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May 3, 2023 10:56 am

I Experienced Antisemitism in College; I Won’t Be Silenced Again

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avatar by Sarah Bluestein


The Israeli flag at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Hynek Moravec via Wikimedia Commons.

Until a few months ago, I could have shared how lucky I was to have never experienced antisemitism. That’s no longer true. As a first-year Jewish student at the University of Western Ontario, I have felt safe and accepted in my community. However, a recent firsthand experience of antisemitism has left me fearful.

During one of my classes, we had a discussion period, which led to an uncomfortable conversation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Prior to our discussion, the lesson focused on the struggles of indigenous people, who have and continue to face horrific colonial oppression in Canada.

The floor was opened to any student to ask questions or share thoughts. A student in my class shared how she felt she could really understand and sympathize with the oppression of the indigenous people in Canada because she was Palestinian. She said the oppression her people faced was a result of the settler colonization in her country, “similarly” to what the indigenous people went through in Canada.

As she spoke, she was very meticulous in how she phrased her comments. She never mentioned Jews, making her statement not seem directed at anyone or any people specifically. Being Jewish, I immediately understood what she was implying. As she continued, I found myself sinking further into my seat. It only made me feel worse when my professor enthusiastically agreed, and joined in on the biased one-sided rhetoric. At that moment, I felt so alone and fearful as everyone nodded their heads in agreement.

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Settler colonization is a common antisemitic claim used to support the narrative that the Jewish people are not indigenous to the land of Israel, or “stole” it from Arab people. Supporting this claim denies the historical, geological, and Biblical evidence that proves that Jews have had a presence in the land of Israel for thousands of years, long before 1948. This false and antisemitic rhetoric supports the idea that Jewish people have no rightful claim to the state of Israel, and are illegally “occupying” it.

The colonization claim asserts that the Jews stepped into a country not of their own, claimed political control, occupied it with settlers, displaced its indigenous population, and exploited it economically. This entire claim is fundamentally incorrect, and builds the foundation of a false narrative used to fan hate against Jews and Israel.

The Jewish people have had a continuous presence in the land for almost 4,000 years. The Kotel is the oldest piece of evidence that indicates the long history of the Jewish presence in the land of Israel. The First Temple, built in 950 BCE, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. It was later rebuilt only to be torn down again in the 1st century BCE. Once the flames and dust settled, all that remained was the Wailing Wall, a sacred relic that still exists today. The final conquest exiled the Jews and created the Diaspora. It was after the Romans took over that they renamed Judea “Palestina” in attempts to wash away any Jewish connection to the land. But the Jews never left.

Jews did not take the land from anyone. In fact, Israel was created with the support of the international community, through the United Nations. It was the Palestinian Arabs, and five Arab armies, that tried to take all of Israel for itself, and push the Jews into the sea. Had they not, the Palestinians would also be celebrating the 75th anniversary of “Palestine” this year.

During class that day, I was too scared to speak up. I feared the repercussions of identifying myself as a Jewish student or speaking up and saying the wrong thing. I needed more time to come up with an educated response that was not made from fear or anger.

I let the fear overwhelm me and I remained speechless. Since then, I’ve promised myself that next time I won’t be silenced. I made the decision to improve my advocating skills and freshen up my knowledge on the conflict, slowly growing my confidence as I learn how to respond to antisemitism. Still, I fear that my Jewish identity being known could interfere with my education. I hope one day, I and other Jewish students who have experienced similar antisemitism, will feel confident to act.

Although we should all be granted the freedom of sharing our opinions, making false accusations regarding colonialism and Israel is hateful, antisemitic, and completely unacceptable. My great-grandmother who survived the Holocaust came to Canada, and for the rest of her life, was always fearful to reveal she was Jewish. I never thought I could ever feel the same, but I do; and that’s sad.

Sarah Bluestein is a student at the University of Western Ontario and a Canadian Campus Media Fellow.

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