Emory University Student: I Have Been Attacked and Defamed for Visiting Israel
My name is Samantha Strelzer, and I am the President of the Rollins Student Government Association at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University.
I recently went on a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel, and since that time, I have been the victim of a harassment and defamation campaign both online and offline. I know that this is sadly an all too common an occurrence, and that across the country, students who dare to express a pro-Israel point of view or visit the Holy Land are ostracized on campus. But I have decided to fight back, because spreading lies and hate to score political points is simply unacceptable.
My chief attacker is actually a fellow board member at Rollins, who did not even have the decency to engage me in conversation before she began to assault and demean my character in public.
First, she falsely accused the State of Israel of a number of crimes, including apartheid and genocide. Then, building off those false and inflammatory accusations, she went on to claim that I, an American Jewish student of Public Health on a week-long educational trip to the region, am actually a “direct contributor to this apartheid and killing of indigenous people.”
My fellow student accused me of “promoting war and genocide,” and of “support for colonial murderers”; she labeled me a “hypocrite and coward,” with “crumbling morals and a weak moral compass”; and she called for me to lose my position as an elected student leader.
Fortunately, her ridiculous comments are all too easily disproved, and the lies she repeatedly tells herself and others reveal only the underlying contempt that she has for the Jewish State, and the antisemitic tendency she is modeling by trying to hold all Jews accountable for Israel’s imagined sins.
As students of social science, we are trained to look at the facts, and this person’s lazy repetitions of lies about Israel are so absurd that they are hardly worth debunking.
But just in case my fellow students are not aware of the facts behind some of those inaccurate distortions, here they are in brief summary.
This person accuses Israel of apartheid, which involves “inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Aside from the fact that the conflict in Israel has never been about race, there are dozens of reasons why Israel is not an apartheid state; for example, Israeli Arab citizens have full and equal rights, and serve in the highest levels of every branch of government, including the Supreme Court and Knesset.
The next accusation, that Israel is committing genocide, is also utterly ridiculous. Genocidal acts are “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such.” Since 1967, the Palestinian Arab population has actually increased by 387 percent.
I humbly suggest that my fellow student retake all of her statistics courses before she makes any more such claims. Her claims that Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel, and are colonialist occupiers, are just historically wrong.
But that’s about the State of Israel. What this person is doing to me is antisemitic, and I am calling it out.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in Federally-assisted programs and activities, on the basis of race, color, or national origin. While Title VI does not include religion, discrimination against Jews may give rise to a violation if it is based on race or national origin.
Under Executive Order 13899, when evaluating potential Title VI claims, the government uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Per the IHRA definition, it is antisemitic to, among other things, deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, engage in blood libels, apply a double standard by requiring of the Jewish state behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, or hold Jews (like me) collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.
Over the last several years, my state of Georgia has had hundreds of reported incidents of antisemitism, and likely many times that number of unreported events. On campus and off, these incidents have ranged from swastikas and other antisemitic displays in public places; multiples instances of harassment and hostile workplace environments with explicit antisemitism (i.e. celebrating Hitler’s birthday, antisemitic name calling, etc.); and multiple bomb threats (not to mention hate mail) directed at Jewish schools, organizations, and houses of worship. Somehow, very few people — and even fewer people in positions of authority — seem to know about these stories. It is time to change that by speaking out.
For the record, I have never done anything to hurt or demean anyone, and, in fact, I long for the day when there is lasting peace in the region. What my attacker sadly does not understand is that you can be pro-Israel without being anti-“Palestine”; more important, she must learn that you can be pro-Palestine without being antisemitic.
In the meantime, I will not be stepping down, I will in fact be stepping up and speaking out for all those facing harassment and discrimination on campus because of who they are. I can only hope that others in leadership positions, both on campus and off, stand with me.
Samantha Strelzer is the Student Body President at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University.