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Speak out against antisemitism

By Noah Berz     11/1/23 12:38am

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 6 p.m.: Dozens of Rice students and community members gather in the Graduate Student Bubble for an anti-war teach-in because the Basker Institute has plans to celebrate former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton and James Baker at an upcoming gala. The flyer for the event calls the former secretaries “architects of war and imperialism”; intrigued, I, too, make my way there.

The teach-in is profound in its wide ranging coverage of the United States government’s bloody involvement in projects of colonialism and imperialism around the world, and owing to its recent escalation, presenters connect their ideas to the current conflict between Israel and Palestine. The ethos of the event seems generally positive — giving a voice to the oppressed and questioning powerful institutions — but as I sit watching the speakers, I wonder: Why isn’t there more acknowledgement of the fact that on Saturday, Oct. 7, we saw the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust? As a Jewish student, this worries me. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there has been an approximately 400% increase in antisemitic incidents across the United States since the attack, many of which have taken place on college campuses. For example, on Oct. 14, an Israeli student at Columbia was assaulted with a stick outside the school’s main library; the next day, Cornell history professor Russel Rickford was quoted calling Hamas’ attack “exhilarating” and “energizing”; and more recently, a video was released depicting a group of pro-Palestinian protestors at Cooper Union banging on one side of locked library doors with frightened Jewish students on the other. I could go on. But for the most part, despite this drastic increase in antisemitic activity at American colleges and universities, when I look around at my fellow students, I don’t see concern. I don’t see outrage. This silence frightens me.

The teach-in was no different. Flyers spread on tables in the Grad Bubble, presumably in reference to Hamas, read, “any people subjected to this kind of oppression will eventually use force to defend themselves,” and a quick QR-code scan brought me to a site that discredited the labeling of Hamas as terrorists. Nowhere inside the tent did I see any printed material commemorating the hundreds of Jews slaughtered and kidnapped on Oct. 7, or the significance that the attack and subsequent events have held for Jewish people. The story they were telling felt one-sided. 

In addition, a presentation comparing Hindu nationalism to Zionism wrote off concerns around antisemitism as mere “shields” against anti-Zionist criticisms, as if to delegitimize them. It’s true: Anti-Zionism and antisemitism are not the same thing, but when Jews around the globe are under attack because of actions carried out by the Israeli government, it is hard to tell the difference.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that our community fosters a campus environment in which Jewish students feel safe. Non-Jewish students, that means you. Let your Jewish friends know you’re here for them. Speak out against antisemitism via Instagram. Spread the word. Only by talking about antisemitism can we prevent it from infiltrating our own campus; silence enables complicity. If we as Rice students want to claim, truthfully, to be the voices of the oppressed at this moment in history, it is crucial that we do not overlook the Jewish people. We cannot lose our humanity in the excitement of speaking truth to power.

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