Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A Jewish student’s call for a closer look at the Israel-Hamas war

For months, I have been struggling to articulate thoughts on October 7 and the Israel-Hamas war, as a personal connection to the war kept me under perpetual stress. Israel’s war against Hamas puts me in a complicated position. I have family in Israel, and when I first heard about the October 7 attack, I was terrified for them. My family connection aside, I felt torn apart as an American Jew. I was horrified as I saw the suffering in Gaza and the death toll rise among both Israelis and Palestinians. I had trouble reconciling the horror of civilian suffering and death with the reality of war and the genuine existential threat that Israelis feel from Hamas, which has pledged to kill Jews and eliminate Israel.

I also have been grappling with the portrayal of Israel as only ever being an aggressor and the downplaying of its importance as a refuge from antisemitism. As a former intern at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, I know firsthand how important Israel has been and continues to be as a safe haven to Holocaust survivors and Jews worldwide, including those expelled from Arab countries. At the present moment, when antisemitism is at high levels, many places in the world are not safe for Jews, so Israel is of great importance. Nevertheless, when the Carleton Student Association passed a resolution brought by the Students for Justice in Palestine, I recall one other senator saying that the period when Israel was important as a sanctuary was “a long time ago” after I had talked about the Holocaust and pointed out that many of the people who fled to Israel were Holocaust survivors. It broke my heart to hear those words. The current Israeli government has indeed made many questionable decisions, but Israel’s errors do not define the country. I am disgusted by suggestions that Israel is an antagonistic state that only exists to oppress others living in the region.

I am also tired of the minimization of Judaism’s inherent connection to Israel. The word “Israel” appears countless times in our prayers, notably in prayers that we say every week at Shabbat. Many of these prayers have existed for as long as Jews have had the Torah. When we celebrated Passover last week, we sang the Hebrew words “l’shana haba’ah b’yerushalayim,” meaning “next year in Jerusalem.” 

Since Biblical times, we Jews have reiterated our origins in Israel and a hope for an eventual return.

Amidst all of this, I maintain hope that the conflict will end with a two-state solution that will provide lasting security, peace, and dignity for both Israelis and Palestinians. At the moment, I feel increasingly alone in this camp. The war in Gaza has been so polarizing as to cause fewer people to vocally support a two-state solution. I believe that for a two-state solution to occur, people must endorse Israel’s right to exist.

When the Carleton Student Association Senate considered a resolution from the Students for Justice in Palestine, I had a few concerns with it as constructed, so I spoke up at the meeting. I mentioned that the war presents a difficult situation for me because I have family in Israel and pointed out my relatives’ commitment to supporting Palestinians’ right to statehood and to recognizing when the Israeli government has gone too far. I was disappointed by how nobody at the meeting expressed sympathy over my personal strife as a result of the October 7 attack. At the time, I focused on a concern that the free speech clause could be a thinly veiled license for antisemitism if the resolution did not also condemn antisemitism outright. I remember that one senator responded “I don’t think altering it makes sense in this context because Carleton has no ties to Hamas.” To me, the argument that because Carleton might have some financial ties to Israel but none to Hamas, the resolution does not also need to address antisemitism, seemed to be a stretch.

In addition, I felt that the college should not divest from the Jonathan Paradise Israel Scholarship because that program could provide an opportunity for students to gain a more informed perspective of the conflict. Although the argument about the scholarship received harsh criticism because the webpage for the scholarship does not explicitly mention Palestine, I was relieved to see a similar argument appear in the Carleton Today newsletter on February 29. Divestment in general seemed to be misguided because it is possible that other companies in which Carleton invests its endowment may be connected to other global conflicts of a similar scale. At the Senate meeting, nobody explained what makes the Israel-Hamas war different from all other global conflicts so as to inspire action for divestment from Israel but not from other nations involved in questionable military operations elsewhere.

On the whole, I felt that the resolution, as constructed, had a one-sided message that could make Jews on campus, including myself, fearful, and I wanted to make sure that the Senate took that message into account when deciding whether to pass the resolution. One senator pointed out that if the Senate had to examine the impact of every statement we make, we would not be able to say anything, but the circumstances for this resolution were different. The email sent to senators with the meeting agenda encouraged us to “consider the message that approving, rejecting, or modifying the resolution would send to our student community and beyond” and emphasized that  “our actions should align with the values and interests of the students we represent, recognizing the wide range of views within our community.” Although the resolution came from the Students for Justice in Palestine, once the CSA Senate passes a resolution, we own the effects of that resolution. Because there was a general lack of willingness to engage with my concerns about the wording, I ultimately voted against the resolution and was the only person to do so. I know that I am not the only person with reservations about the resolution, as I received emails supporting my efforts. I hope that others who feel the same as I do will speak up as well. In order to be a community that rejects hatred, we must speak out against it.

As I look back at the resolution, I have other concerns about it. In the divestment proposal, the authors connect supporting Palestine to a fight for “sexual freedom.” Given Hamas’ hostility toward LGBTQ rights and the rape of Israeli women on October 7, this could not be further from the truth. I take issue with the call for an “immediate” ceasefire since the word “hostage” appears nowhere in the resolution. While the war is horrible and I would like for it to end soon, such a conclusion must involve a release of the hostages, and an immediate ceasefire when Hamas still holds hostages would not achieve that aim.

As protests continue across the country, I urge the Carleton community to consider the complexity of the Israel-Hamas war. We must understand that there was a ceasefire before October 7, one that Hamas broke by attacking Israeli civilians, many of whom wanted peace and supported Palestinian rights. Since October 7, I have heard many suggestions that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza due to the number of civilian deaths. To be sure, Israel has made choices in how it conducts the war with Hamas, and some of those choices have resulted in significant civilian casualties. At the same time, Hamas has choices and has chosen to embed its fighters in the heart of civilian populations, to not use its extensive tunnel system to protect civilians, and to encourage its civilian populations to remain in place instead of seeking refuge in order to use civilian casualties as a cudgel to sway world opinion against Israel. Civilian casualties are appalling no matter how they occur. We must recognize that Israel is not the only entity at fault. Under difficult circumstances, Israel has continually tried to reduce civilian casualties, such as by dropping leaflets directing civilians to evacuate over areas that it planned to bomb due to suspected military presence. If anything, that seems like a move to protect civilians rather than to deliberately kill them. By definition, genocide requires intent to kill in order to eradicate a population, and while Israel’s attempts to protect civilians are imperfect, Israel is not actively trying to harm civilians.

Genocide is not the only weighty word tossed around without enough thought. I have heard comparisons of Israelis to white supremacists and even to Nazis, and I find this distasteful and insensitive. While many Israelis are descendants of European Jews, the Nazi regime did not treat Jews as white. It is important to recognize too that many Jews in Israel have dark skin and that some came to Israel from North Africa and other parts of the Middle East after Israel’s opponents expelled their Jewish populations. To compare Israelis to Nazis is even worse than calling them white supremacists. It is a perverse use of the term given what European Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. And while some Israelis are building illegal settlements, we must remember that many Jews who came to Israel at its founding were refugees, not colonists.

While comparing Israelis to white supremacists and Nazis is abhorrent, many criticisms of Israel, such as condemnation of settler violence and opposition to Israel’s judicial overhaul, are warranted and not antisemitic. A fair number of Israelis harbor the same views as well, as evidenced by the anti-government protests over the summer. It is acceptable to criticize Israel for some of its actions during the Israel-Hamas war. However, to minimize the brutal, unprovoked attack on Israeli civilians on October 7, claim that the attack was a just means of resistance, or suggest that Israel has no right to exist crosses a line. And although the Israeli government has some problematic policies in place, it is unfair to argue that on account of the Israeli government’s poor decisions, Israel should not be allowed to respond to Hamas’ attack. The war is a completely separate issue, and Israel has the right to respond to the violent attack by Hamas, whose aim is to destroy Israel and kill Jews.

I know that I cannot assume others’ beliefs, and I do not know how anyone else feels about the conflict. In this article, I am responding to ideas with which I disagree, and I am not ascribing those beliefs to any individual member of the Carleton community. I write all of this because if I am to know if others support a two-state solution, it helps me if others speak up and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. Despite current attitudes about the war, I still believe that a two-state solution is possible. I hope that those of us who want to both preserve Israeli statehood and provide the same for Palestinians can come together in dialogue to bring that about.

View Comments (5)
More to Discover

Comments (5)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • N

    Negev CarlMay 12, 2024 at 1:13 pm

    Dear Author,

    As a Carleton alumni currently in Israel and former CSA senator, I sincerely want to thank you for writing this author and to express my dismay at the statements made by CSA.

    We in Israel recently commemorated Yom HaShoah. This year’s commemoration was made ever the more salient by Hamas’ Oct 7th attack. I think I speak for everyone here when I say that as the sirens went off and a whole nation stood still, we felt how real the Holocaust was. We felt in our cores that it was not just some distant memory from “a long time ago” as the CSA senator in your article so dismissively derided.

    Additionally as someone who personally knows 2 of the hostages still in Gaza, I am disheartened at how easily some members of Carleton’s student body can dismiss their plight.

    There definitely seems to be a clear desire to simplify our complex and fraught geopolitical reality on American college campuses by individuals who have never stepped foot in the region. I am proud that you are pushing back against this gross and ahistorical simplification.

    Anyhow, as I stated I am in Israel. I echo Ellie’s statement that if you or your family need me please feel free to reach out (JSC’s leaders more likely than not know who I am).

    You are not alone! There are many members of the alumni community and student body who share your sentiments about Israel.

  • L

    LFMay 10, 2024 at 11:00 am

    Really well done! I am a Carleton Alumna and I fully support the publication of this article. Thank you so much for writing it. It speaks a lot of truth regarding the representation of justice for both sides of this conflict, which is what equity is all about. Thank you, really, thank you!

  • J

    Josh KulpMay 6, 2024 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you so much for stating so many things that should be obvious. I think there are many who agree with you.

  • E

    Ellie RMay 6, 2024 at 1:44 pm

    This is an excellent article. To the author, if the reason you’re writing anonymously is because you’re worried about backlash – please know that there are students and alumni on your side. I’m sorry you’re in a situation where these nuanced and intelligent thoughts can’t be shared openly. And yes, many MANY Israeli citizens have no patience for the settlers of the West Bank; as you mention, the civilians want peace. People forget the time that was spent protesting the government by Israelis!
    I’m in Israel now, if you or your family in Israel need anything, please let me know.

    • T

      The author of this articleMay 6, 2024 at 9:20 pm

      Thank you for your support. The print version of this article is attributed to me, and to my great relief, I have not faced any backlash on campus; rather, two people so far (one student and one professor) have reached out to me in agreement and support. I requested to have this anonymized online primarily so that I have more control over my digital footprint, and I am happy to know that the response to this article is so far similarly positive online. It means a lot to me to know that others share my feelings about Israel.