Section: Opinion

Steven Salaita: It’s fine to criticize Israel, but not to be anti-semitic

By Rachel Kaplan

There is no denying the number of Palestinian casualties that have occurred in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Innocent people have died and the Israeli government should be held accountable for its actions. However, there are ways to go about critiquing these actions without simultaneously being anti-Semitic, and Steven Salaita has not succeeded.

“Zionist uplift in America: every little Jewish boy and girl can grow up to be the leader of a murderous colonial regime. #Gaza”

“Zionists: transforming ‘antisemitism’ from something horrible to something honorable since 1948. #Gaza #FreePalestine”

These were two of the tweets Salaita posted last summer at the height of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and if neither of them raised a red flag for the Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine when they were considering speakers to invite, then I don’t know what else to say. Most Jewish people I know, including myself, are plenty critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions, and certainly don’t want to see more innocent people killed. Salaita’s false equivalency of Israel with all Zionism (which, at its heart, is the idea that Jewish people have the right to nationhood and a homeland after centuries without it ­— something Salaita fundamentally misunderstands), and then with American Diaspora Jewry, is heinous, not only because Jewish people living in the Diaspora have literally nothing to do with Israel or its government, but especially considering he is talking about young children who don’t even know the full extent of what is happening.

Secondly, putting anti-Semitism in scare quotes and saying it is something honorable to participate in should have been the first sign for people to stop reading. This is nothing but blatantly anti-Semitic, and it does nothing to help the pro-Palestine movement. During a time when both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are rising, Muslims and Jews should be supporting one another, not being pitted against one another. Because of this, the fact that  Salaita was brought here seems to be a calculated, inflammatory move, and I’m not happy about it.

It is completely understandable, given Salaita’s anti-Semitism, that some Jewish students felt uncomfortable, unsafe and unwelcome at the prospect of his coming here. When some of them dared to speak up about it by putting up their own posters and their reasons for being uncomfortable, other students, affiliated with Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine or in support of them, mocked them and their perfectly legitimate feelings on a public forum. When I saw this I nearly started crying, both at my own discomfort and for the people who were brave enough to speak their minds.

When nobody is actually talking to one another and one side seems hell-bent on making the other uncomfortable and then mocking that discomfort, it is hard to get anything done and have any sort of productive conversation.

Rachel Kaplan ’15 is an English and drama double major from Rye, N.Y. Contact her at kaplanr@kenyon.edu.

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