Israeli Apartheid Week Sparked Fear and Silence, Not Education or Answers

Earlier this month was Emory Students for Justice in Palestine’s (ESJP) Israeli Apartheid Week, and the Wheel published an op-ed discussing an event that occurred on campus that troubled members of our campus community.

For unfamiliar readers, several students awoke on April 2 to find flyers posted to their apartment and dorm room doors that, at first glance, warned of eviction from their residences. These flyers, however, were not eviction notices but rather flyers promoting the Palestinian rights movement by analogizing the evictions of Palestinians in Israeli territories with the hypothetical eviction of students on and off Emory’s campus. The organization that posted the flyers claimed to seek to raise awareness about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Furthermore, other flyers posted around the School of Law during Israeli Apartheid Week depicted the Earth in chains superimposed upon the logo of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organization that works to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. The AIPAC logo is a stylized version of the Star of David, probably the most recognizable symbol of Jews and Judaism worldwide. Text below the image read, “Stand Up To AIPAC! Resist the US/Israeli War Lobby!” This flyer, posted only days after the jarring eviction notices, directly invokes centuries of classic anti-Semitic tropes that portray grotesque Jewish caricatures as literally placing chains on the earth by promoting a nefarious “Jewish agenda” through greed, power and corruption.

Both of the flyers coincided with ESJP’s Israeli Apartheid Week programming which aimed to “commemorate the ongoing abuses of human rights in Palestine, including the large-scale massacres of protesters at the Gaza border, with educational events, flyers and protests“ according to the statement released by ESJP.

A recent Wheel op-ed by Anthony Wong (21C) noted that even though the eviction notices were eventually taken down, the “conversation about Palestinian rights is one that must continue.”

In one way, Wong is right. College campuses are places where diverse opinions on all topics should flourish. In particular, Emory enjoys a robust tradition of fostering the exchange of ideas.

The ongoing situation in Israel is not immune from this debate. As a dynamic, evolving and sometimes deeply personal conflict, thoughtful discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be encouraged, with every perspective on the issue given space to speak up. Any other way would be an affront to our Emory values of diversity, inclusion and respect.

Respectfully, Wong failed to consider how lauding the fake eviction notices and the Israeli Apartheid Week programming only intensified the pain that many students at Emory were already feeling in its wake.

Posting flyers that cause students to fear that they have been evicted is not starting a conversation — it is an unwelcome confrontation for students across Emory’s diverse campus that disagree with ESJP. Furthermore, these flyers were only a small part of ESJP’s Israeli Apartheid Week. From the Facebook event graphic alone, which depicts an unarmed woman in the crosshairs of a gun, you can see that ESJP did not seek to begin an educated conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It may have raised awareness, but their messaging and tactics detracted from any productive conversation and pushed students further apart.

Any honest conversation about furthering Palestinian rights should focus on understanding the complex web of historical actors and actions that have shaped the current crisis. Furthermore, productive conversation should focus on the opportunities that exist for peace and prosperity for Palestinians and their neighbors in the future. Instead, Israeli Apartheid Week focuses on blaming only the Israeli government for the ongoing crisis. By creating a week of programming exclusively devoted to attacking Israel instead of exploring and celebrating Palestinian past, present and future, ESJP failed to spark any productive conversation about the conflict that should be expected by our Emory community.

Students at Emory and groups like ESJP undeniably have the right to question the Israeli government’s policies, just as we frequently question the policies of our own government. However, when we question decisions made by the U.S. government, we do not call for this country to cease to exist altogether or to not be able to protect itself against bad actors and terrorist threats. The National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) organization calls for a de facto collapse of the only Jewish state in the world when it identifies one of its goals as “ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.” Without strategic territory like the Golan Heights and self-defense mechanisms like the wall, Israel would have indefensible borders and be at even more risk of attacks by neighboring nations and U.S.-designated terrorist organizations, like Hamas or Hezbollah.

It is proper to question the Israeli government’s, or any government’s, political and policy choices. But, NSJP’s questioning applies a double standard to Israel that is not required of any other nation, demonizes the country and its Jewish residents, and delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This crosses the  line from appropriate questioning of a political entity to anti-Semitism.

The line between placing blame on the world’s only Jewish state and placing blame on the collective Jewish people is very fine. Instances of when anti-Israel rhetoric crosses the line into anti-Semitism often invoke complex cultural and historical factors, like when activists compare past atrocities committed against Jews, like the Holocaust, to the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. In recent years, student activists on campuses nationwide have crossed the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel speech again and again. Just earlier this month, Columbia University’s (N.Y.) Students for Justice in Palestine was accused of using a poster with a cartoon image of an Israeli soldier with horns to promote Israeli Apartheid Week, (which SJP denies). We, as an Emory community, should be sensitive to the devices used throughout history to separate Jews from larger society and should hold ourselves and others accountable to make sure that political protest never devolves into hate.

As Jewish and non-Jewish members of the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian community here at Emory, who strongly support a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict created through bilateral negotiations, we personally feel attacked by the events of ESJP’s Israeli Apartheid Week. We hope this op-ed reaffirms like-minded students that they are not alone on this campus and that they are part of a strong community that will not be intimidated by threats to our beliefs and identities.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like so many other topics we are confronted with in our complex world, is a multifaceted issue. However, ESJP was undeniably wrong when it chose to use cheap shock tactics and stereotypes to share their one-sided, subjective and dishonest agenda instead of engaging with all sides of the debate in a way that is in line with the values that our Emory community holds dearly.

Sydney Kaplan (19L) is president of the Graduate Student Government Association. Jordan Weber (19L) is president of the Emory Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Justin Kanoff (20L) is the president of the Emory Jewish Law Students Association.

Assistant Opinion Editor Zach Ball (21C) previously served as president of Emory Students for Justice in Palestine and was not involved in editing this op-ed.

This op-ed is supported by Emory Eagles for Israel and the Emory-Israel Public Affairs Committee.