Wearing My Star of David Necklace With Pride on Campus
Every morning, when I clasp my Star of David necklace, I wear it proudly, for it is a symbol of my people’s persistence. Nonetheless — with the rise of antisemitism across the United States, and more specifically at the Claremont Colleges, where I am a student — I cannot help but wonder: “Will I be shamed, judged, or hurt because I wear my necklace? Will the most prominent symbol for my culture single me out in public spaces, fueling harassment and hate speech?”
Every time I slip the necklace beneath my shirt – so that I may shield my identity – is a moment in which I am ashamed. I am ashamed that bearing a symbol of Jewish pride could result in an act of intolerance against my people. I am ashamed that in 2017, 79 years after Kristallnacht, I must continue to be wary of identifying my Judaism even on my own campus, before my own community. I am ashamed to pronounce that antisemitism has reached the Claremont Colleges.
I can no longer remain silent. In the face of hate, I must stand up and speak out; the power of words are our greatest weapon towards fighting prejudice and bigotry, and we must utilize that weapon to shape campus dialogue, culture and inclusivity.
On this campus, anti-Zionism and antisemitism have been regarded as two entirely different beings: one an attack on an ardent political view and the other an attack on a religious group. However, it is impossible for us to view the rise of these two ideals individually, for they are linked. A 2016 study of more than 100 campuses by the AMCHA Initiative revealed that “anti-Semitism was twice as likely to occur on campuses where [the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions campaign] was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as [the Students for Justice in Palestine], and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotters.” Therefore, to claim that antisemitism and anti-Zionism are in no way associated is to ignore a blatant truth: the rise of anti-Zionist ideas on my campus has led to an increase in antisemitism.
The birth of the Zionist movement grew out of the extensive hate aimed at Jews across the world, for they never fully assimilated or even allowed to assimilate. Hitler came to power, proving that widespread antisemitism had pervaded Europe throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — and the need for a Jewish homeland. Hitler’s goal was to destroy the Jewish people and wipe them off the face of the earth forever, and while Hitler did not succeed, the results of the Holocaust continue to remain felt across the world today. Pre-1938, the global Jewish population is estimated to have been 16.8 million; today, 80 years later, the world’s Jewish population has reached only around 14.2 million people. After the Holocaust, nations around the world accepted few to no Jewish refugees, ultimately leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Jewish people needed somewhere to live.
The Jewish people must have a place to live where they are not subject to intolerance, hate and genocide. This is why Israel exists.
Starting on April 3, the Claremont Colleges’ Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization held their annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), spurring widespread hatred and intolerance. While SJP claims to “promote justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the Palestinian people,” this narrative is false; their hateful actions prove otherwise and are emblematic of the group’s true goals. SJP is not pro-Palestinian; they are anti-Israel and anti-Jew.
Student members of Zionist and Jewish groups at Claremont campuses have been systematically harassed, shamed and silenced by SJP. SJP’s “anti-normalization policy” has made it impossible for students to hold dialogue. Further, voices on this campus have been widely one-sided, not because another side does not exist, but because those who disagree with SJP are afraid of their peers. They are terrified to speak out in fear that their community will not accept them and in fear of being isolated from the entire student body. On many of the Claremont Colleges, to declare oneself a Zionist is to commit social suicide. SJP promotes a toxic environment that silences an entire population of students.
SJP incorrectly and unethically define Israel as an “apartheid state,” and in doing so it appropriates a term that denotes decades of real suffering while spreading lies about what Israel is really like. The basis for SJP’s hatred campaign – boycott, divestment and sanctions – stems from the idea that both the Jewish land, and thus the Jewish people, must be eradicated from the face of the earth. When SJP calls, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they call for the Israeli land to be free – free from the Israeli people, free from the Jews. Their message is not one of coexistence and peace; rather, it is drenched in the desire to annihilate the Jewish people.
At the Claremont Colleges, what started out as an “apartheid wall” escalated into the vitriolic call for the Israel to be destroyed, wiped off the face of this planet. During IAW — or as the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance calls it, “Hate Week” — students who chose to stand up for beliefs that oppose SJP were vehemently harassed. On countless occasions, pro-Israel and Jewish communities on campus were called “ethnic cleansers” and “racists,” as well as being accused of “liking genocide.” To call the very people whose ancestors have suffered time and time again because of bigotry “ethnic cleansers” is disgusting. There are students whose grandparents were subject to Hitler’s persecution; some survived the living hell of Auschwitz. More disturbingly, the leaders of SJP’s campaign have even shared articles about Israel on private Twitter accounts with the caption “I’m ready for Israel to f***ing die.” These words are explicitly violent and should unnerve the entire Claremont community.
On April 6th, at Claremont McKenna College protesters tried to silence the speech of Heather Mac Donald, author of the book The War on Cops. Protesters decried students who stood on the sidelines — many of whom were unwilling to join solely because of the protest’s obstruction of free speech — as “Nazis” and the “KKK.” Utilizing these words to describe peaceful observers is blatantly antisemitic and hateful, as it ignores the mass suffering of the Jewish people who faced persecution by the Nazi regime and by members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Many might argue that this group of protesters was different from SJP. That is false. One minute the MacDonald protestors called students Nazis, and the next they were calling for the destruction of Israel, using SJP slogans such as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” Both the leaders and followers of the SJP campaign should be ashamed of their actions, for they have created an environment at the Claremont Colleges that is unwelcoming and intolerant.
It is up to us, the students, to change campus climate. If we are a community that stands for diversity, then we must stand for all types of diversity. If we desire for this to be an all-inclusive community, then we must invite every identity to take a seat around the table. Without free speech for all parties, it is not dialogue at all.
This is my campus, and I want a seat at the table; I want to be a part of the conversation. I desire to proudly wear my Star of David necklace without fear, and want for others the same ability to embrace their identity with pride.
Jenny Gurev is a student at Claremont McKenna College and the incoming vice president for the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance.