Students against genocide speak for themselves

May 9, 2024

Gaza solidarity encampment at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., April 25, 2024. Photo for News & Letters by Franklin Dmitryev.

Editor’s note: While there have been plenty of reports on what the bourgeois press has decided to call “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators protesting “pro-Israel” policies of their universities, there has been very little heard directly from the student protesters themselves. Below we print several students from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill,. speaking for themselves. The first two students are from a group wearing T-shirts reading: “I’m Jewish and for a ceasefire now!”

Evanston, Ill.—I’m a student here at Northwestern University. I’m here to protest the ongoing genocide in Gaza that’s being done by the Israeli government. I’ve just seen so much footage and heard so many horror stories. I don’t think that there’s any justification for any of that. I really don’t agree that protesting genocide is somehow anti-Semitic. All the people here at the protest, everyone I’ve talked to, it’s not about the fact that Israel is a Jewish state. It’s about the fact that there are people being killed, families, any kind of person. There’s no excuse for genocide, no religion or race, nothing.

I’m worried. This morning the police were trying to arrest and cite people, but it’s been all peaceful. There’s been chanting but it’s just like being out on the lawn. Nobody here is doing anything violent.

As long as you’re not blocking anybody going to class and you’re not causing a disturbance, it’s not an issue. Nobody would be on the quad otherwise. I don’t think we’re having a disturbance.

People are wearing face masks because of their future. I’ve seen like on Instagram and Twitter that some sort of Zionist groups were posting pictures of protesters who were anti-genocide. I think it’s partially because of that.

I saw in the Daily Northwestern that the University president had made a statement that the tents had been taken down. But I’m seeing tents here. They weren’t taken down ever.

I would ask the University to think divestment. We give so much money to Israel and I think we shouldn’t be supporting genocide. They’ve been asked about this in the past and said they would be more transparent about where they’re investing their money, but then they haven’t been open at all. So we need them to get to be more open about that.

 —Two protesting students

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Gaza solidarity encampment at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., April 25, 2024. Photo for News & Letters by Franklin Dmitryev.

Well, I feel like Judaism has become usurped by the Zionist state in order to create fear among the Jews living in the diaspora, because accusations of anti-Semitism mean that our only possible commitment to safety would be the opposite, which they say is Israel. Therefore, I think it’s really important for Jews to stand, explicitly as Jews, in solidarity with the Palestinian cause as a way to undercut the kind of propaganda that attaches Judaism to Zionism, and that attaches anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism. There’s a lot in the Jewish tradition and the lived diasporic condition that creates a necessary commitment to liberatory struggle for everyone.

Some people ask why are we singling out this particular thing, why do we have to pick on Israel out of all other places? Of course, the only Jewish nation. But we are in a situation of apartheid, which is not singular, but is particular and unique in this moment in the world in the same way that South Africa was a large focus of global attention in the past.

Being Jews, explicitly as a part of this struggle, is essential for our community to find its heart, and for others to understand that they can rely on us to be accomplices in solidarity and to fight against the power structures that continue to perpetuate the idea that anti-Semitism equals anti-Zionism, and that all Jews love Israel.

Does this look like an anti-Semitic Jewish mob? According to the propaganda this should be the most dangerous place on campus for me, as a Jewish person, a Jewish student. Yet Jewish people were, literally, just speaking to everyone here, who were cheering. He was in a situation in which he was speaking from a position deeply grounded in our Judaism. And so it wasn’t like a situation in which we’re denouncing our Judaism to people. It’s the exact opposite. So the myth that these spaces of protest are anti-Semitic is playing into the strategy of making those in the diaspora feel like they’re in danger. That is a pervasive thing that Israel and Israel’s propaganda machine constantly does. My family, who don’t know very much about what’s actually happening on campus, have talked to me and asked: “Are you okay? On campus is it scary? I hear all these things.” And I told them: There is nothing happening on campus that has made me feel anything but more seen as a Jewish person. That is so because the vast majority of groups that I’ve seen organizing around this issue are so explicit about the fact that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, that they have no problem with the Jewish people, the only problem is the state of Israel.

—Young male Jewish student

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Gaza solidarity encampment at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., April 25, 2024. Photo for News & Letters by Franklin Dmitryev.

I was thinking of the movement within Israel, of Jews, citizens in Israel, who are critics of their government like Women in Black who still exist and are active. That whole movement of Israeli citizens who oppose the way their government treats the Arab population and the Palestinians has been damaged by the Hamas attack and the Israeli government’s response. What’s going on there is being buried. And I’m worried about that.

—Older Jewish woman supporting the students

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What I think of is in the weeks immediately following Oct. 7, when I was so devastated, above and beyond the devastation of just all the death and violence. I felt there was no chance for Palestinian liberation to be heard on the national stage because of the great conflation of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism—this kind of shutting down and chilling effect. I feel like it has been the opposite, at least in the U.S. In the last six months on the campus, I have found the most meaningful Jewish community that I have found in my life. This movement really represents who I am and how I feel about my religion, ethnicity, history and traditions. It can be easy to see how events that are out of our control affect our political movements, but it’s on us to take the reins and to build the community that we want to see. At least I can speak for Jewish Voice for Peace and for myself, and that has been happening. And it’s been pretty much the only bright spot in the last months of complete and utter devastation. I’m extremely grateful for that.

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism! To say that not liking the State of Israel equates to harm against all Jewish people is harmful to Jewish people. That idea necessitates that all of us must engage with and rely on Israel to be safe. The fact that Netanyahu is commenting on what American students are doing—many of whom are Palestinian, many of whom are Muslim, many of whom are Jewish, many of whom are Black, and many of whom have a number of lived experiences and hold a number of identities—means that we’re doing something right and that he is scared. It doesn’t mean that we take anything that he says seriously, as we know his interests are not with the Jewish people, or even the state of Israel.

I think that what Biden and Netanyahu and lots of other folks are doing, including the entire right wing and ultra-right wing of the American political establishment, is a new brand of McCarthyism. It’s where instead of communism, you have anti-Semitism. It’s a dog whistle term to chill speech that negatively affects the people in power, and the structures of power. It enables genocide against Palestinian people.

—Young Jewish woman student

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