as a Jewish student, I am glad that the UC decided to differentiate between the two.
Many people make this exact mistake by starting with a political argument that slowly slips into a religious one, until the two seemed unseparated. This silences voices that should be heard and we should resist that. Today, students know that by criticizing Israel they take the risk of being falsely accused of anti-Semitism. I am an Israeli Jewish student and I criticize my government; would you call me anti-Semitic? I have spent 22 years there, all my beloved ones are there, together with my past and probably my future. But those years have brought me, like other editorial contributors, to be “silent no longer.” Unlike them, however, I say silence no more to the occupation.
When you spend years in Israel you have two choices: seeing the occupation or closing your eyes in front of it. Twenty-two years were absolutely enough for me to see that we live under a system that discriminates between people based on their national identity. Twenty-two years were enough to see houses in the West Bank and East Jerusalem being demolished by Israel in front of their Palestinians owners’ eyes. It was enough to see the Israeli settlers’ freedom of movement in stark contrast to the harsh restrictions on Palestinians’ movement, it was enough to see the deprivation of water, the arrests of children and the bombings on Gaza. Twenty-two years on this land were enough, and are definitely too long, to say silence no more to the occupation.
We should all remain silent no more in the face of those who wish to prevent freedom of speech on our campus as well. Falsely accusing students who take political stands of anti-Semitism hurts our fundamental right to speak. I chose to participate in a student panel held at the beginning of the week, because of my political beliefs, because as an Israeli and as a human being I resist the occupation and support human rights. In the panel, I was asked whether I am afraid to voice my political opinions in this campus. More than anything else, the silence of voices is what we should all be afraid of, if not terrified of.
We should all say: silence no more. During the last week, Harvard students said it loudly.
Oren Rimon Or ’22 lives in Weld Hall.