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On US Campuses, the Pain and Anger of the Jewish and Israeli Community

“There’s an old Jewish saying that says : If someone wants to kill you, you should believe them”, said Gal Zauberman. The Israeli and American professor does not hide his pain after the attack against Israel which caused the death of 1300 Israelis. His daughter lives there, so do his parents. But he continues to teach at Yale, one of the best universities in the world.

Among his students, some have perhaps condemned the Israeli regime after the atrocities of the last weekends. The day after the attack, the student group Yalies4Palestine published a statement in support with the Palestinian people, stating that “the events of October 7th [… are the inevitable outcome of a decades-long apartheid.” At Harvard, many cosigned a letter which “holds the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The National Students for Justice in Palestine, which is established in many universities including Ivy League such as Brown and Columbia, went further, annuncing that “today, we witness a historic win for the Palestinian resistance.”

“When I heard about it, I was sick and worried, not only for myself but for all the Jewish and Israeli students. It’s hard for them to know that some classmates might justify or even celebrate the death of innocent peoples”, Boaz Barak said. The Harvard profesor, who’s also an Israeli-American, is one of the 350 members who signed a letter to condemn these statements that “can be seen as nothing less than condoning the mass murder of civilians based only on their nationality.”

Tensions arose on many campuses, with many protests taking place over the United States. Yalies4Palestine organized one on October 9th to “uplift calls of the resistance”. “It wasn’t a pro-Palestinian protest, it was pro-Hamas”, Gal Zauberman corrected. “It’s not normal to not be willing to acknowledge that innocent people were killed. I cannot understand anybody who is not horrified looking at this.”

According to Netanel Crispe, an US history student at Yale, there have always been conflicts on issues related to Israel and Palestine. But the attack on 10/7 “is not political. It’s an international tragedy that we should all mourn.” Most of the universities first reacted by providing psychological help to students and members affected by the event. But they also drew many criticisms.

Harvard former president Lawrence Summers criticized the university’s delayed response to the letter published by the student groups on X. Claudine Gay, the current president, reacted by stating that “while our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group […] speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”

“The university presidents have given the biggest possible freedom of speech to these people, Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon-Wiesenthal Center said. But this is not freedom of speech, this is condoning murder and rape. If universities move to a place of legitimizing Hamas action, then I’m afraid for the future of our society.” Gal Zauberman was not particularly surprised, admitting that the situation is because of “the typical US institutions that are heavily weighted, far progressive”.

Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, has been listing incidents on campuses and said she felt petrified by looking at what the university administrators have let happen. “What will it take for them to take action? A Jew being assaulted ?” On October 11th, the dorm of a Jewish student was set on fire in Philadelphia. The Drexel university has since launched an investigation.

CEO such as billionnaire Bill Ackman from Pershing Square Capital, have called for the names of the students who signed the Harvard letter, so they would not be hired. A student for NYU also lost her job offer from a law firm after her comments on the attack published on social media.

But on campus, anti-Israel sentiment does not only belong to students. Netanel Crispe launched a petition asking for the firing of a professor after she wrote on X : “Palestinians have every right to resist through arm struggle”. Yale did not comment, but the 20-year-old student feels optimistic : “Yale holds the potential to continue being a beacon of light and truth. If we work hard and together, we can continue to improve.”

Please note: This has been translated by the author from French to English.