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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Response to 'Suspension of SJP, Rutgers' lack of commitment to academic freedom, necessity for divestment'

Zionism did not disrupt peace but sought equal rights for Jewish people, and ignoring its history hinders productive campus dialogue. – Photo by

In writing this response, I want to focus specifically on The Daily Targum article titled, "Suspension of SJP, Rutgers' lack of commitment to academic freedom, necessity for divestment," published on January 25.

In this commentary on the suspension and subsequent reinstatement of Students for Justice in Palestine at Rutgers—New Brunswick (SJP), the article concluded with, "To be for divestment is to be anti-Zionist, anti-settler colonialism and anti-apartheid, not antisemitic. To be for divestment is to envision a democratic Palestine, restoring a land where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony before the settler-colonial project of Zionism implemented the Nakba and a system of apartheid."

This article was filled with mistruths and historical ignorance, but these two short statements managed to deny both history and reality in a way that cannot be ignored.

The first alleges that "anti-Zionism" is not an anti-Jewish ideology, completely ignoring both the history of anti-Zionism and its modern manifestations. To understand the connection between the "anti-Zionism" we see today and antisemitism, we must first understand where modern "anti-Zionism" finds its roots.

What many refer to today as "anti-Zionism" is tangibly connected to the Soviet Union's state policy of antisemitism. In the 1972 article "The Origins and Development of Soviet Anti-Semitism: An Analysis," author William Korey describes how the Soviets redefined "corporate Jews" and "Zionists" as imagined villains to scapegoat their own Jewish populations and further their foreign policy interests.

When the Soviet Union opposed Israel, it simply recycled older antisemitic tropes and ideas under the guise of a new ideology called "anti-Zionism." As scholar Izabella Tabarovsky explains in "Soviet Anti-Zionism and Contemporary Left Antisemitism," Soviet propagandists used older antisemitic tracts, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and even Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," as sources of information about Zionism. Tabarovsky links this decades-long propaganda push by the Soviet Union against Jews to current "anti-Zionism", attributing many anti-Israel tropes to anti-Jewish sources.

Recently, Right-wing antisemites and Leftist "anti-Zionists" have found a lot of common ground. An easy example is the Boston "Mapping Project," led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which began as an effort to map Jewish and Zionist institutions and was promoted by white supremacists.

Another example is when former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke praised Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for publicly promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories of dual loyalty among American Jews.

Brandeis University also published a report that concluded, "One of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus."

The article claims that "anti-Zionism" is not antisemitic, but doing so actively ignores the historical and contemporary connections between the two.

The author also expresses a desire to return to Palestine before 1948, before the modern state of Israel, when Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived in peace. But looking at history shows that this was never the case.

Before the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947 and Israel's independence in 1948, the land was controlled by Britain as Mandatory Palestine. Under British rule, several massacres of Jewish communities occurred, where Arab mobs killed Jews in the streets and in their homes, in some cases with no British interference.

This includes the infamous 1929 Hebron Massacre, in which dozens of Jewish residents were slaughtered by their Arab neighbors. Many of those killed were not even recent immigrants (not that it should matter). This was a Jewish community that was hundreds of years old, now entirely destroyed.

The Hebron massacre was not unique. There were the Jaffa Riots of 1921, the Nebi Musa Riots of 1920 and the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt, which sought to prevent Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany from entering the land in the years leading up to the Holocaust. There is a certain callousness required to call the blockade of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany living "in harmony."

This strategy of blocking Jewish refugees from safety in Palestine dates back to when the Ottoman Empire controlled the region. In the 1880s, it became Ottoman policy to stop Jewish immigration to the region, which had increased due to state-sponsored pogroms in the Russian Empire. During this time of supposed "harmony," it was literally illegal for Jews to even seek refuge in Palestine.

Under Ottoman governance, Jews in the land were also often left unprotected from pogroms and massacres perpetrated by local Arab leaders, and many of these massacres predated the inception of political Zionism in the late 19th century with Theodor Herzl's book "The Jewish State."

The 1517 Hebron and Safed Massacres, the 1660 Safed and Tiberias Pogroms, the 1834 Hebron and Safed Pogroms and the 1838 Safed Riot all predated Theodor Herzl's birth. So, to claim that this violence came from some principled "anti-Zionism" is a misguided notion with a complete lack of historical understanding, as all the massacres of (ancient) Jewish communities listed predate any idea of modern Zionism.

Jews all over the Middle East were subjected to these pogroms and massacres, not because they were "Zionists" but because they were Jews. The Farhud in Iraq was a precursor to the mass expulsions and violence Jews would soon face all across the Middle East in the wake of the United Nations Partition Plan. The Jews who were killed in the 1947 anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo (from where my family came) were among those who did not emigrate to Mandatory Palestine, yet they were still killed, their ancient synagogue was burned and their businesses were looted.

The article's claims that anti-Zionism is not antisemitic and that everything was fine in Palestine before Zionist Jews showed up are historically illiterate, anti-Jewish propaganda. Modern anti-Zionism is just repackaged Soviet Jew-hatred, which is why white supremacists tend to love it so much. There never was harmonious coexistence in Palestine, even before Jewish immigrants arrived.

Zionism did not upend an orderly system, it simply demanded that Jews got the same rights to life, dignity and self-determination that others already enjoyed. Ignoring this history does not help anyone and ruins any chance of healthy campus dialogue.

Joe Gindi is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 600 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day's publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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