We Are Not Your Excuse: Jews Say Swarthmore Must Start Acting in the Interest of Peace

Suhyun Kim // The Phoenix

Editor’s note: Under normal circumstances, The Phoenix does not allow groups to publish as a collective and requires individual members to submit on groups’ behalf. After careful consideration, The Phoenix has decided to make an exception to this policy due to credible concerns for the authors’ safety from doxxing and other online harassment. We are a community newspaper and take our responsibility to protect community members very seriously. The Phoenix is not affiliated with the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace or its Swarthmore chapter. 

We are witnessing the conflation of Zionism with Judaism and anti-Zionism with antisemitism. This creates a dangerous environment for all students. Jewish peace activists, such as ourselves, feel that our identity is threatened by administrative actions and statements. Our Judaism is questioned simply because we are a part of an anti-Zionist, Palestinian liberation organization. We dare to call for peace and the right to self-determination for all people, and consequently, we face many of the same dangers as other Palestinian liberation activists, including doxxing and outside threats.

Swarthmore’s administration claims that their actions are informed by a desire to support Jewish students. Yet, little to no effort has been made to reach out to the campus’s Jewish community — now or historically. In Feb. 2023, neo-Nazis declared a “Day of Hate” against Jews across New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. At this time, the administration was silent. After Israel declared war on Gaza, Jewish students in JVP contacted President Val Smith over email and in person, requesting a meeting to discuss how the administration could support the Jewish community. A meeting was confirmed on Nov. 6, only to be canceled the following day and moved to December. 

By delaying our calls for a meeting, we have been denied the opportunity to not only express Jewish solidarity with Palestinians but also the actionable steps the administration can take to truly stand for peace. In the meantime, Palestinian civilians are being slaughtered. These actions indicate to us that Jews and the many supporters of Palestine, including Muslim and Arab students, are not a priority of Swarthmore College.

In a public letter on Oct. 10, President Smith claimed to be “holding in the light all of the victims, their families and loved ones, and the millions of people affected by these unspeakable acts.” If this is so, why was the only vigil attended by our president an off-campus event solely honoring Israeli lives? The same respect has not been shown to Swarthmore’s student groups. President Smith did not attend any of the multiple vigils held at Parrish, where administrative offices are located. These include the Interfaith Center vigil for Israeli and Palestinian losses held on Oct. 12, the Swarthmore Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Interfaith Center vigil held on Oct. 27, and the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) vigil on Nov. 3. President Smith has yet to attend a Swarthmore vigil that honors or even acknowledges the over 11,000 Palestinian lives lost in the past month. This lack of engagement with the campus community is appalling.

It is our Judaism that drives us to condemn the siege and invasion by the Israeli government. Our teachings mean we stand on our belief in Tikkun Olam (the healing of the world), Sukkat Kehilah (sheltering community), and Pikuach Nefesh (preserving and protecting life).

The same letter stated that “no individual office, department, or student group speaks for or on behalf of the [c]ollege.” Does the office of the president speak on behalf of the college? If so, then the actions of our president have been largely to ignore the campus community advocating for Palestine. If not, then what role does our president fulfill? Does the office of the president represent the institution’s Quaker values? 

We hope that this administration will ground itself in the professed morals of our college, just as we ground ourselves in the teachings of Judaism. Calling for a ceasefire is a first step and the bare minimum; peace without justice is violence. Swarthmore College’s legacy is stained every day by the inaction of its administration, which does not take steps to divest from Israel’s apartheid. The administration and the Board of Managers need to recognize and enact long-standing demands from the student body.

As Jews, we will not be your excuse to continue funding genocide.

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