Letter to the Community – The New Paltz Oracle

Dear SUNY New Paltz Campus Community,

We hope that this letter is not necessary; we wish SUNY New Paltz was the open-minded and tolerant place we thought it was coming in, but it’s not. As much as we love the diversity and inclusiveness of New Paltz, that inclusiveness hasn’t always included Jews. Until we are all freed from the yoke of hate, none of us will be. This includes racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and, yes, anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism has been around as long as the Jewish people and is quite possibly the oldest form of hatred in the world. But anti-Semitism is not just a historical fact. It never stopped. Not content with being the oldest form of hate in the world, it has also been the most pernicious. According to the Jewish Agency, 2021 saw the most anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the past decade.[1] Nearly a quarter of American Jews say they have experienced anti-Semitism in the past year,[2] and in 2020, anti-Semitic incidents accounted for 54% of religion-based hate crimes, while Jews made up just 2% of the US population.[3] Last month, a Jewish synagogue in Texas was taken hostage by an anti-Semitic gunman. Four years ago, the worst anti-Semitic attack ever on American soil took place in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shootings. Four years ago. Things aren’t getting better – they’re getting worse.

Several weeks ago, the student organization (unrecognized by SA), New Paltz Accountability, a group ostensibly intended to campaign “for better policies on sexual violence and accountability for abusers” (@newpaltz_accountability on Instagram), expelled two of its Jewish members. The students were removed from the organization for their shameless Zionism and supposed support of “colonialism”, as previously reported by the Oracle. We won’t mince words: This was an act of outright anti-Semitism, and NPA members should be ashamed of themselves and held fully accountable.

The NPA isolated Jewish survivors of sexual assault and their allies, and ironically left Jewish survivors with nowhere to turn. While we agree with NPA on their essential mission, their conduct in this regard has been inexcusable. This campus desperately needs a space that will support all sexual assault survivors with all available resources, but NPA has proven unable to live up to this mission.

Zionism is the support of the Jewish right to self-determination – a basic human right enshrined in the United Nations charter – in our native homeland, Israel. The Jews are not only a religious group, but also an ethnic group with a distinct identity and a sense of belonging to a people, and have been for thousands of years. Zionism is not a colonial enterprise, for Israel is the native home of the Jews. A group of people cannot “colonize” their own land. To be anti-Zionist is to deny the Jewish people one of our basic human rights and is therefore inherently anti-Semitic. Moreover, Israel has become the only place in the world where it is still safe to live as a Jew, and so to deny Israel’s existence is to deny Jews our safety – another form of anti-Semitism. Non-Jews have no right to tell us what is or is not anti-Semitic. It is up to us to claim it, and to non-Jews to accept.

Zionism is neither pro nor anti-Palestinian and has no bearing on the current treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government. We condemn all violence against the Palestinians.

Opaque anti-Semites often use anti-Zionism as a supposedly acceptable way to cover up their hatred of Jews. It’s not acceptable. We, the SUNY New Paltz community, have allowed this cancerous rhetoric to spread, unchallenged.

We totally reject the language used by President Christian in his letter to campus last Friday regarding the incident with the NPA. Nothing about this situation is “complex”. Nor was it just simple “bias” – it was visceral hatred directed at a person solely because of their identity. We suspect that if it concerned another group of people, clearer terms would have been used. But as usual, when it comes to Jews, all we get are half measures and empty rhetoric.

You may want to dissociate yourself from anti-Semitism, but chances are you have already been complicit in it. You may not have thought twice before you or someone around you said or did something hurtful towards Jews, let an atmosphere spread in which hatred of Jews became acceptable, or have unknowingly repeated indiscriminate vitriol from unsourced Internet articles. As a result, our Jewish students fear for their safety while attending Jewish events. We look over our shoulders to make sure we’re not being followed. We were embarrassed to call out the hate we constantly experience. We’ve endured enough hate in the past 3,000 years, and it’s time for it to end. It’s time for you to help stop it.

When was the last time you spoke to an actual Jewish person about their experiences with anti-Semitism? When was the last time you asked a Jew what Zionism meant to him? When was the last time you did real research on the history and meaning of this term? When was the last time you called out someone else for their anti-Semitism, or investigated your own preconceptions about Jews to see what ingrained anti-Semitic beliefs you hold? If your answer to any of these questions was “never”, then you are part of the problem.

But we believe you can be part of the solution. Judaism teaches us that everyone can recover from and correct past wrongdoings, no matter how bad. This is not done through mere apologies or empty words, but through a process known as “teshuvah.” Teshuva requires genuine grief and a committed, consistent pattern of action through which you right the wrongs of your past. No one has ever gone too far to make teshuvah no longer an option, nor do you have to be Jewish to perform it. The Teshuva process is open to everyone, no matter who they are, whether they are Jewish or not. Teshuva is not a religious act, but a moral act.

Open a dialogue with your neighbors, classmates and Jewish peers. Learn about Judaism and what it means to be Jewish from those who know best. Learn how ingrained anti-Semitism is in our academic community and in our country, and work to get rid of it. We need you to learn and act – our lives depend on it.

To take these first steps, we invite everyone reading this to attend a seminar on the New Paltz campus hosted by us in the near future on the subject of antisemitism and how you can work to support members of your community. Jewess and your neighbors.

This letter was one of the hardest things to write in our lives. We hope never to look at it again – may it be thrown into the annihilating fires of insignificance. Let’s hope, together as a campus, that a letter like this will never be needed again.

Truly,

your brothers, sisters and wounded siblings to the Union of Jewish Students.


[1] Aaron Reich. “2021 was the most antisemitic year in the last decade – antisemitism report.” The Jerusalem Post. January 22, 2022.

[2] Joe Hernández. “1 in 4 Jewish Americans say they have experienced anti-Semitism in the past year.” National Public Radio. October 26, 2021.

[3] “AJC Deeply Troubled by FBI Hate Crime Data Showing Increase Overall, Religious Group Most Targeted by Jews.” American Jewish Committee, Global Voice. August 31, 2021.



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