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November 24, 2022 10:41 am
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Excluding Zionist Voices Will Not Bring Us Closer to Peace

avatar by Asher Stern

Opinion

One of the campus buildings at the University of California, Berkeley. Photo: Max Pixel/Creative Commons.

I am a proud Jew and Zionist.

This statement would prevent me from speaking at nine student clubs at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, following their August 2022 decision to ban any Zionist speakers at their club events, and encouraging others to follow suit, which reportedly five more did.

How does this new policy promote anything but hatred of individuals whose identity they disagree with? These clubs, who claim to seek a “safe space” for all, are, in fact, creating the opposite. When dialogue is shut down because of someone’s identity, it simply breeds hatred and division.

How can it be that registered clubs at a state-funded university, in 2022, can openly discriminate against Jewish and Zionist students, faculty, and visitors based on who they are? If that isn’t blatant bigotry based on ethnic and religious identity, what is?

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This very question was raised in a complaint filed with the US Department of Education’s Office of Human Rights against Berkeley Law School by the International Legal Forum and attorney Gabriel Groisman, which argues that the actions of these clubs violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and its prohibition of discrimination based on “race, color, and national origin” at institutions that receive Federal funding.

It’s the year 2022, and far too many Jewish students are afraid to express support for Israel’s very existence out of fear of reprisals and exclusion.

This fear puts them in an untenable position of having to denounce something that is core to their identity, just so they can feel safe on their own campuses. Unsurprisingly, the defense that antisemites use to mask their discrimination is that they are “not antisemites, merely anti-Zionists.”

The late UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks aptly referred to antisemitism as a “mutating virus.” He went on to say that “In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel. It takes different forms, but it remains the same thing: the view that Jews have no right to exist as free and equal human beings.”

The core of Zionism is the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. Regardless of their stream of Judaism, the overwhelming majority of American Jews in the United States view caring about Israel as an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them.

For many Jews, Israel is a pillar of their faith, history, ethnicity, and sense of nationhood .

While they certainly differ on their perceptions of Israeli policies and actions, for American Jews, Israel is an integral part of who they are. That’s why bans on Zionists and all those who support the State of Israel are antisemitic.

The demonization of Zionism has become so prevalent and mainstream, that such discrimination against it has become acceptable. People are attacked on social media for their support of Israel. Clubs like those at Berkeley Law School ban Zionist speakers. In addition, there is the marked and worrying rise of physical violence and threats against Jews.

We all need to pause, and think what would happen if the word Zionist was replaced with any other belief, nation, religion, or faith. Would that be acceptable? The answer is no, and rightfully so.

In the eyes of those that hate Israel, or those who have accepted the false propaganda spread against it, in order to ensure that Palestinian students feel included, an environment must be created where pro-Israel Jews and Zionist students feel excluded. Why does one need to come at the expense of the other? This phenomenon is being seen not only at Berkeley, but on campuses all over the US. Groups use the Palestinian cause as a shield to hide their blanket antisemitism.

If we want to make a change and ensure a “safe space” for everyone, we cannot allow the exclusion and discrimination of any group. We must allow dialogue without bigotry. The demonization of Zionism must not be allowed to flourish.

The Jewish people, like all others, are entitled to the right to self-determination, and Zionist students should be able to express their beliefs proudly, without fear of being attacked and disenfranchised.

Asher Stern is the Project Manager at the International Legal Forum, an Israel based network of over 4,000 lawyers and activists around the world, standing up for Israel and combating antisemitism in the international legal arena. Asher has a BA in Government, Strategy and Diplomacy from the IDC, and an MA in International Relations from the Hebrew University.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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