Imagine walking on a campus past buildings where you have taken numerous classes with many peers, past the Student Center where you have eaten lunch many times, past all the familiar places where you have felt safe and accepted. Now imagine walking by those same places and seeing blood-stained flags of a nation that is part of your identity. Posters with “anti-hate = anti-Israel” and “Stop Israeli Genocide” parade in front of you. Displays surround you with images of cruel IDF soldiers, dead Gazans, Anne Frank — a symbol of Jewish tragedy — wearing a kaffiyeh, and of Israel’s barrier to protect Jews from terrorism, labeled an “apartheid wall.” It is as if everything Israel and Jews ever stood for is racism, bloodshed and war. You are a Jew; a proud Jew, a proud supporter of Israel. Now you are seen as nothing but a racist murderer on your own campus.
When I first walked onto campus and saw the Israeli flag blowing in the wind, ripped and blood-stained, I was filled with anger, sadness, and helplessness. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “These are lies. This is disgusting!” I didn’t scream, but I trembled with rage at the Muslim Student Union (MSU), and even more, at the UCI administration for standing by as their students are humiliated, chewed up and spit out, and depicted almost as animals.
Anyone who knows Israel’s history knows of its challenges, triumphs and mistakes. I refuse to accept vicious propaganda that demonizes Israel. I refuse to accept desecration of cherished symbols of Jewish identity. I recognize that freedom of speech entails freedom to preach hate, lies and prejudice, but I am repulsed. The MSU depicts the suffering caused by Israel’s recent war with Hamas, but it never acknowledges the reasons for Israel’s actions, the suffering of Israelis, Hamas’ goal to destroy Israel, or the tactics Hamas used, such as human shields, that raised the civilian toll. I, along with Israelis and the Jewish world, grieve for the innocent civilians who died. Why doesn’t the MSU show equal concern for Jewish fears and suffering? Could they share Hamas’ view that whenever an Israeli man, woman, or child is killed, it should be cause for celebration and passing out candy?
I have been told to censor myself so that potential students are not afraid to come to UCI, but I have had enough censorship. With truth comes power, not fear. The MSU’s hate is dangerous. I have been in Jewish private schools since second grade and I have always been taught that hatred is wrong. I know that Israelis are taught not to hate Arabs, and that Jewish national identity demands equal protection for Muslim religious identity. I know that UCI’s Jewish students never even thought of retaliating with a weeklong campaign of “The World Without Mecca” or “Palestinian Nationalism=Islamic Terrorism and Racism.” Then I came to UCI, and found that my fear of hatred was more than justified. At UCI, hate is a yearly event that lasts for a week. It isn’t just any hatred. It is hatred directed at me, my friends, my community and my history.
After my three years at UCI, you would think I would be desensitized, and could just ignore the MSU’s “apartheid wall.” But I stand for more than that. I am standing up for all the Jews in past generations who did their best to uphold our religion and protect our people. I am standing up for all who understand and support the State of Israel as one of the most extraordinary achievements of the Jewish people.
I am not asking the UCI administration to censor the hate speech. I am asking them to denounce this style of rhetoric and displays just as they would denounce campaigns for white supremacy, sexism, or Islamophobia. I am asking them to be as fearful of countenancing hatred as I was taught to be, not just because of its present impact, but because of what it bodes for the future.
Neelie Genya Milstein is a student at UC Irvine.