Bend The Arc Statement on Campus Protests

Bend The Arc Statement on Campus Protests

April 25, 2024

As we celebrate Passover this week, we are seeing Jewish students and faculty showing up Jewishly, joining and helping to lead protests on college campuses across the nation. And we have been watching with increasing concern. Concern for Jewish safety, but also concern for our democracy. Protest is essential to our movement work and must be protected, and we firmly stand against antisemitism being used as an excuse to threaten free speech and criticism of university and U.S. policy. To be clear, criticism of American policy towards Israel is not inherently antisemitic.

When protests become popular movements, they bring everyone from everywhere, with all their experiences and talents. They can also bring what afflicts our society, such as antisemitism, anti-Black racism, sexism, and homophobia. These oppressions are not reflective of the movements themselves, though critics would have you believe that they define them. Many have used accusations of antisemitism, real and perceived, to attempt to discredit these protests.

The ability of Jewish students to express their Judaism, their values, and their beliefs across a full range of political views is essential and must be protected. We must not erase them from this story. They are hosting Shabbat services in tents, holding Seder, and are showing up not just for Jewish safety, but for the safety of all people.

Jewish people have long played a role in practicing free speech and protest on campus. These protests are part of our democracy. We proudly remember the movements for Civil Rights, against the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, Occupy, Black Lives Matter, and fights against sexual violence on campus. Unfortunately, these moments also recall the unconstitutional, dangerous, and unnecessary policing of these protests. We recall the images from Kent State in 1970, when the National Guard killed four peaceful, anti-war student protesters (three of whom were Jewish). Today, college administrations are bowing to McCarthy-esque congressional hearings; evicting, suspending, and arresting Jewish and other students; and barring access to places of worship and freedom to partake in Jewish ceremony — all in an obvious attempt to appease the Right.

Many Jews, on campus and otherwise, are experiencing Passover feeling a heightened fear about antisemitism. And we see how student organizers, Jewish and non-Jewish, have powerfully shown up against occurrences of antisemitism, creating safety for Jewish students. Their values and discipline in opposing antisemitism remain in stark contrast to those who claim to fight antisemitism but instead use it to sow division between Jews and our communities, undermine democracy, and fulfill the goals of white nationalism.

And in this critical dialogue about the safety of Jews and everyone in our nation, we must not allow political interests to obscure the meaning we take away from these protests: that U.S. policy must support safety and self-determination for all Palestinians and Israelis, and that next year, we make Seder in peace.

Chag Sameach.