Unfortunately, being openly pro-Israel on college campuses seems to come with a social cost. For every statement reflecting well on the Jewish state, two criticisms emerge calling Israel racist, sexist and any other number of –isms. This is seen nowhere better than at GW, where Israeli Apartheid Week is in full swing and claims of apartheid and the supposed oppression of minorities in Israel dominates the narrative. In reality, Apartheid Week is a campaign that seeks to demonize and dehumanize Israel through stigmatizing language and polarizing events.
Apartheid Week event titles like “How Black Lives Don’t Matter in Israel: A Film Screening” and “Reciprocal Solidarity: Black and Palestinian Queer Struggles” suggest that being anti-Israel equates to being pro-diversity. Not only is it offensive to imply that supporting Israel is racist, it’s offensive to people who actively experience race-based discrimination on campus and minimizes the well-deserved, negative connotation of “racism.”
Even GW’s Student Association espouses anti-Israeli sentiments. Last year, the SA proposed a bill telling the University to divest from 10 companies that supporters claim contribute to human rights abuses in Palestinian territories. Student representatives were close to passing the resolution, which took a political stance with alienating language and insinuated Israeli oppression. This impression – whether intentional or not – creates an inhospitable environment for Jewish students.
Nationally, recent media coverage of Jewish issues paints a depressing picture of partisanship in the United States, where having pro-Israel views comes into conflict with other identities. We see this with AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby that just finished its annual conference. This is also seen in the controversy over Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March, and her association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose recent speech included anti-Semitic language – including the phrases “the powerful Jews are my enemy” and “Satanic Jew,” as well as a shout-out for Mallory’s attendance.
While AIPAC attempts to promote bipartisanship, mainstream newspapers label AIPAC as “right-wing.” During AIPAC’s conference, President Mort Fridman responded to these criticisms and reassured that “the progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling as the conservative one.”
Portraying AIPAC as a partisan organization creates conflicts for Jewish students, where they’re forced to choose between pro-Israel and liberal beliefs. On top of internal values crises, making Israel a partisan issue complicates campus Jewish life. It becomes difficult to be openly pro-Israel when the environment forces a struggle between our Jewish identity and other fundamental political beliefs.
Moreover, the association between Mallory and the propagation of anti-Semitic statements can make Jewish students uncomfortable participating in feminist movements.
It troubles Jewish students to distance themselves from feminist leaders who have anti-Semitic associations. D.C.’s political climate can turn them against their long-held religious identity to support political views. Left and right-leaning newspapers sparred over how to interpret these events and now Jewish students ask themselves if it’s even possible to be pro-Israel and feminist. They must ask themselves whether one can participate in the Women’s March, but also be proudly Jewish.
For me, it’s clear: we absolutely can be Jewish and feminist and supportive of other minority communities. Unfortunately, media coverage of AIPAC, the Women’s March and campus events like Apartheid Week put many Jewish students at GW in an identity crisis. I have friends that back away from the progressive movement to support Israel, while others stay quiet to be welcomed into other communities.
Jews are always on the forefront of activism. Apartheid Week implies deep-seated racism in supporting Israel that doesn’t exist on campus and actively undercuts Jewish political engagement on campus. We must ensure that issues, like Israel, remain bipartisan and inclusive of all Jewish students, regardless of what walk of life they’re from. Polarizing views so crucial to our identity is unacceptable.
Jennifer Tischler is a CAMERA Fellow at George Washington University.