On November 15, Duke Student Government President Christina Wang issued an unprecedented veto for the recognition of a new student group, Duke Students Supporting Israel (SSI). The Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee and Duke Friends of Israel unequivocally support the charter of SSI. We believe that this veto highlights the institutional bias and antisemitism rooted in DSG and reinforces the need for DSG to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.
According to Wang, her veto was issued due to a social media post by the group which "singled out an individual student on their organization's social media account in a way that was unacceptable.” In their post, SSI rightfully responded to harmful criticism of their organization. Sophomore Elyana Riddick alleged that, by chartering SSI, Duke “promotes settler colonialism.” Settler colonialism is defined as “an ongoing system of power that perpetuates the genocide and repression of indigenous peoples and cultures.”
By alleging that SSI perpetuates settler colonialism, Riddick promotes two falsehoods. First, that Israel commits genocide against the Palestinian population. Second, that Jewish people are not indigenous to the Land of Israel. As SSI notes on their Instagram page, falsehoods like these demonstrate the need for SSI on campus. They delegitimize Israel and perpetuate the antisemitic notion that Jews have no connection to the Land of Israel, effectively dismissing and erasing the lives and stories of an entire ethnicity. By issuing her veto, Wang puts her weight behind Reddick’s harmful allegation and these antisemitic falsehoods.
While numerous authors have explored Israel's relationship with settler colonialism in more detail, we can briefly see through this narrative by examining Jewish history. For nearly 3000 years, Jews have had a continuous presence in the Land of Israel. Zionism, the support of Jewish autonomy, is not a new phenomenon. Independent Jewish states have existed in the land of Israel throughout the history of the Middle East. Further, the notion that Israel perpetuates genocide can be dispelled by simply looking at population trends. The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is nearly 5-times greater than they were during the British Mandate period. Notably, 21% of Israel’s population consists of Israeli Palestinians with full citizenship and rights. Currently, an Israeli-Arab party serves in Israel’s governing coalition. Hear it from Israeli-Arabs themselves: Israel is not a settler-colonial state.
In their November 16 letter to the editor, Duke Students for Justice in Palestine used the SSI veto incident as an opportunity to issue a critique of Zionism and the State of Israel. While Wang’s veto may be questionable, it certainly does not prompt calls for abolishing the only Jewish state. SJP writes that “Zionist justification crumbles to pieces in the awakening of a cultural consciousness rooted in systematic and indiscriminate justice.” While certainly poetic, this sentiment is removed from reality. Israel has nearly 7 million Jewish citizens and Israel is their only homeland, a fact that SJP neglects. As Israeli musician Ehud Mahor writes, ain li eretz acheret. I have no other land. Regardless of the context, the Duke Chronicle should not be a platform to call for the destruction of the Jewish homeland. Publishing divisive rhetoric like this not only does painfully little to advocate for the Palestinian cause, but also encourages the proliferation of antisemitic discourse on campus, endangering Jewish students.
We should also note that SJP’s criticism is highly hypocritical, given the targeted harassment DIPAC members have faced from SJP due to their identity. “So I’m going to repeat myself again, f**k DIPAC and every Zionist on campus,” wrote one SJP member in 2019. SJP received no sanctions from DSG for these social media comments, nor had their charter revoked. Contrast this to SSI, who responded to criticism with respectful language. “These types of false narratives are what we strive to combat,” wrote SSI on Instagram.
Rather than waste time debating a veto for SSI recognition, we urge DSG to join the 30 US colleges and universities whose student governments have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism. This definition would provide DSG with a framework to understand why incidents such as Wang’s veto perpetuate antisemitism and is in alignment with Duke policy. The allegation of settler colonialism reinforces the revisionist and antisemitic notion that Jews have no connection to their ancestral homeland. In their Chronicle letter, SJP doubles down on this allegation, all but calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. The IHRA definition of antisemitism would provide DSG with the insight necessary to understand the gravity of these claims and why SSI was fully within its rights to respectfully respond.
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