Rejecting Condemnation of Israel at Yale

Dear beloved, dispersed members of Yale’s Jewish community,

We hope our message finds each of you well.

As you may already know, earlier tonight the Yale College Council (YCC) voted to adopt a Statement of Condemnation against Israel by a narrow margin.

Yale’s undergraduate Jewish leaders devoted the past several weeks to opposing the Council’s adoption of this measure. In their opening remarks at tonight’s meeting, they urged the YCC to consider the effects of this condemnation on Yale’s students,

If YCC were to sign on to such a one-sided and totalizing statement, they would position themselves, as representatives of the entire student body, firmly against Israel. Severe condemnation becomes the new baseline, and those who fall short of that stand outside the community. Not only does this cast aside students who support Israel, but without a neutral baseline, it makes it harder to maintain an environment of open dialogue and forces students, particularly Jewish students, to take a stance.

As YCC, you are committed to promoting the mental and social health of the Yale undergraduate community. This has been anything but a healthy situation for Jews at Yale. In May, the attention on Israel and on Jews as its perceived representatives led to open hostility on social media, vandalism of synagogues and of campus Hillels, such as Harvard’s, even physical anti-semitic attacks, such as those in New York, LA, and London. Although much of this occurs far from Yale, the anxiety and fear is present nevertheless. YCC has done nothing to address that anxiety, but your signing on is likely to exacerbate it.

Slifka Center is a proponent of every student group raising its voice at Yale. We are practitioners of student democracy internally and supporters of it throughout the university and beyond. We are animated by commitments to truth and justice, including by identifying and combating entrenched structures of inequality and oppression. Finally, we are committed to the broadest range of moral and political positions on Israel and Palestinian rights — including views left, right, and center that challenge accepted opinion and use prophetic claims to highlight moral crises.

It is because of, and not despite, these commitments that we object to the YCC condemning Israel. The adopted statement is one-dimensional and myopic to the point of willful ignorance, unworthy of this university’s dedication to the world-shaping power of truth. More concerningly, the statement’s silence on Israeli deaths – reserving its concern exclusively for Palestinians – sends a chilling message that Jewish lives and deaths are unworthy of comment, much less moral outrage. In erasing the dangers confronting Jews at a moment of rising antisemitic violence here in America, the very body entrusted with the welfare of Yale’s undergraduate students has not only veered from its mission; it has betrayed the students it was created to defend.

Sadly, our duties tonight – to the Jewish community and to Yale at large – include highlighting this condemnation’s antisemitic overtones. We do not invoke the charge of antisemitism lightly, particularly because it has been weaponized to silence even measured and justified criticism of Israel. But this statement is neither measured nor justified: it characterizes the Jewish state as an agent of the world’s most reprehensible forces and guilty of the most unspeakable crimes – in other words, demonically. In so doing, this condemnation stands in a two-millenium chain of antisemitic works. This genealogy may be invisible to its authors and adherents because the outsized perfidy they ascribe to the Jewish state is formulated in contemporary terms – but it is clear, terrifying, and familiar to us. So tonight, with grief and resolve, we are reckoning with the dawning realization that antisemitism at Yale is not confined neatly to the quota era of the past, but is a component of life for today’s Jewish students.

Tonight’s decision was not in keeping with the YCC’s stated mission of “protect[ing] student rights and freedoms; foster[ing] school unity and pride.”  It was a betrayal of this promise of protection and a blow to the moral fiber that binds Yale and humanity together.

We write these words with full knowledge that some Jewish undergraduates were among those advocating for the YCC’s adoption of this condemnation. We embrace them – you – as members of our Jewish community, along with your commitments to Judaism and to justice. Our response to tonights’ vote is not about politics, but the justified fear and concern felt by many members of our community – and our sacred obligation to stand with and for every member of Yale’s Jewish community.

All of us at Slifka Center stand in solidarity with everyone whose commitments to the equal dignity of all residents of Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel impel them to seek a just peace, and who are able and willing to simultaneously hold the complexity and anguish of both Palestinian and Jewish pain. Sadly, tonight’s decision was a defeat for these principles. We hope that in the coming months the YCC will make good on its responsibilities to Jewish students, and to all Yale students. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to an expansive vision and practice of Judaism, one that defies antisemitism but is not defined by that defiance, reaching always outward as we build a home for every Jewish student and a welcoming destination for all – a beacon of dialogue, moral vision, and humanity.

 

Yours in solidarity,

Uri Cohen, Executive Director

Rabbi Jason Rubenstein, Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale

Ruthie Davis, Hillel Student Board Co-President

Zevi Siegal, Hillel Student Board Co-President