New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Opinion: Grieving the Israel-Hamas war feels almost impossible. Hate is not the answer.

Students and faculty are deeply affected over the loss of life in the Israel-Hamas war, but the hatred surrounding the topic on campus is making an already unbearable situation worse.
(Simon Tan for WSN)

Over a month has passed since the violent attack on Israeli towns by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States. The massacre left more than 1,200 people dead — the largest number of Jewish people killed in a singular day since the Holocaust. The Israel-Hamas war continues to escalate, with no end in sight. 

There are still over 200 innocent individuals being held captive by Hamas in Gaza — ranging from 9-month-olds to 86-year-olds. In response, college campuses have been flooded with fear, pain, and heightened tensions between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students and faculty. As a result, both Jewish and Palestinian communities have come to feel incredibly unsafe as they are targeted by hate and violence.

As a Jewish student, I feel the pain of the Jewish community and wanted to share the Jewish student perspective, especially because of the incredibly polarized atmosphere at NYU. I have witnessed rallies and protests in Washington Square Park with chants of “Death to the Jews,” and seen photos and videos of people ripping down posters of those kidnapped by Hamas. Both the U.S. Senate and the Israeli government have criticized the response to the war on NYU’s campus, condemning “antisemitic student activities” and “terror supporters” on campus.

“I would hope my school would publicly condemn a terrorist organization that impacts thousands of their students,” sophomore Eloise Stern said. “I would hope my school would open the floor to voices that need to be heard; I would hope my school would give objective, educational insight to the conflict. I feel concerned for my safety.”

The attacks on Jewish students across U.S. universities over the last few weeks, both physical and online, only sow further divisions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students, and make productive conversations on the war all the more difficult. My intention is to amplify Jewish voices at a time when it is crucial for the rest of the student body to understand the pain Jewish people are facing, in Israel and the diaspora. The hatred that has come with many on-campus responses to the war is unproductive at best, and terrifying at worst.

While processing the massacre that took place in Israel, many Jewish students are mourning the loss of their friends and loved ones — my friend’s Hebrew teacher was killed in Gaza only two days ago. A significant portion of the Jewish community at NYU is deeply connected to Israel, be it through family or friends who live there, or through having taken a gap year there. Although Israel is more than 5,000 miles away, what is happening in the country is very close to home for many.

Sophomore Allison Lax said she feels extremely uncomfortable in her classes, where she sometimes encounters “students that [she] saw at rallies saying ‘Death to Zionists,’ ‘Death to anyone that supports Israel’ and even ‘Hitler was right.’” Lax said that while NYU has stated its commitment to combating antisemitism on campus, she is still confronted with students who are, unabashedly, calling for the destruction of her people. 

“I’m scared to even share my opinions and my religion,” Lax said. “I’m scared that my professors secretly have a bias against me because I’m Jewish and Israeli.” 

Being Jewish or supportive of Israel does not contradict the fight for the freedom of the Palestinian people. The Jewish community is not the only group that is suffering from this war. It is important to recognize the Islamophobia and Anti-Arab sentiment circulating around college campuses and the country, and the incredible grief and loss of the Palestinian people. 

In response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, the Israeli military began a series of attacks that have left thousands of Palestinians in Gaza dead, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the country’s government does not “seek to govern Gaza, we don’t seek to occupy. But we seek to give it, and us, a better future and the entire Middle East — and that requires defeating Hamas.”

At NYU, many Jewish students feel particularly disturbed by their classmates who fail to  recognize, and even try to justify, the barbaric massacre that took place on Oct. 7. Why can’t students acknowledge that the killing of innocent civilians — grandmothers, mothers, fathers and children — is wrong? Anyone can say “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free” but do they know what that means? For many in the Jewish community, it means supporting the erasure of the state of Israel and its people.

While Jewish students are processing the trauma of the horrific attack, they are also struggling to decide how to protect their identity in and outside of the classroom. Junior Rena Falah said being antisemitic and anti-Israel go hand in hand. 

“After three years at NYU, I’ve seen people post about almost every type of inequality and oppression — except that aimed at Jews,” Falah said. “Sending out a simple statement is not enough. We need to demand curricula educating on antisemitism. If they don’t, there is definitely an absence of a moral compass after seeing someone hold up a sign that says ‘clean the Jews’ and not do anything. In my lifetime, I have never seen people protest against those who are oppressed.”

Instances of irresponsible reporting have also made it difficult for students far away from the war to discern what is and is not true. The New York Times recently admitted to depending too much on Hamas claims that a rocket that exploded at a hospital in Gaza City was sent by the Israel Defense Forces in its reporting of the incident. The source of the attack continues to be disputed.

Sophomore Benjamin Meppen said he feels like he could be verbally attacked in class for being Jewish, and that many Jewish students feel incredibly unsafe when NYU faculty publicly voice anti-Israel sentiments. 

Meppen also noted that many of the protesters at Washington Square Park rallies are not a part of the NYU community, and that many antisemitic incidents near campus are not necessarily caused by students. He also touched on the pride of the Jewish people who are present at rallies calling for the return of hostages, in contrast to protesters choosing to cover their faces when spreading antisemitic statements.

“Fully educate yourself on the intrinsic nature of this war before you post something or before you go to a rally,” Meppen said. “Antisemitism has been around for a long time and will be around for a long time, and history does not look good for those supporting terrorists and those who support kidnapping women and children.”

As the war intensifies, the Jewish community is still mourning the events of the last month. It is unclear when the ongoing violence from the war will end, or when students who are close to the conflict will feel safe at NYU again. Despite the uncertainty, fear, and pain members of the NYU community are facing now, being hateful toward one another is not the solution.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Salena Tewari-Rubin at [email protected].

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  • M

    MichelleNov 13, 2023 at 10:53 am

    Great insight on an issue that should highlight the multitude of perspectives surrounding a struggle that has been pervasive for a long time.

  • C

    Cecile TaraginNov 13, 2023 at 10:32 am

    This article was insightful and definitely very informative of what is going on in Israel to those who are unaware and miseducated. Thank you Salena Rubin♥️