Op-eds, Opinions

Lehmann ’19, Frolichstein-Appel ’19, Solomon ’19, Mlyn ’20: A Jewish case for Brown Divest

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Op-Ed Contributors
Wednesday, March 20, 2019

As a group of Jewish students, we feel compelled to oppose injustice across the world in all of its forms, and we stand in solidarity with Palestinian people who are subject to human rights abuses. We draw inspiration for our activism from both our religious tradition and our political history, and we are proud members of the Brown Divest coalition.

While every member of the Brown Divest campaign has a unique and legitimate reason for advocacy on this issue, we feel particularly compelled to vocalize our opposition to Israeli violation of human rights as Jews in the United States. Our Jewish identity compels us to speak up for two primary reasons: Jewish religious and political history, and Israel’s claim to speak for all Jews.

Next month, we will celebrate Passover, commemorating the exodus from Mitzrayim and the bondage we experienced there. The Torah reads, “and you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim” (Exodus 23:9). If we’re committed to the Torah’s call for tikkun olam (repairing the world), to ger toshav (treating strangers as neighbors) and to chesed (loving-kindness), these values must extend to Palestinians.

Jews throughout history have mobilized to stand in solidarity with other oppressed peoples. From the Jewish Labor Bund in 19th century Europe to Jewish students and clergy who participated in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, progressive Jews have often seen their history of marginalization and oppression as reason to band together with other vulnerable groups, rather than isolate themselves or ally with state violence. While some argue that Israel’s aggression toward Palestinians is necessary in order to protect Jews both in the nation and elsewhere, we resist cynical, zero-sum calculations of Jewish safety that lead to isolation — and insist that we find the greatest safety in solidarity with oppressed people around the world.

We are also compelled to speak out against Israel because Israel claims to speak for us. On March 11, Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “Israel is the national state, not for all of its people, but for Jews alone.” It is this rhetoric that compels us, as Jews, to act. We refuse to be spoken for by a nation-state whose policies too often rest on dispossession, displacement and violence against Palestinian people.

While we are critical of the state of Israel and the policies his government pursues, we also implore all students to think deeply about how criticism of Israel can, and sometimes does, intersect with anti-Semitism. For example, claims that Israel’s oppressive policies are inherently tied to its Jewish character are anti-Semitic. However, calls for divestment and critiques of Israel and its policies are not inherently anti-Semitic. As Jewish students, we stand both resolutely in support of Brown Divest and against anti-Semitism in all of its forms. We believe that our opposition to human rights abuses and our abhorrence of religious persecution and bigotry can coexist.

Some students have opined that the Brown Divest campaign singles out Israel’s moral and legal transgressions, setting it apart from other states around the world. The claim that advocating for Palestinian rights implicitly condones human rights violations elsewhere distracts from the real conditions Palestinians face. Singling out one area of injustice does not mean endorsing all other human rights abuses. Further, Brown Divest has continuously highlighted that the named companies facilitate human rights abuses in Palestine and in other areas of the world.

With the Undergraduate Council of Students referendum, we are glad to see fellow students grappling with Brown’s investments, which reveal complicity in violence perpetrated against Palestinians. We are also disappointed by claims that this campaign has not fostered healthy dialogue. Far from shutting down dialogue, during the events that Brown Divest has sponsored this semester, we have participated in crucial conversations about some of the most pressing international issues of our time and our complicity in them. We are also excited by the earnestness with which Brown Divest members work to learn about anti-Semitism and how it operates, both through conversations with Jewish students during the organizing process and through attending Jewish Voice for Peace’s anti-Semitism workshop this semester. This process of learning and thinking through these issues together is far too important to shy away from. We implore other critical students to engage in this dialogue with us.

As Jews who support Brown Divest, we are excited about the conversation the referendum opens about whether we, as Brown students, support the 52-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, or whether we stand against it, and demand that Brown take action to end our complicity in it.

We hope you will join is voting #YesOnDivest.

Evan Lehmann ’19, Sam Frolichstein-Appel ’19, Noah Byck Mlyn ’20 and Brian Solomon ’19 can be reached at evan_lehmann@brown.edu, samuel_frolichstein-appel@brown.edu, noah_mlyn@brown.edu and brian_solomon@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

16 Comments

  1. Beer Baron says:

    It would be difficult to find anything remotely accurate in this unintentionally-hilarious, Orwellian-rewriting of history masquerading as an anti-Israel editorial, but I will restrict myself to the following three points:

    Under international law, Israelis are entitled to live anywhere in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). There is no such thing as Palestinian land and never was. Judea and Samaria never belonged to any sovereign ruler after the British withdrew from mandatory Palestine; before that it was part of the Ottoman Empire.

    Second, the myth of Arab Muslim victimhood is cheap propaganda stemming from the failed Arab attempts to destroy Israel and throw its Jewish population “into the sea.”

    Finally, this editorial is literally the very definition of irony. The author’s complain about Israel’s treatment of its Arab non-citizens (who are lucky enough to live in Israel) while ignoring the fact that in EVERY Muslim-majority country in the world Jewish citizens are denied equality of rights under the law.

    • Henry Wolkowicz says:

      To be a bit more precise: the Muslim countries surrounding Israel have REALIZED THE NAZI DREAM and have made: egypt/lebanon/syria/iraq/yemen/libya/gaza/west-bank-under-abbas/jordan/…. ALL JUDENREIN. This article is an antisemitic article that singles out the only Jewish state in the world. Greeks/French/Turks/Italians/….. all are allowed to have a state. But it seems that these antisemites single out only Jews as not allowed to have a state. All citizens in Israel have equal rights irregardless of their religion. This is the case only for Israel in that area of the world. Yet these antisemites single it out for condemnation. They are ignorant antisemites. Antisemitism is a disease and these writers have it.

  2. Jonas Jitschak Rosenbloom says:

    In the name of truth, the authors are professing lies. Please please don’t believe me or choose sides. Instead, buy an airplane ticket to Israel and invest quality time in unpacking what’s actually going on. You’ll clearly see that BDS is pathetic anti-semitism, and how wonderful the Israeli people are.

  3. WorcesterMaNative says:

    Bless your naive “woke” hearts that you think BDS, just like Isreal giving up and giving away land will bring peace. You might well be well-intentioned but you’re woefully wrong

    • Henry Wolkowicz says:

      they are NOT well-intentioned. They have the antisemitism disease – singling out the tiny ONE Jewish state in the world. That all the countries around them are JUDENREIN and have started on killing/eliminating all Christians seems to escape their antisemitic diseased brains.

  4. Henry Wolkowicz says:

    How to describe the writers of this antisemitic article? It can only be described as something written by KAPOS/JUDENRAT. The tiny country of Israel that has been attacked nonstop from day 1, is the only country in that area that has freedom/equal rights FOR ALL ITS CITIZENS/PEOPLE. Every people in the world, Poles/Hungarians/Chinese/Italians/French/Greeks on and on, are allowed to have their own country. It is only the Jewish people that are singled out. That is precisely the definition of antisemitism. These writers are antisemites. That they are Jews just emphasizes that they are kapos/judenrat. They ignore the fact that all the countries around Israel HAVE REALIZED THE NAZI DREAM AND ARE JUDENREIN. There are ZERO Jews in Gaza/Jordan/West-Bank-under Abbas/Lebanon/Egypt/Syria/Libya/Yemen/Iraq/etc…………. Abbas has promised that his new state will remain JUDENREIN. These countries around Israel have now started on eliminating their Christian minorities. Yet these kapos/antisemites attack Israel for defending itself against constant attack. Let them explain why ZERO Jews are allowed to even live or set foot in the surrounding countries – that is JEWS, not Israelis. Let them explain why an Israeli Jew defending himself makes new around the world while Hamas shooting their own that is happening now is ignored.

  5. George Naftali Muenz says:

    These young clueless people think that Jew Haters care one bit what kind of Jew they claim to be. Neither the Nazis nor the Jihadists will spare them. When the Nazis murdered 33,000 Jews in just 48 hours at Babi Yar, they did not ask any of the victims “Are you a social justice seeking liberal Jew with strong Jewish Values?” Oh, you are? Sorry, you can go home now.”

    Same for the Jihadists that have been murdering people all over the world. They make no distinction,

    • Beer Baron says:

      Excellent point. As Churchill said an appeaser is one who feeds an alligator, hoping it will eat him last.

  6. Yaakov Menken says:

    I would invite any of these students to attend my presentation on the Politicization of Anti-Semitism, on Thursday morning March 28 in Providence. Due to security I must be contacted by email (menken @ cjvalues dot org) for admission.

    But I’ll suffice with one remark: every Arab state engaged in ethnic cleansing of Jews after 1948. Every. Single. One. Today over 99% of the Jews are gone, expelled off of land 3x the size of Israel.

    In other words, if Israel had expelled every last Arab in reprisal for the hatred they were shown, and these students were to point fingers at Israel, this would be evil, an inversion of reality, and anti-Semitic.

    In reality, there are 5x as many Arabs today in Israel, in Judea & Sameria (that which Jordan dismissively referred to as the “West Bank”), and in Gaza as there were in 1967. Their life expectancy is longer, their access to higher education dramatically superior, and their ability to vote in elections freely conferred by Israel but denied by both the PA and Hamas.

    So this is simply vile anti-Semitism in its newest incarnation, and the fact that all these students have Jewish ancestry simply makes their bigotry that much more appalling.

  7. Shep in Memphis says:

    Shameful. Simply shamerful. Spoiled brats ashamed of their hertitage. I hope your parents pull you from college and make you get a job.

  8. You can’t support BDS and oppose all forms of antisemitism. BDS is an antisemitic movement run by antisemites.

    The Palestinians are suppressed, but not by Israel. They are brutally suppressed by Hamas and the PA.

    The Arab population of Israel enjoys full democratic rights, something that they don’t enjoy elsewhere in the Middle East. Netanyahu’s comments were badly expressed, but he meant that Israel is committed to maintaining a Jewish majority, so that victims of antisemitism can always find a place of refuge in Israel.

    Of course the Israeli government represents the Israeli electorate, but it will always be there for Jews in trouble anywhere in the world. That is what Netanyahu was saying. You might not want that reassurance but I, living in a country that is at risk of being led by Jeremy Corbyn, am very glad of it.

  9. Every particularistic People have members that seek to help their killers. Native Americans had many that worked as scouts for the cavalry, hunting down their own people. African Americans had their uncle Tom’s. The Kurds had many that served ISIS. We also have this phenomenon. But be aware. You are seen. You are noted. You are complicit in the beating and rape and killing of every Jewish victim. You are complicit because you support those who support our extermination. You cannot shrug off responsibility. When BDS concerns itself with the misdemeanors of Israel and ignores the hangings, beheadings, mass killings and felonies of all of the rest of the world – one must ask oneself – hmm, what is different here? Ah. It’s the Jews. You are complicit. Evan, Sam, Noah, Brian. You are seen.

  10. Misguided social warriors who do not know how to read signposts only to blindly go where Google tells them to. BDS is a racist endeavour not designed to help the Palestinians only designed to wipe Israel and Jews off the map

  11. David Kopel says:

    This opinion piece raises serious questions of about the kind of education students are receiving at Brown. It is utterly devoid of any historical perspective or scholarly analysis and merely repeats political slogans the students hear in the leftist news media every day. The so-called ‘occupation’ they rail against is a result of two openly declared wars of annihilation by the Arab states against Israel when it was founded in 1948 and again in 1967. Its continuation is a result of repeated rejections of various partition plans by the Palestinians in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2008. The three students who authored this uninformed commentary are an embarrassment to the University and its purportedly scholarly mission. The fact that these views appear to represent at a least a third of the Brown community does not augur well for Brown’s standing among elite American universities.

  12. Initially note the vote does not address discrimination against Israel in Arab countries. The expulsion of Jews and civil right discrimination has been deemed unimportant. Likewise if the cause if Arab or Islamic rights, they fail to discuss that 99% of the land fails into these categories with 19 of 20 countries in the Middle East either Arab or Moslem.

    They significantly fail to craft solutions. Liberalization in both Egypt and Libya led to the take over by radical Islamic groups and there is every reason to believe compromise of existing borders would endanger Israel and accomplish little else.

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