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Why We Stand With Israel

By Rebecca S. Araten and Sarah Bolnick, Contributing Opinion Writers

We are pleased, but not surprised, to see how much traction our Harvard Israel Initiative letter has gained: Over 1000 signatures from Harvard faculty, parents, alumni, and students across all Harvard schools, with over 100 of those from Harvard professors. Our inboxes were flooded with messages from Harvard affiliates who wanted to know how they could best spread our message in support of Israel and in solidarity against antisemitism.

We would like to thank all those who signed our letter.

We are grateful to President Bacow for his own letter denouncing the surge in antisemitic attacks across the country. We are encouraged by the abundance of people who came to speak at Cambridge City Council against a Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions-inspired resolution, which was ultimately defeated. We appreciate President Joe Biden reiterating Israel’s right to defend itself and promising to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which performed the miraculous feat of intercepting 90 percent of Hamas’s missiles launched from Gaza, saving countless civilian lives. And finally, we are grateful that an overwhelming majority of Americans continue to stand with Israel.

A poll from the Hill and HarrisX of 932 registered voters found that roughly 80 percent of Democrats supported President Biden’s response to the recent fighting between Gaza and Israel, and a different Gallup poll found that 85 percent of Republicans view Israel favorably. These voters are likely aware that Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza were a defensive response to being bombarded by more than 4,000 missiles from Gaza-based Hamas, a designated terrorist organization with an obvious mission of genocide against Jews, as advanced in their original 1988 covenant and by Hamas leadership, one of whom just last month urged their followers “to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives.”

Why is it that the people of the United States, the President, Congress, every country in Europe, Oceania, much of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and a growing number of Muslim-majority Arab Gulf States continue to support Israel’s right to exist? Why do so many of them explicitly assert Israel’s right to defend itself? Why are these countries eager to work with Israel to explore economic opportunities and joint technological projects despite the BDS movement’s efforts to demonize and delegitimize Israel by associating it with terms like “apartheid”?

Presumably, most of them see what is obvious to us — that charges calling Israel an “apartheid state” are false. “Apartheid,” the Afrikaans word for “apart-hood,” is defined as “a former policy of segregation and political, social, and economic discrimination against the nonwhite majority in the Republic of South Africa.” Those who misappropriate the term ignore that Israel is an inclusive democracy that affords equal political rights to all of its citizens — Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze, and others.

The Israeli Parliament is composed of all of these groups and has shown its legal commitment to equality through legislation that outlaws discrimination based on race, religion, sex, nationality, and sexual orientation. Arab citizens are integral members of Israeli society, serving as judges, police officers, physicians, scientists, and Knesset members since the state’s founding. They, like all Israeli citizens, are entitled to health care in a national health system and are provided public education in Hebrew or Arabic. Israel also does not practice apartheid in the West Bank, where Palestinians have their own government, or in Gaza, from which Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005.

We also suspect that most Americans recognize that the charge of colonialism is patently false. Jews have been living continuously in what is now Israel for millennia. Rather than colonialists serving some foreign power, many of the Jewish communities that returned to Israel in the past 100 years have come as immigrants and refugees from European and Arab countries. These people are as indigenous to the Israeli landscape as Masada and the Mediterranean Sea.

We maintain that Israel, like all countries, has numerous problems. And, like other democracies, it addresses those problems through its legal system, its commitment to open discussion, and with a populace that has always been willing to seek peace and change for the better. We understand that some well-intentioned BDS supporters are frustrated with the conditions in Gaza and what they see as a lack of progress in implementing a two-state solution. However, BDS is no remedy to these problems.

The founders of the BDS movement have clearly stated their opposition to self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, founder Omar Barghouti expressed that “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” BDS supporters like As’ad AbuKhalil have also stated that their goal is to “bring down the state of Israel.” One can only imagine how much bloodshed that would entail, but we are not surprised that these extremes are being considered, given that Barghouti has said, “we’re not ashamed to have armed resistance as well as peaceful resistance” when talking generally about Palestinians’ actions.

We are concerned that false labels such as apartheid serve to rile up the most dangerous sentiments against Jews in America. Indeed, American Jews have long been disproportionately targeted in hate crimes, with antisemitic attacks rising by 115 percent last month from the same time last year — in step with radical anti-Israel activity and demonizing anti-Israel narratives. It has not escaped us that many antisemitic verbal and physical attacks attempt to disguise themselves as anti-Israel activism. When three men drove through Borough Park in Brooklyn, harassing Jews, kicking a synagogue’s doors down, and yelling antisemitic slurs, their cries of “Free Palestine” did not excuse or negate their antisemitism. Similarly, the assault against Jewish diners in Los Angeles by protestors carrying Palestinian flags was an act of ethnically-targeted violence. It goes without saying that attacking Jews is not activism: It is antisemitism. We urge our peers to practice extreme caution with inflammatory language that could inspire violence that you might not anticipate.

If Harvard students and faculty wish to improve the standing of the Arab citizens of Israel and advocate for Palestinian self-determination, they should follow in the lead of Dr. Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Ra’am party in Israel’s new government coalition: Identify the problems that exist, formulate solutions, and work with the government and people of Israel to assure a day when all people – Israeli, Palestinian, and otherwise – can live in peace and dignity.

Rebecca S. Araten ’23 is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Mather House. Sarah Bolnick ’23, a former Crimson editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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