In Support of Student Encampments for Palestine: Solidarity is a Jewish Value

As Vermont and New Hampshire residents and members of the Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest Jewish anti-Zionist organization in the world, we stand proudly with the students of UVM, UNH, Middlebury College, Dartmouth College, and all other universities holding encampments on their campuses in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Through their liberated zones, they are modeling what our world could be: a place of solidarity, resilience, mutual aid, learning, and care. In response to 75 years of occupation and displacement, and after seven months of US-funded genocide in Gaza, these students are doing what many people in positions of greater power have not had the courage to do: put everything they have on the line to say the genocide must stop, the occupation must end, and all apartheid walls must fall.

And yet, in the face of active genocide, funded and armed by our hard-earned tax and tuition dollars – the 15 largest higher education endowments in the US alone hold over $326 billion invested in portfolios that include the very weapons being used to bomb families in Palestine indiscriminately – many high-level officials are smearing students as the villains of the story. Many, including New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, have attempted, disingenuously, to make this an issue of Jewish safety and accused the student movement of antisemitism. It must be said loudly and clearly that the only threats to campus safety have come from counter-protesters and police and military forces at the request of university administrators. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the use of police and military force against these brave students.

As JVP members committed to collective liberation, we see these false claims of antisemitism for what they are: insidious efforts to discredit the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national liberation and distractions from the genocide itself – a genocide which would not be possible without the direct financial and political support of the US government.

Let us also address that false charge of antisemitism: Judaism is our ancient religion, while Zionism is a white supremacist, settler-colonial project invented in the 1800s. Criticizing a foreign state and a colonial project is not an attack on Jewish people or Jewish safety. Rather, to equate all Jews with the state of Israel or with Zionism, as President Joe Biden has done, is itself an antisemitic and dangerous conflation. What often goes unsaid is that for as long as there have been Jewish Zionists, there have been Jewish anti-Zionists who sought safety through community across the diaspora rather than through the dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people. We stand in that lineage today as we stand in solidarity with these students and the people of Gaza.

So, let us not be distracted from the reason that students are taking action and demanding disclosures of institutional finances and divestment from Israel. Let us not forget that Israel has destroyed every university in Gaza. And let us never forget that last week, news from Gaza emerged of two mass grave sites uncovered at hospitals that were destroyed by the Israeli Occupation Forces. The hundreds of bodies unearthed from these graves show signs of torture and summary execution, many of them children and elders with their hands tied, many of them patients with catheters still attached, and many of them medical staff still in their scrubs.

There are no words to describe this level of atrocity. That’s why we turn to action.

In the words of Howard Zinn, historian and anti-Zionist Jew, “They’ll say we’re disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we’re disturbing the war.” And disturb it we must.

As we join with students on campuses across the region, we keep our eyes on Palestine and the future that we are building together, one liberated zone at a time. We stand in solidarity with the students and the people of Palestine and call on these institutions to heed their demands.

Jewish tradition teaches us tikkun olam – the imperative to repair the world — and b’tzelem Elohim – that all life is precious and that to end a life is to end an entire universe. Since October 7, the Israeli Occupation Forces and violent Israeli settlers have ended over 35,000 universes in Gaza and the West Bank. Jewish tradition also teaches us pikuach nefesh — that the highest commandment, the one for which we must forsake all other commandments and obligations, is to save a life. So, no, calling for a free Palestine and an end to the genocide is not anti-Semitic. It’s our sacred obligation under Jewish law.

Sign that reads Jews say never again for anyone

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