On April 26, the Associated Students of Madison passed legislation calling on the university to divest from corporations that profit from human rights violations. These violations include, but are not limited to, the Dakota Access Pipeline, mass incarceration, the U.S.-Mexico border wall and Israeli occupation. I stood in Ingraham Hall alongside some of the most kindhearted and accepting people I had ever met. I spoke out for what I believed in. As a Jewish student on the University of Wisconsin campus, it was one of the holiest experiences I’ve had in my time here.
For those who are unfamiliar, Judaism has deep roots embedded in activism and social justice. The Hebrew word “mitzvah” translates to “commandment” and is often used to refer to the 613 commandments G-d gave to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai. What I was taught through my religious education was a mitzvah was a good deed or action. It related to the term “tikkun olam,” or the “healing of the world.”
ASM unanimously approves contentious divestment proposal to mixed reactions from campusAfter five hours of debate and nearly 50 people appearing before open forum, the University of Wisconsin Associated Students of Read…
For centuries, Jews have been active in not only our own fight for social justice but that of others. Jews were active allies in the Civil Rights movement — another movement labeled “divisive” — and many of the freedom riders were American Jews. It is because of this activist background it is so hard for me to see my people openly support the state of Israel, and walk out of the ASM meeting as if they are the ones being victimized, rather than simply complicit in oppression.
I will not deny anti-Semitism is a very real and present threat. I have seen it and felt it throughout my life.
But to see my Palestinian peers accused of anti-Semitism for validating their existence is a horrible thing to witness, and it directly undermines the severity of real anti-Semitism. These are people who have let me into their homes and lives, who have never shied away from difficult conversations and have openly promised me they will stand by me in the face of anti-Semitism. Watching Jewish students deny them their voice and neglect the violence done to their people is truly shameful.
It is important to note Zionism and Judaism are very different things. One is a religious faith and cultural group, the other is a political ideology.
Zionism originated in Eastern Europe when institutional violence targeted Jews through isolated Jewish communities, limited mobility and forced exile. European nationalism had no room for Jewish people and thrived off their oppression. It was this nationalism that gave way to Zionism, and the same philosophy was then used to marginalize and exclude the Palestinian people in their own homeland.
Before anyone can call me a self-hating Jew, let me say openly — I love Judaism. I love everything from the shabbat candles to fasting on Yom Kippur.
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But I am also an activist, and I cannot support a government that violates the human rights of another group of people. Not only do I believe it to be morally wrong, but I believe it to be anti-Jewish.
Often times my beliefs require me to not only validate my Judaism (as I felt compelled to do for you just now) but mean I am spoken over and ignored within the Jewish community. There are other Jewish students on this campus who agree with me and face these experiences as well. Yet for some reason we are never the Jewish students taken into consideration by the university.
After the ASM meeting April 26, I received an email from Hillel disparaging the bill proposed by ASM. The email made the assumption all Jewish students support Israel, and that all Jewish students are against this bill.
In the statement released by Chancellor Rebecca Blank, more generalizations were made, implying the Jewish community unanimously felt targeted by the bill. Once more, my identity was used to denigrate something I actively support. I was not only ignored, but misrepresented. It is as if being a Jew and being pro-Palestine are mutually exclusive; it is as if I don’t exist.
This is one of the reasons I am so adamant about standing with Palestine. Palestinian students are consistently treated by the university as if they don’t exist. I watched the students on ASM raise their placards against mass incarceration, fossil fuels and more. But for some reason when my Palestinian peers spoke, the issue became so much more complicated and divisive. What became clear is the university would rather avoid conflict than say the lives of these students and their family members back home matter.
To Jewish students and all students across Madison and the country: that which is morally wrong is never as complicated as we wish it to be.
I understand it is hard to navigate a Jewish identity within this context. But these corporations do not care for us, and Israel is not our home if we are taking it from someone else. I felt G-d that day in Ingraham hall. I felt G-d among people of all different faiths standing together for a common goal. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t ignored, I wasn’t spoken over, I was there and my words and my presence actually did something.
Jewish students who oppose Israel and support divestment are here on this campus. We will not be ignored, we will not be silenced and we will continue to practice tikkun olam and mitzvah until the rest of the Jewish community and the rest of this campus catches up with us.
Nesha Ruther ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in Jewish studies, gender and women’s studies and English.