Jewish Americans call for a Gaza cease-fire during a Hanukkah protest

Young Jewish Americans rally for a Gaza cease-fire during a Hanukkah demonstration in Atlanta on December 14, 2023.

(Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace-Atlanta)

750+ Jewish Students Affirm Support for Pro-Palestine Campus Protests

The students' open letter—which circulated as U.S. President Joe Biden again linked campus encampments to antisemitism—urges institutions of higher learning to "take immediate action" to stop Israel's Gaza genocide.

Against the backdrop of President Joe Biden's Tuesday speech condemning antisemitism, hundreds of Jewish students at U.S. universities signed an open letter supporting the nationwide pro-Palestine campus protests, decrying the false smearing of the encampments as antisemitic, and urging institutions to take action to stop Israel's "genocidal assault on Gaza."

"In the last week, we have watched the movement of student encampments for Gaza spread across the country. We have also watched as these protesters have been met with repression, arrests, violence, and false claims of antisemitism," states the letter—which as of Tuesday afternoon had been signed by more than 750 students.

"We demand that academic and political leaders stop misrepresenting and demonizing protests and their organizers."

While the letter's signers are "deeply disturbed by the small number of individuals who have attempted to co-opt these encampments to spread violent, hateful, and antisemitic messages," they "wholeheartedly reject the claim that these encampments are antisemitic and that they are an inherent threat to Jewish student safety."

The letter continues:

The narrative that the Gaza solidarity encampments are inherently antisemitic is part of a decadeslong effort to blur the lines between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. It is a narrative that ignores the large populations of Jewish students participating and helping to lead the encampments as a true expression of our Jewish values. The beautiful interfaith solidarity by Jewish students observing Passover seders and Shabbat at encampments across the country show that the rich Jewish tradition of justice is on full display inside the encampments. The denial of Jewish participation in this movement is not only incorrect, but it is an insidious attempt to justify unfounded claims of antisemitism. As neo-Nazis are marching in the streets and fascist politicians are campaigning on the antisemitic Great Replacement theory, we wholeheartedly reject the lie that these student activists are targeting Jewish students in their protest.

The letter came as Biden blasted the "ferocious" surge in antisemitism around the world since October 7 during a Capitol Hill speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

"On college campuses, Jewish students blocked, harassed, attacked, while walking to class," Biden said. "Antisemitic posters, slogans calling for the annihilation of Israel, the world's only Jewish state. Too many people denying, downplaying, rationalizing, ignoring the horrors of the Holocaust and October 7... It is absolutely despicable, and it must stop."

Biden faced backlash last week for falsely characterizing the campus encampments as lawless and violent while ignoring police brutality and physical attacks against protesters, including a mob assault at the University of California, Los Angeles. Critics also pointed out the president's ahistorical admonition that "dissent must never lead to disorder"—a statement that ignores how the United States was founded via violent revolution.

The Jewish students' letter stresses that "while the world's focus is on students, we cannot forget that Israel is continuing its genocidal assault on Gaza."

"More than 34,000 Palestinians and 1,200 Israelis have been killed since October 7," the document notes. "Israel has killed more than 14,000 children and destroyed schools, hospitals, and all institutions of higher learning in Gaza. The Israeli government has done nothing to return the remaining 133 hostages to their families as they continue to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners without charge."

"We as Jewish students demand divestment from Israel and an academic boycott of all Israeli educational institutions contributing to the Israeli military assault on Gaza or protection of settlers in the West Bank."

"The devastation is unfathomable, and it is truly heinous to see individuals attempting to demonize student peace activists in our name as Israel continues to massacre Gazans, massacres that our educational institutions are complicit in through their investments and repression," the signers said.

"We as Jewish students demand divestment from Israel and an academic boycott of all Israeli educational institutions contributing to the Israeli military assault on Gaza or protection of settlers in the West Bank," the letter states. "We also demand amnesty for all nonviolent student protesters and an end to the brutal repression by academic institutions and law enforcement."

"Finally," the signers concluded, "we demand that academic and political leaders stop misrepresenting and demonizing protests and their organizers, protect the voices of student activists, and take immediate action to stop Israel's genocidal acts before more Palestinians are killed."

Jonathan Mendoza, a graduate student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. who signed the letter, said in a statement that "while the Israeli military begins its assault on Rafah, college campuses continue to protest the ongoing genocide of Palestinians."

"Journalists and public officials are falsely labeling these campus protests as antisemitic and dangerous to Jewish students, silencing demands to end complicity with Israel's actions, despite consistent evidence of Jewish students participating in and organizing these protests," Mendoza added. "With this open letter, we demonstrate our support, as over 700 Jewish students and counting, for protests to end our universities' and country's complicity with Israel's mass killing of Palestinians."

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