Letter from the Hillel Executive Board

Amherst College Hillel’s executive board voices concern about antisemitic rhetoric silencing part of the campus community and thereby limiting the allowable discourse about the Palestine-Israel conflict.

We were initially wary of making a public address. Though this campus is safer than others, some Jewish students have felt silenced for having an opinion that rejects the proposed “consensus” on campus around events in Israel-Gaza. Articles in The Student and the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) Divestment Statement claim a campus-wide consensus about attitudes around Israel-Gaza. We argue that this consensus does not arise from a true sense of agreement but instead from a lack of discourse due to students feeling silenced and peers refusing to listen.

This supposed consensus reflects the silencing of a non-negligible part of the campus community and arises from a sense that some beliefs are so correct that there can be no acceptable opposition. A singular moral righteousness has infected this campus so that any form of civil discourse is seen as being pro-genocide.

This lack of discourse allows for dangerous ideas to grow. During the May 2 rally on campus, a student speaker said that the Israeli military kills up to 20 civilians for every member of Hamas, and that “the Nazis had a one-to-one ratio.” They asked, “How many investments [does the college have] in Hamas? Zero. How many investments do we have in Israel? Many. We are an ally to one side. A genocidal side.” These statements are perversions of truth. These views are ignorant at best and antisemitic at worst. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is a common occurrence on this campus and it is quite disturbing. Nazi Germany systematically murdered over six million Jews. Regardless of how you personally view the proportionality of Israel’s response, Israel is responding to Hamas’s terrorist attack where Hamas murdered over 1,200 people and took over 240 people hostage, using tactics like gang rape. Hamas is a terrorist group as designated by the United States government. Comparing Israel to Nazis both evokes the sentiment that Israel is a uniquely evil and demonic state and diminishes the significance of Nazi crimes. Supporting Hamas, a terrorist group whose goal is to kill Zionists (though they try to argue this is separate from Jews, which is a 2017 reversal from their 1988 charter that expressly calls for the murder of all Jews and praises Nazis), is extremely different from investing in a democratic nation. Though critiques of Israeli policies are valid and a part of healthy discourse, statements at the rally, on Fizz, and in general student discourse suggest Hamas is morally comparable or even morally superior to the State of Israel. Though the Contra article “In Defense of Hamas” was met with pushback a year ago, we know there is much greater campus support for Hamas now as seen in rhetoric on Fizz and in student activism on campus framing the group as a valid resistance movement.

Jewish students have had personal information shared and been harassed on Fizz for posting the death toll of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. On Oct. 7, students on Fizz called for “the renewed 21st Jihad.” Fizz posts constantly compare Israel to Nazi Germany, with one such post entitled “Nazi Germany and Israel Similarities” including nine examples, a post that “the Zionist is more articulate and more extreme than Hitler” and engage in Holocaust denial, one such post stating that the Holocaust “didn’t happen” and to stop using the Holocaust as a “get-out-of-genocide-free-card.” Other repeated narratives involve Jews controlling the world through the economy or media and downplaying or justifying violence on Oct. 7, such as drawing Stars of David on media CEOs’ faces, stating that Jeffrey Epstein is controlling Israel and “FACILITATING THE SEX TRAFFICKING AND RAPING OF CHILDREN IN ORDER TO BLACKMAIL ELITE AMERICANS INTO SPREADING PRO-ISRAEL PROPAGANDA” in order to win the war in Gaza, justifying the rape of Israeli women on Oct. 7, and telling Jews to move to Antarctica. These statements can get hundreds of upvotes and are happening on a daily basis.

One might argue that these antisemitic Fizz posts and the targeted harassment of Jewish students are not related to Amherst student advocacy for freedom in Palestine. However, Nazi comparisons, inability to engage critically with peers, and name-calling of individual students are seen on Fizz and in student advocacy for Gaza.

We’ve seen a proliferation of name-calling when tied to the term “Zionist.” Numerous students on this campus identify as Zionists. We define our Zionism as the right of Jews to self-determination. However, this term has been co-opted by those who do not identify with it to carry a negative connotation. Jewish Zionists on campus have been labeled as pro-genocidal zealots and settler-colonialists by peers without any effort to engage in discussion or to understand the meaning of these terms. We have personally lost close friends once they suddenly realize they are morally opposed to befriending a Zionist; they refuse to even have a conversation about our views. As Jewish students who do feel some connection to Israel (and we recognize that some of our Jewish peers here do not, and that is valid), we have been silenced and isolated by the many members of the campus who refuse to engage in hearing us or caring for us as fellow peers.

While not all anti-Zionism is antisemitic, these cases highlight the worrying role of antisemitism when discussing opposition to Israel. Many Zionist students have stopped expressing their views because of this antisemitism, resulting in a lack of productive discourse. On this campus, antisemitism silences the Zionist perspective so that the anti-Zionist voice thrives.

We are worried about the state of discourse on this campus. We lack faith in our peers to engage with us thoughtfully. We are beginning to lack faith in our classrooms as well, as some of our professors are using the same tactics as our peers. We are especially concerned about the leaking of James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought Lawrence Douglas’s letter, which is against faculty guidelines and shows the erosion of respect for both the individual and the institution. Select classrooms are becoming more polarized, where professors decry Israel’s “settler-colonialism” and “genocide” as fact instead of belief and fail to introduce topics as academic debate. Contrary to the lack of academic debate in this regard, there is now a rise in purported “academic” debate over what is antisemitic. When we try to explain how statements like “Israel killed George Floyd,” as said by Mohammed El-Kurd in his talk at Amherst, are antisemitic, we are taken as unserious anti-intellectuals or unsympathetic to the Palestinian experience.¹ To try and link the murder of one individual citizen of the U.S. to a separate nation across the globe relies on conspiratorial antisemitism that Jews are responsible for all evils in this world. To summarize Eric Ward’s speech at Amherst last semester, you have to know enough about antisemitism to know when it is happening around you.

We believe everyone should have a voice and share their opinion fully. We have also felt silenced and diminished by our peers. We do not feel represented in the dialogue on campus, and we know many of our peers are not seeking critical engagement with different viewpoints. We hope that after reading this letter, you will hear us, think before you rush to judge, and open yourself up to conversation.

—Amherst Hillel Eboard

(Assenting: 8; Dissenting: 0; Abstaining: 1).

This letter reflects the sentiments of the Amherst College Hillel Eboard, not the general members of Amherst Hillel. General members of Amherst Hillel have varying beliefs and are welcome to disagree with any or all of this letter.

  1. The statement that Israel played a role in the killing of George Floyd sparked from a claim that at least 100 Minnesota police officers attended a conference in 2012 held by the Israeli consulate. The claim stated that the police officers learned the “neck restraint” technique from IDF members. However, as early as 2002, the Minneapolis Police Department had “neck restraints” and “choke holds” in their Use of Force Policy. In no way are we justifying the horrific killing of George Floyd, but to claim that “Israel killed George Floyd” is both factually incorrect and antisemitic.

Correction, May 8, 2024: A previous version of this article misstated the votes of the Hillel e-board on this editorial. Eight members assented and one abstained.