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‘If We Cannot Reject Israel's Killing of Palestinians, We've Failed to Learn From Our History’

A group of 36 Jewish students from Brown University condemned the violence by both Hamas and Israel, and advocated for the removal of what they said was an ongoing apartheid regime in Palestine.

New Delhi: A group of Jewish students at Brown University released an open letter on Tuesday (November 7) expressing their unequivocal stand for the rights and freedoms of Palestinians.

Their letter came a month after Hamas attacked communities in southern Israel, killing over 1,400 people, injuring about 5,400 others and taking around 240 hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel has retaliated with a brutal offensive into Hamas’s home territory, Gaza, resulting in the deaths of at least 10,569 people and around 26,475 others being wounded, Gaza’s health ministry said.

The group of 36 Brown University students said they condemned the violence by both sides and that they “cannot disentangle this violence from the political context in which it arose”.

They identified this political context as “a decades-long history of state-sanctioned and expansionist violence”, and said Israel had pursued “75 years of apartheid and occupation” prior to Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

“If we cannot acknowledge and reject Israel’s indiscriminate killing of thousands and forced displacement of over 1.5 million Palestinians, then we have failed to learn from our history,” the students also said, referring to the historic persecution faced by the Jewish community.

But their call for freedom for Palestinians does not involve the forced removal of Jews from Palestinian land, the students clarified.

“Liberating all of Palestine requires revolutionary change: not an eradication of Jews from the land, but a total dismantlement of the apartheid regime occupying it,” they said.

The students extended their solidarity to Palestinian student groups across the US and said that claims by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish advocacy group, that chapters of one such Palestinian group may be “providing material support to Hamas” were baseless.

“As friends and members of Brown [Students for Justice in Palestine], which operates autonomously from any national framework, we can confidently declare that the group does not provide support to Hamas,” the students’ open letter read.

It continued: “The ADL’s call for universities to “immediately investigate their campus SJP chapters” seeks to unjustly target, surveil and suppress Palestinian advocacy organisations for the sole crime of standing against Palestinian oppression.”

“In fact, in our experience, Brown SJP and [Palestine Solidarity Caucus] are the groups most forthrightly advocating for the safety and protection of Jewish students, staff and faculty who vocally oppose the actions of the Israeli state,” the students also said.

Their letter is reproduced in full at the end of this article.

On Wednesday (November 8), ten people – most of them college students — were arrested after they interrupted a legislative hearing in Washington, D.C. on free speech on college campuses with pro-Palestine slogans.

Six others in a separate incident were arrested in nearby Arlington, Virginia for protesting the Israel-Hamas war outside the office of US defence contractor Raytheon, its report also said.

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An open letter from Jewish students

Solidarity is the political version of love.” – Jewish feminist activist Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz

As of today, it has been a month since the Oct. 7 attacks that have dominated global political consciousness and discourse, not to mention our experiences as young Jewish people. Zionist institutions purport to be representative of all Jews, often using us as a rhetorical shield to support the unconscionable actions of the state of Israel. We feel a particular pain as Jews having to continuously justify our stance against genocide. We are here to make ourselves clear: We stand in solidarity with Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus in the pursuit of the liberation of Palestinian peoples. We know intimately that Jewish struggles are necessarily bound up in global struggles for freedom. We are a group of Jewish students who have coalesced around our shared vision of justice, anti-occupation, liberation and community. We ask you to listen to us now:

1. What do we mean when we say, “from the river to the sea”?

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is not a call for the forced removal of Jews from Palestine or, as it is commonly misconstrued, a call to “throw Jews into the sea;” instead, it is a call for the end to the oppression of all Palestinians — in Gaza, the West Bank and within the Green Line. Liberating all of Palestine requires revolutionary change: not an eradication of Jews from the land, but a total dismantlement of the apartheid regime occupying it. The assumption that this phrase is inherently genocidal falsely conflates liberation with the annihilation of each citizen of the oppressive state and ignores its liberatory intent. Within this conflation, we hear a racist assumption that Palestinians are ruthless “animals” and an intentional obscuring of the violent intent of a neo-fascist government — a characterization shared even by writers in Israel’s newspaper of record. It is not only blatantly false but obscene to frame a call for liberation and justice as genocidal while Israel is carrying out genocide in Gaza funded by billions of American tax dollars. If calling for a future in which Palestinians can live in their homeland unshackled implies an existential threat to the Zionist ideology, it is that ideology that must be called into question — not the call for liberation.

2. Are we saying that antisemitism doesn’t exist?

Of course not. Every single author of this piece has lost ancestors to state-sanctioned anti-Jewish violence. We have all grown up grappling with the intergenerational ripples of such atrocities. There is no question that antisemitism exists.

But we do not accept a Jewish ethnostate as the solution to our struggle. By using the Shoah and our collective traumas to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the Israeli military project insults the memory of our ancestors. We will not allow history to repeat itself; “never again” calls for the protection of everyone — Jews and non-Jews alike — from genocide.

If we cannot acknowledge and reject Israel’s indiscriminate killing of thousands and forced displacement of over 1.5 million Palestinians, then we have failed to learn from our history.

We want to illustrate a distinction that many Zionists attempt to obfuscate: First, there is the spiritual entity of Israel — as Jacob’s alias, as the Jewish people, as a word that features in many of our prayers. Then, there is the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. Even the nomenclature of the state of “Israel” serves to confuse political Zionism with Judaism and Jewishness. This conflation is dangerous and ignores a long and ongoing history of Jewish opposition to Zionist nation-state ideologyWe hold our opposition to the state simultaneously with our connection to the amorphous spiritual entity. 

3. Do we feel unsafe on campus in the midst of pro-Palestine activism?

We do not feel threatened by pro-Palestine advocacy on College Hill. Rather, we are compelled to stand alongside Brown’s Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus. Their objectives are clear: to demand a ceasefire, divestment and protections for students

Demanding that Brown advocates for a ceasefire does not endanger Jewish students. Nor does demanding divestment from weapons manufacturers such as Textron and Raytheon, or protections for Palestinian students and their allies. In fact, in our experience, Brown SJP and PSC are the groups most forthrightly advocating for the safety and protection of Jewish students, staff and faculty who vocally oppose the actions of the Israeli state. Our relative safety on this campus is what allows us to write this statement in alignment with Brown SJP and PSC while publicizing our names. And, if we were to feel a shift in that safety, we would find solace and support in (this) community and diaspora, not in any Zionist institution.

4. How do we respond to the ADL and Brandeis Center Letter to Presidents of Colleges and Universities?

On Oct. 25, the Anti-Defamation League released a letter to hundreds of schools that makes the baseless and unsubstantiated claim that chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine may be “providing material support to Hamas.” As friends and members of Brown SJPwhich operates autonomously from any national framework, we can confidently declare that the group does not provide support to Hamas. The ADL’s call for universities to “immediately investigate their campus SJP chapters” seeks to unjustly target, surveil and suppress Palestinian advocacy organizations for the sole crime of standing against Palestinian oppression. This ADL letter is one of many McCarthyite campaigns to silence pro-Palestine voices in the name of Jewish protection. Brandeis has since banned its chapter of SJP, revoking funding and permits for the group. We urge our institution and community to resist this narrative and invest our effort in protecting those most vulnerable on this campus: Palestinian students and their allies.

5. Do we condemn Hamas?

When people ask us this question, we hear a variety of other questions implicit within it, including:

“Do you recognize that Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7 was an act of horrific violence?”

To that, we say, unequivocally, yes.

“Do you see and feel the suffering that Israeli families must be feeling in the wake of that violence?”

An unequivocal yes to this too. We suffer too; some of our families have been directly impacted.

“Do you condemn the antisemitism expressly written into Hamas’s 1988 charter?”

Yes.

And we cannot disentangle this violence from the political context in which it arose: a decades-long history of state-sanctioned and expansionist violence. The atrocities following Oct. 7 are a continuation of 75 years of apartheid and occupation. Over the past month, the Israeli government has wrought comprehensive devastation on Palestinians across Gaza, shutting off electricity; rendering aid for hospitals and any line of communication with the outside world impossible; destroying homes, neighborhoods, whole family lines and refugee camps. And this is not just a response to the Hamas attacks, but an intentional escalation of the last 16 years in which Gaza has been an open-air prison and the Israeli state has abusively commanded the import, export and management of vital resources into and out of Gaza.

Let us also remember: Hamas is not Gaza; Hamas is not Palestine. And Hamas’s violence cannot justify the genocide of the Palestinian people. Nothing can.

6. Are we mourning?

We mourn for our Jewish and Israeli friends and family, and our Palestinian friends and community. We understand that, as our Jewish community mourns our lost loved ones, members of our Palestinian community have a right to focus on their suffering too. We stand strong in our belief that acknowledging the coexisting pain of multiple groups should never be taboo. Thus, we call on our Jewish communities to not only mourn for ourselves but to take action to protect the civilians of Gaza being bombed every day in their homes.

Our mourning is endless and informs our calls to prevent further loss. Our mourning is our teacher — it tells us we are all connected as humans. The way we make sense of grief manifests in action as we heed the Jewish calls of “tikkun olam,” repairing our broken world, and “tzedek,” justice. We can never let our mourning allow us to stand by as Israel’s military dehumanizes Palestinians with language like “human animals” and kills over 10,000 Gazans since Oct. 7. We are mourning all lives lost while standing unequivocally for the rights and freedom of Palestinians. Both can be true.

7. Why do we stand with Brown SJP?

We stand with Brown SJP because Brown SJP stands for liberation and life for all, which the Jewish tradition upholds. Alongside Brown SJP, we advocate for an immediate ceasefire, divestment and protection of students. We stand against our university’s complicity in the manufacturing and selling of weapons of war. Jewish and Israeli safety is not mutually exclusive with Palestinian liberation; in fact, they are inextricably intertwined. Both for the sake of our own and our families’ safeties and for the safety of our Palestinian cousins, we stand for both. We stand unambiguously for liberation.

Conclusion

We will not shy away from calling out injustice in the world; we will not let our Jewish identity be co-opted. Our Judaism compels us to oppose the Israeli state. Our Torah commands:

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 23:9

And we must heed. Palestinians are our cousins, our peers at Brown, natives of the land, human beings whose lives matter. You shall not oppress a stranger.

We write these words from the diaspora, and it is from here that we wish to better our world. As we grapple with millennia of Jewish struggle and survival, we will not abandon our Palestinian cousins and peers, or let them stand alone. This genocide cannot continue.

Not in our names. With or without our names: Never. 

This op-ed was written and signed by the following students:

Ingrid Ansel-Mullen ’24, Rafi Ash ’26, Maggie Bauer ’24, Samantha Bloom ’25, Noa Brown ’26, Maize Cline ’26, Lily Cork ’25, Julia Dubnoff ’27, Jesse Edelstein ’24, Ifadayo Engel-Halfkenny ’27, Ruth Engelman ’25, Aaron Epstein ’25, Zoe Federman ’23.5, Edie Fine ’25, Lily Gardner ’26, Eli Gordon ’25, Eli Grossman ’24, monique jonath ’24, Simone Klein ’25, Lucy Lebowitz ’24, Mica Maltzman ’25, Anila Marks ’26, Oscar McNally ’25, Callie Rabinovitz ’24, Maya Renaud-Levine ’26, Ariela Rosenzweig ’24, Hannah Saiger ’25, Joe Saperstein ’24, Lola Simon ’24, Karma Selsey ’24, Isaac Slevin ’25, Sam Stewart ’24, Emilia Peters ’24, Neshima Vitale-Penniman ’25, Yoni Weil ’24 and Tema Zeldes-Roth ’24.5  

The group can be reached through [email protected]. Please send responses to this opinion to [email protected] and other op-eds to [email protected].