UVM is supposed to be a community where bigotry can find no sanction. Countless student organizations as well as faculty and staff have worked tirelessly to realize this ideal. As things stand, there is work to be done. Oppressive systems and attitudes still manifest themselves internally to our campus, but some of the most virulent hatreds we see in our community are external to it, from the fire and brimstone preachers that occasionally section off a portion of our quad to spew their dogma to the white supremacists leaving provocative signs around our campus over the last year. Rarely are actions and organizations so harmful to student health and security endorsed by a campus organization. This time, things are different. UVM Hillel has accepted funding for Pro-Israel programming on campus from the right wing Zionist organization Maccabee Task Force. Cloaking its agenda in the language of balance and nuance, Maccabee Task Force seeks to create a favorable climate for Israel in campus discourse through concerning means. To student leaders who are receptive to considering their message, MTF offers a guided tour of Israel designed to bewilder them with the complexities of the region so they will step back from any on-campus activism and “leave it to the experts.” This insidious tactic is designed to obscure the ease of access that we all have to information in the internet age and is rooted in a refusal to listen to Palestinian voices, many of whom have lived in occupied territory for most or part of their lives, and who share their experiences freely and fully online and on campuses throughout the country. Beyond this, more information leaves Israel and Palestine through the airwaves than will ever be available on a guided tour. Anyone can see Israeli tear gas being used against protestors in Gaza on Snapchat’s maps feature. In 2014 at the height of Israel’s second major invasion of Gaza during this century, Palestinians participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge using only the rubble from bombed out buildings after Israel shut off their water. These videos are still on YouTube. This information is already in front of our eyes. While Israel may decide that student leaders can enter its borders even as Palestinians who were born there cannot, walls and barriers can no longer contain calls for an end to oppression and testimony of human suffering. What they can do is provide a limited experience. They can show the kindness of Israel, while its malice is out of sight. They can tell a constrained story of a beautiful land, and show none of the violence that underpins it. These tours are unhelpful at best, and harmful propaganda at their worst.
The students that reject this narrative and its empty promises will be targeted for doing so. In addition to its own projects, Maccabee Task Force donates some of its funding to other far right groups including ones classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups such as the Horowitz Freedom Center, and organizations like the Zionist Organization of America who were more than happy to invite an open white supremacist, Steve Bannon, to their awards dinner as a keynote speaker. It also works closely with organizations like Canary Mission and CAMERA to create a surveillance network on American campuses and create a climate of fear around Pro-Palestinian activism underpinned by a blacklist which slanders student activists as anti-Semites through invasive and rigorous searches of any public documentation pertaining to their work and personal lives. The goal of these organizations is to ensure that students who speak out against Israeli atrocities cannot find jobs or further their education after they graduate. Both Jewish and non-Jewish students are targeted by these tactics. Internally, UVM Hillel’s alliance with the far right wing of Zionism will make it an unsafe environment for Jews of Color and queer Jewish students, many of whom dissent against Zionism in some capacity. Even if the Zionist right is willing to accept these students, its presence on campus acts as an open door for white supremacists and other right wing extremists who are not. Furthermore, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews are at risk of ostracization from their communities for their refusal to support apartheid carried out in their name. As a faith organization, Hillel should not predicate its inclusion on adherence to any political stance. Its coordination with a network of Zionist organizations willing to doxx and harrass some of its members is at serious odds with UVM Hillel’s image of itself as an inclusive space. Externally, the Zionist right and Hillel through its unfortunate complicity threaten some of the most vulnerable students on our campus. Websites like Canary Mission especially target black and brown organizers and student activists, relying on stereotyping and racism to portray them as violent, crass and harmful. Students already targeted by a carceral surveillance state which fears and disdains their bodies and lives should not have to feel especially targeted if they speak up against injustice on campus and around the world. In fact, no student activist should fear paying a personal price for their advocacy.
It is not enough for UVM Hillel to simply decline this funding. At SJP, we express a commitment to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry both within our own movement and in our broader community. This commitment is unconditional. More than that, it is essential to our vision for the collective and cooperative liberation of all people. We need to see some reciprocity. We need to see not just an end to association but a denunciation of the far right, of white supremacy, of the doxxing and harassment of student activists, by UVM Hillel. We will not rest until we do. We express our full solidarity with activists working inside Jewish institutional life to make these necessary reforms happen. Our liberty is bound together.
Students for Justice in Palestine