Last week, some students at University of Chicago, where I attend, proposed a resolution to our College Council to divest from Chinese weapons manufacturers, in protest of China's severe human rights abuses and its long-standing occupation of Tibet.
Members of the council were quick to condemn the resolution, and for good reason. The members noted it was political, and disrespectful to Chinese students. Other members noted that Chinese students should be given time to respond to the presenters with a counter-presentation. One representative even suggested that the College Council issue an apology to Chinese students for even considering the resolution. The resolution was tabled indefinitely.
Curiously, when a few weeks earlier the same College Council passed a nearly identical resolution condemning Israel, no one suggested an apology. These same representatives argued why it was their moral imperative to condemn Israel. They were determined to push this through at all costs, and despite requests, they didn't even offer the other side an opportunity to present.
Over the past few weeks I have been told that Jews "don't count" as a minority. I have been accused of using anti-semitism to justify oppression. All I want to know is why my campus doesn't treat anti-semitism with the same rigor with which it treats any other forms of bias.
When Jews stood before the council, and asked that it recognize the Jewish right to self-determination, a basic right for all people, people in the room laughed. One representative noted that "If we were to affirm the right to Jewish self-determination … it takes away from the intent of the resolution".
Students in the room that day called us racists and murderers and "apartheid supporters", for even thinking we, as Jews, could have a voice in the discussion over the one small state we call our own. A Jewish student was chided "You are racist and you are against me and my family’s existence". It was uncivil, and unproductive, but the council-members did not once that day condemn the personal nature of these attacks, or defend the rights of the opposition to make their case.
At one point, a student questioned the presenters, members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), about their organization allegedly holding a moment of silence for Palestinians who were killed while trying to murder Jewish Civilians. One of the presenters confirmed the moment, then responded without missing a beat "Palestinians have a right to honor their martyrs".
If the killing of any other ethnic group had been celebrated, the University would make grief counselors available. It would send out mass emails of condemnation. They would suspend the organization responsible, and possibly the students involved in it. The organization would certainly not have any credibility to present to the student government. Since the victims were Jews though, their celebration of murder went unchallenged. The representatives never even brought the issue up.
On the third slide of the presentation in favor of the resolution, presenters claimed that voting against the resolution would mean "maintaining a system of domination by Jews". The presenters were relying on one of the most common, long-standing, overtly anti-semitic tropes to make their case, and our representatives said nothing.
On the very next slide, the presenters shared a series of maps which MSNBC once famously referred to as deceptive, and "completely wrong". The maps (inaccurately) depict border changes between Israelis and Palestinians from 1946-200. What's most striking is the label though: "Jewish land versus Palestinian land over time". Not one representative questioned the label. Not one representative questioned the map. The only thing they were willing to question was the right for some state of Israel to exist, and the right to Jewish self-determination.
Student after student at that first meeting stood to explain to representatives how political and contentious the BDS movement was. They pointed out the movement's ties to terror and anti-semitism. Some suggested the representatives compromise and call for divestment, but drop the explicit ties to the BDS movement. On this issue, finally, our representatives spoke out.
"As a voting member, I don’t think it’s my job to appease people who don’t support BDS".
On the China resolution, representatives were quick to point out that it "minimize[d] this issue into a political ploy". When it came to Israel though, the Council was happy to attempt to speak for its 5,000 constituents without hearing from the other side. They even violated procedure to shut out student voices one meeting, to expedite the vote. The one student they allowed to speak at the meeting was an activist in favor of the resolution.
One representative pointed out to the council that "this [BDS resolution] is being passed a week after a presentation for 15 minutes from one side of the debate, and the opposition ... was never formally given time before College Council". Another pointed out that "it is disingenuous to say that we have moral voice to represent the students and speak on this issue". That didn't stop the same representative who seemed so concerned about minimizing the struggles of the Chinese people as a political ploy, from voting for another political ploy.
Their coldness in minimizing the struggles of Jews, living with a legacy of being expelled and exterminated, was mind-boggling to me.
Then again, these biases, and suppressions of speech shouldn't surprise me, given the system that these Representatives work in. They control $2 million in funding for events and clubs, and they wield that power to silence dissenting voices.
When SJP held events in support of the divest resolution, one of the sponsors was University of Chicago's own Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
This week is Yom Hashoah, which commemorates the six million Jews that were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. On this day of remembrance, we say "Never forget. Never again". Yom Hashoah also commemorates an international commitment not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Sadly, fifty-three years after this day was first honored, we seem to be forgetting those lessons. As a campus we're remarkably tolerant of gender, race, and sexuality in general. Why is it that we're so uncaring about this one, very real form of racism?
Update (4/05): One thing I didn’t originally emphasize enough is how grateful I am to the 4-5 representatives on the council who genuinely recognized what this resolution was, and spoke and stood against it. I’ve tried my best throughout this article not to name names, but I do want thank those representatives.