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jonath ’24, Rosenzweig ’24: Why we walked out of Jonathan Greenblatt’s talk

On Feb. 22, Brown’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity hosted  Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, to give a talk titled “An Evening with Jonathan Greenblatt.” We are the Jewish students who initiated a walkout during Greenblatt’s talk, along with dozens of our Brown Divest Coalition allies. 

Our walkout on Thursday was an act of protest against both the ADL and OIED for platforming and spreading Greenblatt’s dangerous rhetoric. We continue to be disappointed that our university — which claims to uphold a commitment to free intellectual exchange — would think it is productive to platform a speaker and an organization that so blatantly works to shut down dialogue. 

If Greenblatt had been hosted by Brown Students for Israel or some other student organization on campus, we would have simply chosen not to attend the event. But Greenblatt was invited by the OIED — the institutional body tasked with keeping our campus free of hateful discrimination. Such an action by OIED leadership was wholly inappropriate. OIED said their intention in hosting the event was to spotlight a “conversation about antisemitism” in the United States. But Greenblatt’s harmful rhetoric about Palestinian, Arab, Black and anti-Zionist Jewish students prevented the OIED from fostering a legitimate dialogue. As a public event hosted by the Brown administration in the name of free speech, it required a public protest in response. 

Greenblatt argued that “we don’t need safe spaces on campuses like Brown,” but instead should create “brave spaces” in which to engage in honest dialogue. But Greenblatt’s talk was not one such brave space conducive to dialogue between peers with differing opinions. By beginning his address with, to quote former ADL employees, an “intellectually dishonest and damaging” conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism, Greenblatt demonstrated that he was unwilling to engage with anti-Zionist Jews like ourselves in good faith. We could not continue to participate, given that his totalizing conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism made constructive dialogue immediately impossible. 


During his speech, Greenblatt made several references to history. However, by not acknowledging the fact that there has been vocal Jewish opposition to political Zionism since its inception, he blatantly ignored a rich swath of Jewish history to maintain his totalizing campaign against anti-Zionism. Greenblatt espoused an exceptionally broad, generous, and, as he put it, “simple” definition of Zionism as “the right of Jews to self-determination in their ancestral homeland,” citing meaningful Jewish texts for examples of “the yearning for Eretz Yisrael.”  

In the spirit of specificity, the “Zionism” that resulted in the current State of Israel refers to a modern political movement, not just an ideology or longer-held spirituality. Modern political Zionism is not just about nebulously defined “self-determination.” Regardless of one’s individual interpretation of Zionism, it has manifested historically as the idea that self-determination must take the form of a nation-state that privileges the Jewish people over Palestinians.

Political Zionism has negative material impacts on the lives of millions. It cannot be separated from the Nakba, the displacement and ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948, the sustained violence for the last 75-plus years or the current genocide in Gaza. Greenblatt spoke boldly about “Jewish self-determination” but conveniently left out the rights of Palestinians to self-determine in lands on which they have also been living for millennia. Harkening back to the unequivocally harmful falsehood that Israel was born on a “land without people for a people without land,” his reductive and false definition of Zionism erases an entire population and their history, enabling the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians we see unfold each day.

To be anti-Zionist is to reject the idea that Jewish self-determination is mutually exclusive with Palestinian self-determination — or that an apartheid state is appropriate for any people’s liberation. When Greenblatt defines anti-Zionism as the idea that “Jews do not deserve freedom and self-determination in their homeland” and declares that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” he devalues and delegitimizes genuine experiences of antisemitism as a means of furthering his political ideologies. Through his false equivalencies, Greenblatt minimizes the very real threat of antisemitism — instead making racist and hateful claims in the name of fighting that threat. 

Greenblatt then went on to make the harmful claim that self-identifying as an anti-Zionist is “like saying in 1964, ‘I’m not a racist, but I just don’t think we need to pass the Civil Rights Act or end Jim Crow.’” First, we must address the glaring fact that the State of Israel has been credibly charged with apartheid against Palestinians, making this a wholly unfit comparison. Second, we must recognize the incredible difference between the end of Jim Crow and the establishment of a Jewish nation-state in Mandatory Palestine. Failure to pass the Civil Rights Act would have meant continued segregation in the United States. Opposing Zionism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians is simply not comparable.

We have a responsibility to our community. We did not walk out because we are unwilling to engage in dialogue. We walked out because we felt our continued presence would lend credence to the harmful narratives Greenblatt treats as irrefutable fact. 

Our university, a place meant to foster intellectual curiosity, platformed a man whose employees quit over the fact that his campaign conflates anti-Zionist organizing and white right-wing extremism. If even former employees at the ADL believe that Greenblatt’s campaign endorses hate, how can we be expected to behave otherwise? 

Despite the OIED’s stated intentions, dialogue with Greenblatt was never going to be possible. Platforming his false narrative precludes the potential for productive discourse. His heinous rhetoric dehumanizes students, particularly Palestinians, and invalidates our identity as anti-Zionist Jews.

monique jonath ’24 and Ariela Rosenzweig ’24 can be reached at Please send responses to this op-ed to and other op-eds to


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