As a white Jewish woman, I credit the voices of Palestinian, Black and Indigenous activists in inspiring my movement toward the fight for Palestinian liberation. In my support of Students for Justice in Palestine’s Letter to the Editor, I was hesitant to publish anything that might detract from Palestinian voices or center myself within a narrative of oppressorship and settler-colonialism.
However, after the most recent Letter to the Editor, the visibility of my perspective—and the perspective of other anti-Zionist Jews—is necessary to detract from the narrative of antisemitism that has dominanted conversations about Israel-Palestine. In short: I’m writing to debunk the falsified claim of anti-Jewry perpetuated by Zionist organizations to subvert accountability and thus continue to cause extensive amounts of harm.
To contextualize SJP’s letter and my statement of support: Students Supporting Israel (a nationally-recognized organization that describes itself as nonpartisan and independent) recently surveilled and targeted a student who asserted that SSI ascribes to settler-colonial ideology. The organization was then vetoed by DSG President Christina Wang for violating student group conduct policies. On the evening of November 15, Duke SSI posted an apology to their Instagram, “recogniz[ing] that this was inappropriate, and remov[ing] the post as soon as [they] understood [their] mistake.” In response to Wang’s veto, the apology post was deleted. On November 16th, a new post read the following: “we used our social media platform to perpetuate our mission,”which took the place of the since-rescinded apology. SSI also argued to have been “gaslighted” into “believing antisemitic rhetoric.”
Students Supporting Israel claims to be unaffiliated with Judaism. Yet, when the group was held accountable for the harm they’d caused by inappropriately singling out a peer, they cried Antisemitism. Thus is the Zionist strategy: a cycle of perpetual victimhood and refusal to see complexity—tied to a narrative that safety can only be achieved through constant violence. In fact, most Zionist organizing is evangelical, and advocates for a Christian safety in which Jesus returns to Israel during Judgement Day after the inevitable downfall of all Jewish people.
Unfortunately, I do not have the space or language to summarize the history of Zionism and its categorization of settler-colonialism, but SJP’s article provides a deeply comprehensive background, and I have also created a document with various Jewish Anti-Zionist perspectives and research about the movement.
I do have the space to argue, however, that crying antisemitism at every semblance of accountability or critique of Pro-Israel organizations is violent. First, it is profoundly false; the “95% of all Jews are Zionists” figure has been disproven time and time again. In a Pew Research Center Poll Published in May of 2021, only 27% of Jews ages 18-29, and 34% of all Jews, indicated that they “strongly oppose[d] boycott, divestment, and sanctions.”
Secondly, false claims of antisemitism detracts from actual instances of this form of discrimination. Sister Cindy (whose absurdly celebrated presence deserves its own column), is known to spew rhetoric damning Jews to hell (among misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic speech), and was on campus preaching a sermon yesterday to a crowd of heckling students merely adding fuel to her fire. I have not seen any outcry from Jewish groups about the content of her speech. Instead, SSI and other pro-Israel organizations have chosen the racist route: to attack Black and Palestinian activists while a) using only pale-white emojis in their messaging and b) claiming to serve as an inclusive space for all students. This phenomenon is unsurprising; many groups quote the Anti Defamation League’s definition of antisemitism to source their content while ignoring the ADL’s history of pro-police and anti-Black advocacy.
Fallacious claims of antisemitism may seem universal to Jewish groups at Duke if only because of the rigid and force-fed narrative the university has afforded to Jewish organizing. The Freeman Center for Jewish Life markets the Birthright experience and will not provide funding for organizations left of JStreet, a group that describes itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine”—left-of-center at best, imperialist at worst.
I myself matriculated into Duke as a self-described “non-Zionist” and remained subscribed to this belief system for the majority of my first year of college. This label was applied in the midst of an identity crisis caused by an inability to locate visible and vibrant anti-Zionist Jewish groups at Duke. And while moving toward the label of Anti-Zionist, I further discovered that community can be an incredibly transformative aspect of movement-organizing. Even if this community does not exist quite yet. Even if I needed to build it myself.
Now, I and a group of my Jewish peers meet informally to perform ritual and spread compassion and discuss what anti-Imperialism means to us. We recently attended a beautiful Kol Nidre service at a Black and Indigenous-led farming co-op. We’re building something from—quite literally— the ground-up.
Moreover, I find peace and comfort in the truth that Anti-Zionist Jews at Duke are not alone in this organizing. We’re joined by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a Pro-Palestinian and Jewish liberation group with almost 350k followers on Instagram. (JVP also lists a partial guide to the robust history of Jewish anti-Zionist organizing on their website.) I’ve met Jewish folks from all areas of the country engaging their community on anti-Imperialism, acknowledging stolen land in both Palestine and the United States and sending small tokens of love to others in this fight for liberation.
Nonetheless, seeing many of my Jewish peers unequivocally support the Zionist movement is devastating. Zionism relies on a nation-state for the existence and safety of a people who have never known borders; a people who have loved through countries and rivers and decades. Zionism diminishes our years of abundant survival and persistence and strength to the idea that we cannot have a home without the ethnic cleansing of someone else’s home; that we cannot have strength without someone else having despair; that we cannot have survival without someone else having to die.
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Some of us see Zionism as the only solution to preventing genocide post-Holocaust because this belief system is, grievously, all we can imagine for themselves— even when for so many years, brilliant Palestinian and Black and Jewish organizers have fought like hell for alternatives. Maybe some of us see Zionism as the only answer because, if not for Israel, we’d have to take a hard look at our own Jewish identity. We’d be forced to ask ourselves, Does anything connect us to our ancestors, who fought so hard for liberation? Why does our Judaism center trauma and victimhood while neglecting joy and happiness and prosperity and justice?
Above all, however, the consequences of Zionist organizing are not merely a difference of opinion. And the anti-Zionist Jewish community does not face the brunt of Zionism’s fury. Indeed, Students Supporting Israel is antithetical to living authentically as a Jew. But more than anything, Students Supporting Israel and organizations like it tell the Palestinian students on this campus, our beliefs do not support your right to exist.
Denouncing falsely-proposed claims of antisemitism is essential for so much more than promoting Jewish Anti-Zionist visibility. Most importantly, combatting these false claims asks Pro-Israel organizations to finally begin repairing the deep trauma that they have caused to their classmates. Regardless of whether Students Supporting Israel at Duke is legitimized as an on-campus organization, it will continue to receive funding from its national chapter. So long as this pipeline is present, violence will be perpetuated against Palestinians.
Subjugating Zionism is necessary in recognizing the humanity of us all. I, for one, want to survive— not as a tradeoff, but in abundance. So that others may continue to live.
Lily Levin is a Trinity junior and social media editor for the Opinion section.