I stayed awake late last night to read the reports of Israelis being ruthlessly murdered in Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel. Soon after I woke up this morning, I texted my father that I was not excited to be a Jew on Stanford’s campus today. Even when typing those words, I had no idea what was coming.
This morning at Old Union, one of the most popular gathering places on campus, anonymous students hung up a banner stating, “The Israeli occupation is NOTHING BUT AN ILLUSION OF DUST.”
On Instagram, my classmates posted a photo of the banner in support. One even wrote: “Every martyr that fought today and in every moment against the occupation is so deep in my heart. May the freedom of Palestine be something we get to see in our lives with our own eyes.”
Also on Instagram, my classmates posted infographics declaring that, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” My classmates asked their followers, “Do you support decolonization as an abstract academic theory? Or as a tangible event?”
Decolonization as a “tangible event,” according to my classmates, translates into raping young Israeli women and dragging their naked bodies through the streets. “Decolonization” to them means young Israelis taken hostage for their nationality, the kidnapping of innocent mothers and their babies, and the dragging of innocent bystanders out of their cars before gunning them down. As of my writing this article, the reported Israeli death count has reached three hundred people. But that will prove to be a vast underestimate for a country that is currently experiencing a 9/11-type attack.
Hours ago, I saw a photo of a young woman with a gunshot wound to her abdomen as she lay dead and abandoned. If the circumstances of my birth had been slightly different—if I were born into a Jewish family in Israel instead of California—that woman could have been me.
For those Stanford students who have taken this opportunity to cheer the brutal aggression of Hamas, this sort of “decolonization” is to be celebrated. It is a day to hang banners and make social media posts advocating for the complete destruction of Israel.
Thankfully, there are other students on campus willing to take these activists to task.
Some non-Jewish friends who saw the banner go up at Old Union told me about a Jewish student who took the banner down around noon. We discussed whether the banner could be considered hate speech or not. I do not think it is, and have argued in favor of protecting potentially antisemitic expression as free speech. But no Jew can be blamed for taking down a banner that equates the world’s sole Jewish state to mere “occupation” on a day when terrorists are slaughtering Jews relentlessly in the only place in the world where we are promised safety.
With a fellow Jewish student who requested anonymity, I discussed the difficulties of living on a college campus where “Zionism” is a dirty word, often used as a proxy for apartheid and genocide. And it’s not just today when this truth is self-evident.
In the past year, a Jewish student living in my dorm had their door plastered with a portrait of Adolf Hitler. Swastikas were carved in bathrooms across campus.
Last spring, while walking to class, I overheard a student say to her friend that “she’s Jewish, but politically good.”
The history of Israel is undeniably fraught and complex. But Zionism is not a question to be relitigated. Israel does exist, and without the country’s continued existence, there is no guarantee that the seven million Jews living there now will be kept alive. “From the river to the sea” is an all-too-common rallying call to wipe out the Jews living in Israel who have nowhere else to go.
Like many American Jews, I can wax lyrical about how my grandmother found a home in Israel after Europe abandoned her and killed her family. When I complained about going to temple for the High Holidays as a child, my dad reminded me of when terrorists once invaded Israel on our holiest day of the year. In my young and naive mind, that story was but a history lesson. Not anymore.
Today, on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, Hamas has launched a new war against Israel that places my people and the country I adore in peril. I now realize why Jewry is so vigilant in defending itself: we are under constant danger. And I understand why Jewish students across Stanford are frightened.
Thank G-d that Jewish students are brave enough to take down the banners comparing my people to dust. I hope that we never need to take down another.