Over the past couple of weeks, I've learned a thing or two about costly situations. When I set out with my fellow SJP members to place fake eviction notices on dorm rooms, I felt a sense of duty and accomplishment: an injustice is taking place and we were allowed to spread awareness directly to the Florida Atlantic University community in a way that would grab their attention. I had no idea that this seemingly innocuous act of well-intentioned activism would blow up in the media the way it did. And when it did, it cost our members not just our peace of mind but also our right to speak freely about justice in manner that is free from intimidation.
Over the past two weeks, I have watched as my group members and I were slammed with ridiculous accusations of anti-Semitism from many dozens of popular news sites and blogs. I have watched as people labeled our initiative a "hate crime" despite presenting only information from apparently reputable sources. I have watched as our SJP President and group members received death threats because of our belief that everyone deserves human rights, and because of lies published about us around the world. Rumors circulated that we had posted the notices specifically targeting Jewish students, an assertion as ridiculous as it was inflammatory. The comments posted in media were telling. We were, according to these misinformed and blatantly biased individuals, all Muslim, Palestinian, anti-Semitic terrorists. They wanted us expelled, deported, and in a couple of cases, dead. It really sunk in how much my group, and groups like it, have going against them.
Only two members of our executive board are Muslim, and only one of those two is Palestinian. Culturally, I am Jewish. Both of my parents are Jewish, as were all my grandparents, as were my Polish great-grandparents, and as far back as I can tell. I identify as culturally Jewish. Every year I light the Menorah (that I painted in pre-school at the JCC) with my mother. I grew up with deep roots in my Jewish ancestry. However, this did not deter me from questioning the actions of the Israeli government. My culture and Israel were separate entities. My parents did not attempt to sway me in favor of Israel. As parents who wished to nurture a caring, level-headed individual, they allowed me to form my own opinions and views, based on the realities I discovered on my own. Israel is a nation that should be subject to the same human rights standards as any other nation. It was always jarring to me that so many of my culture insist on defending and distracting from a nation's wrongdoings.
To include some information in the actual mock eviction notices our group posted: Amnesty International reports that, "Demolitions are carried out without warning, giving no opportunities to salvage possessions." Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist working to stop illegal home demolitions in the Gaza Strip, was run over twice by an Israeli bulldozer while defending the home of a doctor. Israeli housing permits are regularly denied to Palestinians, which contributes to the Palestinian refugee crisis, and often, illegal Israeli settlements are built over confiscated Palestinian land.
Claims were made that our group was trying to scare, provoke, intimidate, or offend students by posting these fliers. The fact of the matter is this: the truth is not pretty. It should take nothing less than the truth to open the eyes of our fellow students. That was our intention; nothing more, nothing less. You'd be surprised how powerful the truth is in proving a point. And the truth is that, our complicity as Americans in human rights violations against Palestinians is costly and unjust.
Every year, American tax payer money goes towards "aiding" Israel, a country that touts its success in the sciences and other professional and technological fields. Yet very few individuals dare to question this most curious arrangement. In 2009 alone, Israel received more U.S. foreign aid than any other country, excluding Afghanistan. The top two countries receiving military aid in 2009 were Afghanistan (with $5.7 billion), followed by Israel (with $2.4 billion). Yet, Israel received only $52 million in economic aid in 2009. Why the massive gap between how much money Israel receives from the U.S. taxpayers compared to how much it gives to developing countries? Why, if Israel is so economically successful, should it receive so much military aid from American pockets? These are the kinds of questions few choose to ask, and even fewer choose to answer.
Some would say that my involvement with SJP makes me a "self-hating Jew" or anti-Semitic. This is at best insulting, and at worst a shocking display of ignorance and a glaring inability to empathize with other human beings. To blindly accept the decisions of the Israeli government merely because Israel has been touted as the "Jewish homeland" is patently inexcusable. It is unconscionable to turn a willful blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli government and military on the basis of faith in a Jewish nationalistic ideal.
As the old King in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's story says to the Little Prince: "'Then you shall judge yourself,' the king answered. 'That is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.'" If criticizing your government causes you to be ostracized by nearly every other citizen of that country, and many more people besides, then it's painfully clear your government is less of a Western-style democracy than you thought. When your government hides behind the shield of anti-Semitism to shut down legitimate dissenters, you tread dangerously close to totalitarian waters. These attitudes echo McCarthyism in America, when those who vocalized dissent were persecuted by their community and government. That mentality should have no place in modern society.
I am Jewish. I am pro-human rights. There is no reason why my identity and this view cannot be compatible. Our group did what we believed was an effective way to spread awareness for this troubling issue. Although there was plenty of negative coverage, the support has been even more overwhelming. Our trouble is insignificant compared to the injustices faced daily by Palestinians living in Israel and Occupied Palestine. They are human beings. SJP exists to advocate for their human rights. This will not change. I hope SJP's message of this severely misrepresented issue reached our fellow FAU students' consciences.