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An Open Letter to the President of the Undergraduate Students Association at UCLA (USAC)

The student leadership of Hillel at UCLA was asked to give input on a letter entitled “Statement on Palestinian Solidarity” that was written by the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA following a ceasefire in the region. After reading this letter, we were unequivocal: the statement is completely unacceptable.

Rather than expressing a message of coexistence and the possibilities for long-term peace, the statement erases the experiences of Jews and Israelis who have also been directly impacted by the recent conflict in the Middle East. The letter accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, settler-colonialism, and apartheid and offers familiar calls to boycott and divest from Israel.

This statement actively promotes the antisemitic language fueling direct attacks against Jews in recent days. It is intellectually disingenuous and tragically misinformed. It represents a broader campaign to delegitimize the fundamental right of Jews to self-determination.

Let us be crystal clear: We affirm that Palestinians deserve self-determination and independence. We uphold their human rights. This is possible through a negotiated solution between both parties. Neither side will ever succeed in pushing the other into the sea. If this letter focused on Sheikh Jarrah or similar cases of Palestinian displacement, we’d be open to working with the Council on creating a statement of solidarity.

Many in our community are critical of the actions of the Israeli government. We do not believe that all such criticism is antisemitic. This statement, however, is fundamentally about delegitimization and does not recognize the right of the Jews to their own state, like every other people, including the Palestinians. It completely rejects the possibility of coexistence through mutual understanding and compromise. Instead, it takes the easy, and inaccurate, path of scapegoating the Jewish state for all of the problems of the region.

There are many Israeli students on our campus who are living in great fear for their families right now. There are even more Jewish students who are coming under attack online and in person in our city, from people who are conflating all Jews with the actions of the Israeli government. Agitators are waving Palestinian flags, driving around in Jewish neighborhoods, asking who is Jewish and then assaulting them.

Our friends and families have faced direct attacks in recent days, and the surge of antisemitic content on social media platforms has left many isolated and scared. The outpouring of antisemitism has been well-reported and documented, so much so that Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Chancellor Spain Bradley released a powerful statement of support for our community this week, which we greatly appreciate. We know you, our USAC President, read it because you decided to post a screenshot onto your Instagram story with the caption “this place make me sick” layered on top of the Chancellor’s message that “Anti-Semitism has no place in our community.”

Words have meaning and consequences. Defamation, libel, and propaganda have the power to incite violence. Current events, such as the 568% increase in antisemitic incidents in the past two weeks, provide ample examples.

To address this statement, numerous Hillel student leaders took time out of the end of their quarter, when we should have been studying for finals. We felt incredibly invalidated after our efforts as we were questioned repeatedly as to why we found the statement offensive and disrespectful.

Instead of hearing our concerns, pain, and personal stories, USAC added a discussion of this statement to their Tuesday evening agenda and invited the Jewish community for public comment only 45 minutes before the start of the meeting. This is the same kind of behavior for which the previous council apologized.

Speaking of which, we appreciate the work of your predecessors, in particular the 2016 bylaws change promising not to cause harm to other communities. We also affirm the UC Regent’s Principles Against Intolerance, UCLA’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion office, and the support we receive from the administrators, faculty, fellow students, and members of your own governing body.

We especially thank the current USAC councilmembers who have heard our concerns and understand how it is possible to affirm solidarity with Palestinian students without furthering the hateful language we have seen in recent days.

We simply ask that you treat us with the respect and dignity that you would offer any other minority community on this campus. As such, we ask that you stop asking us to educate you. Do not tokenize us or undermine our community leadership. Do not try to define antisemitism in defiance of widely accepted definitions that recognize the often overlapping nature of anti-Zionism and antisemitism and, more importantly, in contradiction of our own experiences as Jews.

If you really want to oppose “any and all anti-Semitic attitudes that have been expressed at this moment and in the past,” you can start with your proposed statement and your disregard for the thousands of Jewish and Israeli students and allies at UCLA.

We are open to building a relationship with USAC and your office, as long as there is mutual respect and an understanding that the Jewish community at UCLA matters as much as every other community on our campus.

Respectfully,

Binat Gousinov, President, Hillel at UCLA (2021-2022)
Danit Hetsroni, President, Hillel at UCLA (2020-2021)

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