Letter to the Editor: Faculty “Call to Action”

David Wolpaw ’92 argues that a faculty letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza “reeks of antisemitism” and runs counter to the values of a liberal democracy.

As an Amherst alumnus, I was saddened to read the recent faculty letter regarding the violence in Israel and Gaza.

The letter begins with a perfunctory condemnation of Hamas’ brutal attack of Oct. 7 without going into details. No mention of murdering babies or the elderly. No mention of rapes or the numerous other cruelties too barbaric to print without trigger warnings. And no mention of kidnapping 240 civilians. Instead, the letter launches into a tirade against Israel’s actions to defend itself and rescue these hostages.

The faculty conclude by encouraging “respectful intellectual culture” and “open conversations.”  I ask the reader to consider this column part of that dialogue.

The citizens of Gaza elected Hamas to govern them after Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, ending the occupation. Since then, Hamas has refused to hold free elections and the lion’s share of international aid has been directed not towards Gazan civilians, but towards making Gaza a terrorist state to destroy Israel. Piping was used not for water but to build rockets. Concrete was used not for schools but underground tunnels. Why do the faculty not call on Hamas to cease this?

The faculty lament that Israel is bombing schools and hospitals. But Hamas deliberately places its military headquarters under hospitals and launches rockets from schools. Israel does everything it can to minimize civilian casualties. Nonetheless, they are unavoidable especially when Hamas is embedding itself among civilians. Why do the faculty not demand Hamas stop using their own people as human shields?

Pro-Palestinian rallies around the country call for Israel’s destruction with the chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” To their credit, the faculty have not subscribed to this. But they have also not declared their belief that Israel does have a right to exist or defend itself.

Under the pretense of caring about “the loss of any life,” these faculty call for a ceasefire. But a ceasefire will only give Hamas more time to fortify and regroup. Knowingly or not, these faculty are doing PR work for Hamas. Any aid given will be directed to more terror, not to the suffering Gazan civilians. Furthermore, a ceasefire will only be temporary. Israel will still need to resume its campaign to destroy Hamas and rescue the hostages. This is also the only way to put an end to Hamas’ cruelties to its own people. Why do the faculty not instead demand that Hamas release the kidnapped civilians, some of whom are babies?

The letter says that the brutal attack of Oct. 7 “cannot be understood outside of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  Do these faculty really believe that rape, murder and kidnapping must be “understood”?  In fact, many of the faculty who signed this letter also signed a statement in 2012 rightfully condemning sexual assault on the Amherst campus. Why should sexual assault at Amherst be condemned while rape in Israel be contextualized?

How is it possible to claim to be concerned about Gaza’s residents but ignore the fact that Hamas stands against just about every value these faculty no doubt claim to hold? Hamas is a fundamentalist group that denies women equal rights and persecutes the LGBTQ+ community. Abortion is illegal. Hamas routinely threatens journalists, suppressing freedom of the press.  There has not been an election in Gaza since 2007.

Israel on the other hand is a modern Western democracy with liberal values. It has a free press.  Abortion is legal. Women have equal rights. Homosexuality is not criminalized. In fact, Tel Aviv has an annual gay pride event which averages 250,000 participants. Arab Muslims vote and serve in Israel’s government. Arabs have far more rights and freedoms in Israel than they do in Gaza. By standing against Israel, these faculty stand against representative government, gender equality, gay rights, reproductive rights, and free speech. Israel is not perfect — but by any reasonable analysis, it is far better than Hamas. Why would these faculty not only turn their backs on their every value but actively fight against a nation that largely upholds them?

Israel receives $3.3 billion in foreign aid from the U.S. annually.  Some argue that the U.S. should demand Israel cease its blockade of Gaza or stop receiving this aid. But what about Egypt which receives $1.3 billion from the US annually? Egypt also borders Gaza so without its participation there would be no blockade. In 2014 Egypt evicted hundreds of Gazans from their homes to expand its security zone. Why was there no faculty letter about this? Why no student walk out?

If these faculty truly cared about human rights, why the exclusive focus on Israel? Why not China? Even if one were to believe every lie ever said about Israel, China’s human rights record is far worse. China has actual concentration camps and is engaged in genocide against the Uyghur Muslims. Why haven’t the faculty issued a statement about this? Why have students not staged a walkout? News about Israel is treated differently than news of other international atrocities. The current obsession with the world’s only Jewish state reeks of antisemitism.

If the faculty were to single out any other minority group for such unfair treatment, we would all understand such behavior to be bigotry. This is why we should call this letter what it is: the product of antisemitism. While it would be unfair to say that these faculty are antisemites themselves, at the very least they are carrying water for those who are.