Letter to the Editor: Our identity will not be defined by Zionism

Graphic by Corrina Riess. 

A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS: This letter to the editor was published by The Butler Collegian after fact-checking. The opinions contained in this letter are those of the author. The Butler Collegian is committed to sharing diverse viewpoints from across the university and is committed to upholding values of free speech, but does not endorse or promote opinions contained within any letter to the editor. 

Dear Butler community,

We are Jewish Butler students and alumni who stand steadfastly opposed to the rhetoric introduced by Hillel’s letter regarding Zionism and antisemitism on Butler’s campus. Unfortunately, the discourse surrounding recent events on our campus has evolved. What was once a critical discussion on how Butler’s opaque bureaucracy supports systems of oppression is now an unproductive pity party as Zionist voices have hijacked the conversation to push a narrative of their own victimhood. 

Hillel’s rhetoric would have readers believe that Zionism and Judaism are one and the same, but this is a gross and harmful oversimplification.

We, as members of an unimaginably vast and diverse Jewish community, want to take this opportunity to educate the Butler community on what Zionism is, and more importantly what it is not. Zionism is not an identity: it is a movement predicated on establishing and preserving a state based on ethnic Jewish identity in the Middle East. 

There has never been unilateral support for Zionism among the Jewish community. From the Orthodox sects who reject the state’s right to rule over the holy land to the storied history of Jewish-American solidarity with the Palestinian people, the idea that Jewishness and Zionism are interchangeable, let alone directly related, is simply false. 

It is our belief, as Jewish anti-Zionists, that our history of oppression is being weaponized to justify the colonization of Palestine. 

To us, it is apparent that Israel does not exist for the benefit of the Jewish people. The false presentation of critique of the state of Israel as antisemitism is a distraction from the central issue regarding Zionism — the displacement and oppression of the Palestinian people. We, being Jewish activists with no less claim to our identity than the Zionist members of Hillel, have a right to make our voices heard on this matter without being homogenized into collaboration with a government that we believe to be racist and oppressive. 

Let us be clear: antisemitism does exist on Butler’s campus but in no way does it stem from the student organizers of color who are fighting to have their humanity recognized. It exists in the coded language that many of us know all too well; the prevalent conspiracy theories about Jewish billionaires secretly running the world, the invocation of tired tropes and caricatures and ‘harmless’ jokes made at the expense of our long history of systemic oppression. To eliminate the real, prevalent antisemitism at Butler, we must stand in solidarity with other members of Butler’s campus who doggedly fight to dismantle white supremacy in our community. 

Equating Zionism with Judaism, and insinuating that any criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic, works in the opposite direction. Not only are these claims false, but by implying that the vast diaspora of Jewish identity is fully represented by the state of Israel, we cheapen our culture. When individuals say that Zionism is too powerful a force in American culture and policy, that is not antisemitic not least of all because much of the unconditional support for Israel comes from Christian evangelists who believe that a Jewish state fulfills biblical prophecy.

Hillel’s letter hamfistedly speaks as an authority on Jewish identity and antisemitism. In reality, it is a small subset of students at a private, predominantly white institution who attempt to speak for the entirety of American Jewry. We assure you that they do not. In fact, anti-Zionist Jewish students on campus are often left without community because of Hillel’s maintenance of an atmosphere that attempts to makes Zionism conditional to Jewish identity. 

If there are Jewish students who feel targeted by Angela Davis’ solidarity with the Palestinian people, it may be in their best interest to reckon with why they are diametrically opposed to the most prominent Black activist of the last 60 years. 

Regardless of whether one supports the Zionist movement or not, it is essential that Zionism does not become the defining aspect of Jewish identity. We are so much more than what any state government or Christian prophecy could ever want us to be. 

We, as equal members of Butler’s Jewish community, will continue to celebrate our Jewish identities beyond the confines of whether or not we support the Zionist movement. We get to learn about and share our Mizrachi, Sephardi and Askenazi histories and experiences without trying to prevent others from learning about theirs. We should be able to have honest, open conversations about the roles Zionism and anti-Zionism play in our Jewish institutions and in our own understanding of our Jewishness but we can’t do that if our perspective, and by extension our identity, is erased by those who try to speak on our behalf.

Signed,

Andie Klarin, Class of 2022

Josie Levin, Class of 2022

Benjamin Gross, Class of 2020

Lydia Ochs, Class of 2020

Andres Salerno, Class of 2020

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