Israel, Justice, Uncategorized

The Desecration of a Gaza Memorial at Marquette University

On Sunday, April 7, the Marquette University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) planted 41,000 flags on campus in recognition of the ongoing genocide in Gaza. They acted with the full knowledge and permission of the university administration. It was a solemn and nonviolent display of solidarity and humanity. That same night, the flags were vandalized by three individuals with no association with the university.

The piece below is a response to these events, delivered orally at a press conference on April 22 on Marquette campus and revised for publication in Jewschool. The violence against Palestine solidarity activism on a national problem, taking place at  campuses of many kinds, across the country and around the world.

A university is a community of people united, to paraphrase the venerable Wisconsin Idea, by our collective endeavors toward the untrammeled search for knowledge and understanding. In this community, the well being of students, staff and academic workers, including Jewish and Palestinian, BIPOC & queer students, is of paramount importance. It’s hard to teach, learn or conduct research while fearing for your personal safety.

And yet, that’s where we are. Broad forces beyond the university spread false anxiety about “woke campuses” and “college antisemitism,” precipitating repression and violence on campus. The results of this anxiety make it increasingly hard to do our important work, because outside forces intentionally misunderstand the beautiful and necessary diversity of speech , thought, and expression that should rightfully characterize university life.

Universities have become sites of fake “free speech” policies that sanction free expression in the name of preventing antisemitism. Currently, the world is witnessing brutality against students encamped for Palestinian solidarity on many campuses, including Columbia, NYU, and the University of Minnesota. Testifying before a congressional inquisition, Columbia President Shafiq wrapped herself in the lunatic idea that repressing faculty and student expression is somehow protecting Jewish students.

Sometimes the false anxiety anxiety inspires dangerous vigilante action. Last week, three Jewish educators not connected to Marquette came on campus under cover of night. Marquette University police reports record their names as: Marnie Atias, Chaya/Kathryn Schlotman and Alice Schlotman. These extremists took it upon themselves to perpetrate an obscene act: desecrating a memorial to the 41,000 people murdered in the israeli genocide in Gaza by pulling down the flags that honored the dead.

Motivated by a sense of endangerment and entitlement, one of the vandals was armed with a loaded Glock. These extremists entered a university campus to defile a monument to the dead, armed with a loaded gun prepared to menace- or worse- any “threats” they might encounter. I know of no more serious threat to academic freedom.

I am writing this piece on the eve of Pesach, my Jewish ancestors invisible beside me.  I want to communicate my shame and rage at this unholy act. And that it was wrapped into a false concern for Jewish safety! In Yiddish, we call that a shondah.

Fortunately, the Marquette Police Department swiftly apprehended and disarmed the dangerous extremists. The Marquette  administration must continue to defend our collective rights of freedom of speech and expression.

Because criticizing Israel, like criticizing anything, is not antisemitic. In fact, analysis and criticism are central functions of a university. That’s really what the purveyors of false fear are after: nothing less than the central idea of the university, our very business model.

Threats by extremists as well as repressive policies against Palestinian and other students continue on many campuses in informal as well as organized ways, creating a climate that is hostile  academic work in general, to Palestinian and other students of color in particular. There is no room on our campuses for any kind of terrorism, zionist or otherwise.

Collectively we have a decision to make: protect free expression, support Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other organizations targeted by the enemies of free speech. Or the university, our beautiful community of inquiry and critique, dies from a thousand affronts. That’s happening, right here, right now.



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