Letter to the Editor

Rebecca Shaevitz | Class of 2020

There have been numerous Student Life articles the past few days which have condemned the Pittsburgh attack, and which have also criticized the Jewish community for its lack of outrage when similar massacres or acts of violence have been committed against other groups.

I applaud the authors of these articles for speaking to these truths. Yet, to me, there are a couple of pieces that these Student Life articles got utterly, fundamentally wrong.

First, one article says, “…to my fellow people from Jewish families or communities who are now suddenly reacting to the horrible and violent racism and prejudice that exists in America by adding a filter to their Facebook profile pictures: Where the hell have you been?…Instead of now filtering your profile picture with ‘#Together Against Anti-Semitism’, how about always having it say ‘#Together Against All Forms of Hate.’”

To the author of this article I say: How dare you assert that condemning anti-Semitism is the equivalent of failing to condemn other forms of hate and intolerance. How dare you imply that any Jewish person who changes their profile picture to honor 11 innocent Jewish people, brutally murdered for no reason aside for their being Jewish is somehow selfish. Yes, changing a profile picture is not a tangible action towards battling hate; it can create complacency if it does not go hand in hand with real steps towards change. However, changing a profile picture to speak out against anti-Semitism is not malicious and it is not wrong.

To condemn the act of supporting a cause to combat anti-Semitism is dangerous; it implies that acts of violence against Jews are not to be called out explicitly for what they are. It allows other acts of violence against other groups to find more legitimacy because it asserts that only some groups are worthy of giving a name to their persecution.

Jews are allowed to be angry, scared and saddened by what happened on Saturday. I agree that we need to be stepping up whenever injustice affects our communities and our country, no matter the identity, faith or race of the victim(s). But don’t you dare tell me that I cannot call the murder of 11 Jews anti-Semitic.

Would you ever ask Black Lives Matter Activists to change their slogan to “All Lives Matter”? No, because racism and anti-black hate is alive and well in America. “All Lives Matter” rhetoric is fundamentally racist; it overlooks the reality that black lives are not valued in the same way other lives in this country are. I am absolutely against all forms of hate, but that does not change the fact that anti-Semitism exists in this country and around the world. Don’t you dare ask anyone to stop advocating for tolerance of their identities. I condemn you for your ignorance in making such a claim.

The second problem with these Student Life articles, as I see it, is that just as many Jews have failed to speak out against injustice, only doing so when it impacts us, so too are many non-Jews failing to speak out, instead remaining silent against this act of anti-Semitic violence and murder. Many of these silent non-Jews are the very people who so fervently speak out against injustice and intolerance when other groups are attacked or targeted for their religion, for their race, for their sexual orientation, for their gender identity, for any other identity that can be named.

I agree that the common absence of Jewish mobilization surrounding acts of injustice against other groups is flawed. Any act of injustice, violence and intolerance must be met with outspoken condemnation. It is fundamentally hypocritical that some Jews are only now upset because it has impacted us. I agree, we cannot cherry-pick our moments to be outraged in the face of injustice. We must be steadfast and resolute in our commitment to combating systems of oppression, intolerance, bigotry and white supremacy.

Yet, the hypocrisy is evident on all sides, in all spaces, in all groups and at all times throughout history. To speak to this hypocrisy only in the context of the Jewish response, and to ignore this same hypocrisy in the context of the lack of non-Jewish response, is not only wrong, but dilutes the original assertion of ideological and moral failure. We must all stop saving our response only for the events that impact us or people like us. We are all being hypocrites in some capacity and this hypocrisy is pandemic to our liberal, social discourse and politics. This is the truth; if we ignore our culpability then we block real opportunities for progress, for dialogue and for self-reckoning. Indeed, we prohibit opportunities which are essential to combating injustice and finding common ground as individuals and communities.

Martin Niemoller, a German pastor during WWII and the Holocaust, said, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The groups mentioned in this quote could be any identity group. They could be Jews. But they could also be queer people, Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants, etc. We must all speak out for one another, no matter if we know that “other” personally or not. We must all speak out for one another so that we can seek out justice, seek out understanding, seek out tolerance and defeat hate. We must all speak out for one another because if we do not, there will be no one left to speak out for us.