Editors’ Note: This letter was circulated among Jewish students and alumni over the past few days.
(This message was signed on to by over 600 Jewish students and alumni as of publication on Wednesday evening. We, the authors of this op-ed, now invite both Jewish and non-Jewish students and alumni to add their names to the list of signatories using the link at the bottom of the letter.)
We, Jewish students and alumni at Brown University, stand with Israel. Just over one month ago, Hamas terrorists slaughtered, mutilated, raped and burned over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, and kidnapped over 240 additional people. The victims included babies, women, men, children and the elderly — even Holocaust survivors. Yet, on college campuses across the world, displays of compassion were quickly overshadowed by an eruption of terrorist justification, vilification of Israel, threats to Jewish students and, in some cases, violence.
On Nov. 8, 20 of our Jewish peers joined the conversation on Brown’s campus. Members of a new student group called BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now were arrested for trespassing during a sit-in at University Hall to demand an immediate ceasefire and that the University divest its endowment from Israel-affiliated companies and weapons manufacturers. Since then, their actions have been lauded and reposted on social media by hundreds of students. They do not represent us.
We want to acknowledge that many Jews and Israelis — including many of us — do not support Prime Minister Netanyahu today, nor some of his administration’s policies. We recognize the heartbreaking loss of Palestinian life that has occurred in this war, and we understand how difficult it is for the Palestinian community to lose innocent civilians. We feel for our Palestinian friends who are deeply affected and worried for their loved ones.
The signatories of this letter may hold very different opinions about Israeli politics and policies, but we are united in our belief in a secure, safe and democratic Israel. Jewish anti-Zionists do not speak for us. And they do not speak for the vast majority of the American Jewish population.
We now ask you to listen to us:
1. Many Jews on campus are scared.
In the past month, Jewish and Israeli communities on campus have been confronted with blatant antisemitism. At Brown, we have seen dozens of half-torn posters of kidnapped Jewish children as we walk to class. We have heard our classmates declare “glory to our martyrs,” “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “the resistance lives!” At other schools, students have chanted that “resistance is justified” and called to “globalize the intifada.” During the first and second intifadas, or Palestinian uprisings, hundreds of Israeli civilians were killed in terrorist attacks. And on campus chat platforms, we have seen calls for Israeli Jews to “go back to Europe” and claims that “there is no such thing as an innocent Israeli.”
This rhetoric scares us. How can we feel welcome on campus when we see our people so despised, with the Brown community championing only a minority of the larger Jewish Diaspora as the acceptable face of Judaism? A Jewish professor at Columbia has warned his children against attending his university. Our Jewish friends at Cornell have received death threats. We feel scared, alone and abandoned by our community. We are immensely saddened by the lack of compassion for our Jewish peers. Where are the cries for the 240 people held hostage in Gaza to be released? Where are the protests for the freedom of 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, who has now spent 10% of his life in a Hamas tunnel? Where are the calls for Hamas to surrender? The silence on our campus is telling.
2. The State of Israel is fundamental to the survival of the Jewish people.
This is the essence of Zionism: the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in our ancestral homeland of over 3,000 years. Many Jews living in Western democracies have the privilege to feel that they do not need Zionism, but most throughout history have not been so lucky.
Between 1948 and 2022, over 1.3 million Jewish people fleeing Eastern Europe found safety in Israel. In 1948, bombs were detonated in Cairo’s Jewish quarter and Iraq made Zionism a capital crime. Almost all of the 900,000 Jews living in Arab countries across the Middle East were forced from their homes, and 650,000 of these Jews fled to Israel because “it was the only country that would admit them,” as academic Avi Beker writes. More recently, since the 1970s, over 95,000 Ethiopian Jewish refugees have made Israel their home, fleeing violence and persecution.
Today, the story is similar: Despite comprising just over two percent of the American population, Jews were the victims of over half of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2022. As antisemitism skyrockets globally and Jews across the world face vicious prejudice and violent assaults, Israel’s existence remains fundamental to the preservation of the Jewish people. Zionism saved the lives of our ancestors and continues to protect our lives today.
3. Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself against Hamas.
Hamas is a U.S.-designated terror organization whose founding charter calls for the genocide of the Jewish people. In early November, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad expressed Hamas’ intent to repeat the Oct. 7 attacks “a second, a third, a fourth time.” We refuse to silently accept the murder of our people. Israel has an existential duty to eradicate Hamas. The war has tragically killed many Palestinian civilians. We grieve for the victims and their families, and we offer Brown’s Palestinian community our love and sympathy.
It’s important to note that many of these deaths are attributable to Hamas’s longtime approach of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, a tactic that directly leads to civilian deaths. Hamas’s headquarters is located under the Al Shifa Hospital Complex — the largest medical facility in Gaza — according to independent U.S. intelligence reports. Historically, Hamas has also purposefully fired missiles from civilian areas — and rockets fired from Gaza sometimes misfire and land within Gaza. When this happens, they turn to the tried-and-true practice of blaming the Jewish state.
Israel’s war against Hamas is not a genocidal one. Israel regularly warns civilians that airstrikes are coming via millions of leaflets and automated messages. Hamas, by contrast, has reportedly prevented civilians from fleeing to safety. Just recently, Israeli soldiers delivered 300 liters of fuel to Shifa Hospital in Gaza — the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry rejected the shipment. Throughout history, Israel has also made genuine attempts to coexist with the Palestinian people, and multiple Israeli administrations have sought to further a two-state solution. Hamas’s founding charter, by contrast, explicitly called to indiscriminately kill all Jews and eliminate the State of Israel — a view echoed by contemporary Hamas leaders.
We, like many on campus, hope for the cessation of hostilities in Israel and in Gaza. But there was a ceasefire on Oct. 6. Another ceasefire would only give Hamas an “opportunity to reload,” as stated by the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal. As such, these calls for a ceasefire miss two critical requirements for lasting peace: the safe return of all American, Israeli and foreign hostages in Gaza and the unconditional surrender of Hamas.
4. Israel is not an ethnostate.
Despite some claiming that Zionism is white supremacy, many Jewish Israelis are not white. The Jewish population of Israel consists of Mizrahi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Sephardi Jews, Ethiopian Jews and more. And nearly two million — 18% — of Israel’s citizens are Muslim Arabs who enjoy full equal legal rights. Arab Israeli citizens are also represented in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and on the Israeli Supreme Court.
Israel is by far the most democratic state in the Middle East, and actually ranks higher than the U.S. does on the Economist 2022 Intelligence’s Democracy Index. Israel is also the only country in the Middle East that provides explicit legal protections for its LGBTQ+ community. Of course, tensions still exist between different demographic groups in Israel, but this applies to every democratic society. We ask BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now to stop promoting disinformation regarding the nature of the Israeli state and the Jewish populace by calling it a “Jewish ethnostate.”
5. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” explicitly calls for the elimination of the State of Israel.
“From the river to the sea” is an unambiguous call for the end of the Jewish state. The American Jewish Committee describes it as a “catch-all phrase symbolizing Palestinian control over the entire territory of Israel’s borders, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” This message has deep historical context. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews were regularly targeted and murdered in the British Mandate of Palestine. Jews were also exiled from the vast majority of Middle Eastern countries throughout the 20th century. Antisemitism runs rampant among members of Hamas, as well as the current president of the Palestinian Authority. There is no historical basis to believe that a Palestinian government exercising authority “from the river to the sea” would not seek to expel or eliminate Jews. This slogan does not call for a two-state solution, nor does it call for coexistence. It calls for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state, an outcome tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of its Jewish inhabitants.
In conclusion: We will not be silenced. We are devastated by the horrific loss of life in Israel and Gaza, but lasting peace is impossible as long as Hamas remains in power in Gaza. We stand with the State of Israel and its right to self-defense. And we urge Brown University to actively combat the recent unprecedented rise of antisemitism we have seen on campus.
Rachel Blumenstein ’24, Theodore Horowitz ’24, Jillian Lederman ’24 and Ben Piekarz ’24 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.
Correction: Due to a change during the editing process, a previous version of this op-ed mischaracterized the nature of LGBTQ+ protections in Israel as “constitutional.” In fact, protections are “legal,” as Israel does not have a formal constitution. The Herald regrets the error.