VOICES: UCLA Student Shares the Campus Experience
as an Israeli
AMCHA Initiative is pleased to share the following statement in its entirety from UCLA student Omer Hit’s public comments to Legislators at the first California Campus Climate Meeting, held at San Jose State University on March 21, 2014
“Hello, my name is Omer Hit and I am currently a second year Neuroscience major and Theater minor at UCLA.
On February 25, 2014, Students for Justice in Palestine presented my student government with a resolution recommending divestment of university funds from five companies that do business with Israel. Despite claims that the resolution was focused on corporate complicity in human rights violations, many of the comments made by pro-divestment speakers included unacceptable hate speech and slander directed at Israel and the pro-Israel community at UCLA. And we were forced to sit through this for 9 hours straight.
As the ancient homeland of the Jewish people and the world’s only Jewish state today, Israel is an integral part of my community’s identity, as it is for the vast majority of Jews around the world. And while I strongly believe in constructive criticism of Israel and its policies, the discourse about Israel on my campus degenerates into hate speech on a far-too-regular basis. The blatant and offensive lies uttered during public comment represent a vile and unwarranted attack on Israel, pro-Israel students, and the organized Jewish community at UCLA. What was even more disheartening for me was that no councilmembers, faculty advisors, or leaders in the pro-divestment community stood up and condemned the hate speech directed against us.
When I say slander against Israel, the following are the types of claims I’m talking about:
– Israel is guilty of genocide against Palestinians.
– Israel sterilized and mutilated Ethiopian immigrants as a form of eugenics.
– Israel/Israelis deliberately shoot Palestinian children in the face.
– Israel is holding 56,000 Africans in open air prisons.
– Israel terrorizes and is uniquely racist against black people.
– Gaza has no electricity or food because of Israel.
– Palestinians are systematically denied medical treatment by Israel.
– Justifications of violence against Israelis
And that’s just a few examples. In addition to slanderous claims against Israel, there were numerous offensive statements directed at my community. We were condescendingly told that divestment does not threaten us, as if others have the right to define how student government actions do or do not affect us. We were told that by opposing divestment, we are tying Jewish identity to oppression, racism, and human rights violations – an extremely dehumanizing accusation which silences and caricatures our actual concerns about the issue. We constantly hear the term “Zionist” used as a dirty word, as if supporting the liberation and self-determination of a historically oppressed minority in its homeland is something to be ashamed of. And worst of all, we heard speakers attempt to put down our objections by falsely redefining the term “anti-Semitism,” extending it beyond hatred of Jews. Attempting to change the meaning of this term is more than just a blatant misuse of language. It effectively minimizes the 1,900 year history of racism and oppression targeted specifically against Jews in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
I believe these claims are part of a larger campaign of demonization against Israel, led by the global BDS Movement, which seeks the elimination of Israel and the violation of my people’s right to self-determination. Opponents of Israel at my university consistently make slanderous accusations, many of which can only be described as demonization and hate speech. These statements may not reflect malicious intentions on the part of individual students, but that changes nothing about how offensive they are.
As a member of the organized Jewish community at UCLA, I see lies and hate speech as more than just a cause of discomfort, marginalization, and negative campus climate. In the past, lies about the Jewish people have led directly to mass violence and oppression against us. The systematic promotion of egregious lies about the one Jewish state in the world cannot be divorced from this historical context. This spreading of lies and targeting of specific people on the pro-Israel side continues today weeks after the resolution did not pass as there is consistent cyber bullying, targeting of specific council members who voted against it,and an attempted delegitimization of our student government all over Facebook. I believe that as human beings we have a responsibility to not only enhance students sense of safety on their communities, but also to learn from history and not allow its ugliest chapters to be repeated.
I am not asking this committee to silence anyone, because I believe in free speech, even for those who make offensive statements. But what I do ask is that the leadership of our universities, at the student, faculty, administrative, and state levels, issue clear condemnations of the hate speech that is so often directed at Israel and pro-Israel communities on campus. I love my UCLA community so much, it is actually my job to talk about it. I am currently a proud Campus Tour Guide where I get to show hundreds of prospective students and their families this university that I call home. It is my job to make people feel welcome on our fabulous campus, and I hate the fact that this BDS movement coming to my community even makes me question my own sense of welcome in my university. This entire resolution has by far been the most divisive and marginalizing tool I’ve seen come across our campus as it left students from both sides hurt and disrespected. This is not a constructive movement towards peace, but instead a demonizing one that taints campus climate as a whole. I see this as a matter of upholding truth and standing on the right side of history, and I hope you will see it that way too.