“Regardless of how you feel about Hamas or the events of October 7th.” These were the words that stopped me as I read Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine (KSJP)’s Ceasefire petition sent to the Kenyon student body. The petition did not go into detail on the events of Oct. 7: no mention of Hamas’ surgical massacre, no mention at all of the Israeli families that were wiped out, the mutilated bodies, the women and children taken hostage back into Gaza, the lives lost. In fact, the petition openly welcomed any and all viewpoints and beliefs about the deadliest terrorist attack on Jews since the Holocaust. KSJP is not a hateful organization; however, I believe it is currently on a path that is rapidly descending into hatred. This path does not distinguish between offering solidarity and support to the Palestinian people and a condemnation of Hamas and antisemitism worldwide. The fact of the matter is that KSJP’s continued dehumanization of Jewish lives by statements that ask the student body to disregard said suffering and its failure to sufficiently denounce Jewish hatred have paved the way for more blatant antisemitism on the Kenyon campus.
I am Micah Arenstein, a Jewish Israeli citizen. I lived in Israel for four years, where I spent a significant amount of time in Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom, a coexistence town in the center of Israel founded by Palestinian and Israeli citizens. Attending summer camp every year in Neve Shalom, I ate with my Palestinian friends, traveled with them, laughed and played with them and hid from Hamas’ rockets in bomb shelters with them. Back in the United States, every Wednesday evening for six years I attended my synagogue’s Hebrew school, where I greeted the temple’s armed guard every week. Now, at Kenyon, I study Arabic and International Studies, and hope to study abroad in Jordan, although every day it seems less likely that I will be able to do so because I am Jewish.
In every email since Oct. 7, KSJP has consistently failed to recognize the morally unjustifiable violence and trauma that Hamas has caused, nor has it even mentioned the Israeli death toll. An Oct. 13 email referred to the attacks as “an unprecedented event that marks a significant point in the history of many lives and nations.” Using ambiguous language such as “unprecedented” and “significant” fails to describe the horrific events for what they are. In an earlier Oct. 8 email, KSJP delegitimized and downplayed the suffering of the Jewish people from the Hamas massacre, comparing it to the lived experiences of Palestinians in a nauseating game of whataboutism. The email stated: “If you are horrified at the violence happening right now, we ask you to consider the systematic, consistent [and] unjust violence that [Palestinians] endure every day under occupation.” Such language indicated that not everyone would find Hamas’ attack horrifying, that characterizing the events as monstrous is subjective. It raises the question of whether KSJP members themselves were horrified, given their unwillingness to denounce the attacks in any detail. In other words, KSJP’s agenda has actively dehumanized and devalued the lives of Jewish people in the club’s quest to support the Palestinian cause.
While KSJP claims it does “not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form,” (Nov. 1 email), KSJP’s failure to condemn hateful acts has enabled a dangerous campus environment for Kenyon’s Jewish population. This mirrors campuses nationwide and is detrimental to fostering on-campus dialogue. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), reported antisemitic incidents have increased by 388 percent since Oct. 7. On Monday, a Kenyon student reported on the anonymous app YikYak that they were told to kill themselves for wearing a Star of David. Not for the first time, and for what I am sure will not be the last, College Jewish Chaplain and Hillel Director Marc Bragin sent a message inviting students to the on-campus Rothenberg Hillel House if they feel physically unsafe. Posters concerning the murders of Palestinian children were put up with bloody Stars of David at the header, implying that Jews, at large, are responsible for the deaths of innocent Palestinians. To be clear, KSJP sent out another email clarifying that the “incendiary” and antisemitic posters were put up by an independent party, admitting that the posters “could be reasonably construed as containing anti-Semitic imagery.” However, it is impossible to reasonably deny that KSJP’s damaging rhetoric has created this breeding ground for antisemitism on campus.
KSJP now has a choice. It can continue down its current path, one that enables hatred and antisemitism to be openly spewed on campus. KSJP can continue to choose to not acknowledge the brutality of Hamas’s massacre fueled by religious extremism and Jewish hatred. Or KSJP can vehemently and adamantly condemn extremist terrorism, including Hamas, and also internally reconsider the information it disseminates and the narrative it fuels and how it actively contributes to antisemitism on campus. If KSJP does not condemn Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, then I know that some of my fellow Kenyon students support those that want me dead. If KSJP cannot condemn Hamas’ actions, then they do not acknowledge my fundamental right to live. If they cannot do that, then any glimmer of hope for academic discourse or human empathy in this discussion is gone.
Until then, I will continue to fret about whether my fellow classmates would believe that the murder of my family and friends would be justifiable. Is my younger sister, who follows in my footsteps by greeting the synagogue security guard every week, a legitimate target of resistance? Is the life of my grandfather, whose family hid in an apartment in Lyon from Nazis, expendable? Does my life — in the eyes of KSJP, my peers, whom I eat with, study with, laugh with, live with — mean anything? And if it does, why does the same liberty not apply to my friends and family in Israel? To me, the only difference is that I am here, at Kenyon, and my family is in Israel.
I believe that peaceful education and advocacy for Palestinian freedom has always been KSJP’s primary goal. More broadly, in its quest for fostering different viewpoints and educating the Kenyon public, KSJP must not lose sight of the Kenyon community’s mission of embracing differences and most importantly, of kindness, respect and integrity. Palestinians deserve the right to live. Israelis deserve the right to live. If KSJP, in the words of Kenyon’s mission statement, does not “recognize the fundamental dignity of all,” then Kenyon will cease to be a place where productive civil discourse is facilitated.
One can support a free Palestinian state without being antisemitic. One can express deep solidarity and despair at the horrible conditions of the Palestinian people in Gaza while at the same time conveying detestation for Hamas and for extremist terrorism. One can lament the more than 10,000 Palestinian men, women and children who have died in the conflict since Oct. 7, many of whom were murdered by the Israeli government, while also acknowledging and lamenting the murder of the more than 1,400 Israelis killed in Hamas’ attack. I know it is possible, because I do. And yet, it seems that KSJP is unable to do so, further alienating Kenyon’s Jewish population from its cause.
Growing up hearing my grandfather’s Holocaust stories, I believed I would never have to speak up against antisemitism ever again, that it belonged to a bygone era. Yet now, in 2023, it seems that saying acts of terrorism are unacceptable is a controversial take that nobody else is willing to openly say. So I am speaking up for my fellow Jews, for my fellow humans, who feel scared, alone and threatened. I am speaking out for those who feel they cannot. Never again is now.
Micah Arenstein ’26 is the business manager and a sports editor for the Collegian. He is an Arabic and International Studies major from Scarsdale, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.