‘Safe Spaces’ are all the rage, yet are being denied to Jewish students on campus, even ‘Jews of colour’ like Iranian Jew Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. According to The Tower, US students are raising the banner against every form of racism except anti-Jewish racism. (Even the Holocaust is now being referred to as ‘white on white’ crime). What’s more, universities are petri dishes for antisemitic slanders.
Undergraduates at Berkeley, California
Mokhtarzadeh applied to the Students of Color Conference with the
hope “of learning more about the experiences of communities of color at
the UC… [and] sharing with those communities the experience of my own,”
she told me. As an Iranian Jew, she believed her identity as both a
religious and ethnic minority granted her a place to belong and thrive
at the SOCC. Rosenberg (who requested a pseudonym so that he could speak
freely about campus issues without fear of potential retaliation) said
that growing up in the Bay Area had taught him to be an active member of
social justice movements and progressive communities. “I was always
encouraged to take initiative on issues and movements that didn’t
directly affect me,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the
struggles that my fellow students were going through.”
But their experiences as Jewish students at the SOCC would soon
inspire a rude awakening: the campus progressives who were fighting for
justice on college campuses for students of color weren’t only ignoring
anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish identity—they were sometimes the
ones perpetuating it.
This was quickly made clear on the first day at a session called
“Existence is Resistance,” hosted by leaders of UC San Diego’s SJP
chapter. Students discussed the boycott of Israel as an issue of urgency
for students of color.
Rosenberg and Mokhtarzadeh told me that they
originally had no intention to engage in dialogue about Israel at the
conference, but they were horrified at how attacks on Israel soon
devolved into attacks on the Jews. “The session went way beyond the
boundaries of what was appropriate or truthful at the SOCC,”
For example, they said that Israel was poisoning the water that they
sell into the West Bank, and raising the price by ten times. Any sane
person knows that this is not true. They also said that when
Jewish-American students go on Birthright trips, the Israeli government
offers you money to live on a settlement. A number of things like that.
Rosenberg also stated that “There was also no mention of the
Holocaust when talking about the history of Israel. They said that in
the late 19th century, Jews decided to move into this land and take over
it. They completely white-washed our history as a people.”
Mokhtarzadeh was also horrified by the rhetoric used during the session.
Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my
history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a
movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland
was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of
innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the
land, and denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered.
Why anyone in their right mind would accept these slanders as truths
baffles me. But they did. These statements, and others, were met with
endless snaps and cheers. I was taken aback.
At a conference facilitated by peers who they believed were fighting
the righteous battle against racist speech and hate crimes, Mokhtarzadeh
and Rosenberg heard anti-Semitic statements that were met with applause
and approval—statements like “the state of Israel pays Jews to move to
Israel to join the army and kill Palestinians” and even “you shouldn’t
buy Ben and Jerry’s because they’re Jewish and have a shop in Israel.”
But perhaps the most painful, and upsetting portion of SJP’s
presentation was the section called “Intifada: Peaceful Uprising.”
Mokhtarzadeh, a proud Zionist, raised her hand to protest, but it was
too late. The whole room—representing a diverse cross-section of
progressive activists and students of color—was holding hands, embraced
in each other’s support and calling out “Free, free Palestine!”
They walked out, Mokhtarzadeh on the verge of tears. Rosenberg tried
to reflect on what he had heard and experienced. “It wasn’t even just
about that session,” he confessed.
It was a prevailing sentiment that I felt at the conference and in
the progressive community, that because I am Jewish, I cannot be an
activist who supports Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQ community. When I
heard that among my peers that “the Jews are oppressors and
murderers—How can you care about students of color on campus when
they’re murdering our people abroad?”—it quickly dawned on me that it
wasn’t that they don’t like us because we’re pro-Israel—they don’t like
us because we’re Jews. We were targeted. It’s such a shame that the SOCC
solidified and supported this belief of mine.
It was, ironically, in a safe space intended to protect students from
discrimination and bigotry in which their Jewish identity was
marginalized, ostracized, and politicized. And it was the progressive
students and students of color—often themselves targets of hate,
bigotry, and discrimination—who were the propagators of ancient hatreds
against the Jewish people.
Mokhtarzadeh still painfully remembers that weekend. “I was made to
feel uncomfortable and unwanted in a space that was meant to be
inclusive and safe,” she said. “It was in that moment, during that
conference, that I realized that every identity and every intersection
of identity was to be welcomed and championed in progressive
An intersectional failure(Tablet)