On November 15, Duke Student Government President Christina Wang launched an unprecedented veto against the recognition of a new student group, Duke Students Supporting Israel (SSI). The Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Duke Friends of Israel unequivocally support the SSI charter. We believe this veto underscores the institutional bias and anti-Semitism that are ingrained in the DSG and reaffirms the need for the DSG to adopt the International Holocaust Rememberance Association (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
Wang said her veto was based on a social media post by the group that “weeded an individual student on his organization’s social media account in an unacceptable manner.” In its post, SSI responded rightly to harmful criticism of its organization allegedly that Duke “promotes settler colonialism” through the SSI charter. Settler colonialism is defined as “an ongoing power system that perpetuates genocide and the oppression of indigenous peoples and cultures”.
In claiming that SSI perpetuates settler colonialism, Riddick is promoting two falsehoods. First, that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people. Second, that the Jewish people are not native to the Land of Israel. As SSI notes on their Instagram page, falsehoods like these show the need for SSI on campus. They delegitimize Israel and uphold the anti-Semitic notion that Jews have no connection with the Land of Israel, effectively dismissing and annihilating the lives and histories of an entire ethnic group. With her veto, Wang puts her weight behind Reddick’s harmful allegations and these anti-Semitic falsehoods.
While numerous authors have explored Israel’s relationship to settler colonialism in greater detail, we can briefly see through this narrative by examining Jewish history. Jews have had an uninterrupted presence in the Land of Israel for almost 3,000 years. Zionism, the support of Jewish autonomy, is not a new phenomenon. Throughout the history of the Middle East, there have been independent Jewish states in the Land of Israel. Furthermore, the notion that Israel perpetuates genocide can be refuted by simply looking at population trends. The Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is almost five times what it was during the British mandate. Notably, 21% of the Israeli population is made up of Israeli Palestinians with full citizenship and rights. An Israeli-Arab party is currently serving in the ruling coalition of Israel. Hear it from the Israeli Arabs themselves: Israel is not a settler colonial state.
In their November 16 letter to the editor, Duke Students for Justice in Palestine used the SSI veto incident as an opportunity to criticize Zionism and the State of Israel. While Wang’s veto may be questionable, it certainly does not lead to calls for the abolition of the only Jewish state. SJP writes that “Zionist justification crumbles upon the awakening of a cultural consciousness rooted in systematic and indiscriminate justice.” Although certainly poetic, this feeling is remote from reality. Israel has nearly 7 million Jewish citizens and Israel is their only home, a fact that the SJP neglects. As the Israeli musician Ehuan Mahor writes: ain li eretz acheret. I have no other country. Regardless of the context, the Duke Chronicle should not be a platform to call for the destruction of the Jewish homeland. Publishing such divisive rhetoric not only hurts the advocacy of the Palestinian cause, but also encourages the spread of anti-Semitic discourses on campus that endanger Jewish students.
We should also note that the criticism of the SJP is very hypocritical as DIPAC members are deliberately harassed because of their identity. “So I’ll repeat myself again, fuck DIPAC and every Zionist on campus,” wrote an SJP member in 2019. The SJP did not receive any sanctions from the DSG for these social media comments, nor was its charter revoked. Compare this to SSI, who responded to criticism with respectful language. “These types of false stories are what we want to combat,” wrote SSI on Instagram.
Rather than wasting time discussing a veto against the recognition of SSI, we urge the DSG to join the 30 U.S. colleges and universities whose student governments have adopted the working definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Rememberence Allience. This definition would give the DSG a framework to understand why incidents like Wang’s veto perpetuate anti-Semitism and is in line with Duke’s policy. The accusation of settler colonialism reinforces the revisionist and anti-Semitic notion that Jews have no connection to their ancestral homeland. In its Chronicle letter, the SJP doubles this accusation and calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism would provide the DSG with the insight it needs to understand the gravity of these allegations and why SSI was fully within its right to respond with respect.