Letter from a University Professor

Tags: Jewish Identity, Take Action, Activism, Social Media, Hasbara

Letter written by Canadian Professor, Lena Bykhovsky who teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa

Dear Students,

I have spent the last 25 years showing you the beauty of all of the literary, cultural, philosophical, and artistic heights of the human spirit over the course of human history. Teaching you has been the most wonderful and satisfying of callings. I never wanted to do anything other than meet with you, discuss ideas with you, discover and rediscover human insights, truths, and wonders. I never regretted my career path, never hated my job, and never doubted my legacy. I felt privileged and honoured to show you how to analyse, to think critically, to weigh evidence, and to understand people and ideas, contexts and complexity, deeply and thoroughly. I thought my work was helping to make the world a better, more humane, more thoughtful place.

You have broken my heart. No: shattered it, irreparably. I don’t know how I will ever set foot in a classroom again. I don’t know how I will ever see you the same way. I know now that I was deluding myself that I ever had any impact, would ever leave any positive legacy, that my work ever made any difference.

I watch you all on social media, in the streets and the quads, marching in solidarity with a movement that seeks only to wipe me out. To exterminate me, my children, my parents, my entire family and community. I know, some of you think you’re trying to help the oppressed. You think that my kind is the white colonialist racist kind that you hate. 

Pro-Palestine students protest in Cambridge, Mass.

Pro-Palestine students protest in Cambridge, Mass.

But I thought I taught you how to evaluate arguments. I thought I taught you the importance of understanding context, both historical and rhetorical. I thought that I taught you that the world did not operate according to dichotomies, like black and white, oppressor and oppressed, villain and victim. I thought I taught you about complexity, about judgment, and to examine your sources and not to take anyone’s statements at face value. Zionism is the Jewish right to self-determination in our ancestral homeland. Israel is that ancestral homeland. Jews are the indigenous peoples of that land; not the only indigenous peoples of that land, to be sure. But Israel is the only land to which we are indigenous. After 2000 years of longing, the result of the Holocaust – a Nazi movement which sought to ethnically cleanse the world of Jews by systematically exterminating us – was that the international community granted us a sliver of that ancestral homeland.

It was to be shared, partitioned into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Arabs rejected the partition and attacked the Jews when they declared the state of Israel in 1948. The Jews won. Arabs who remained in Israel became citizens with full rights and freedoms. 20% of Israel’s population today is Arab. They fight in the army, they are doctors, lawyers, members of Parliament and supreme court judges. There is no apartheid. Israel’s Jewish population consists of Jews from Arab lands, whose parents or grandparents were kicked out when the state of Israel was formed, and of descendants of refugees from Eastern Europe, Holocaust survivors who had no homes to return to. Some are more recent refugees from Europe, Russia, and the Americas who either returned to Israel for religious reasons or because the Jew-hatred in their communities grew too excessive and they decided to emigrate, to head for the one place in the world Jews can go if their neighbours or governments turn against them.

The West Bank and Gaza strip – along with refugee camps that still exist in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan -- were the places that the Arab nations who attacked Israel at its founding told the Arabs living in Palestine (later to be known as Palestinians) to flee. It was supposed to be temporary, because the plan was to “push the Jews into the sea.” When the plan didn’t work out, all of these states refused to absorb the Palestinians. They wanted to keep them in camps because they still planned to annihilate Israel and the Jews that lived there and then the Palestinians could return. The West Bank was in Jordan and Gaza was in Egypt until 1967, when the Arab states tried again to push the Jews into the sea. Their failure this time ended with Israel capturing these territories. 

When Israel tried to exchange land for peace and give Gaza back to Egypt, Egypt didn’t want it. And so the territories remained in Israel. In 2005 Israel pulled out of Gaza and left it to govern itself. Most of the West Bank is also self-governing, but not all because of the high number of suicide bombers and other threats to Israel’s existence fomenting there, so Israel hasn’t been able to fully remove itself. The current awful Israeli government has allowed religious fanatics, “settlers,” to build settlements there, which makes everything worse.

And you see what I did there? I criticized Israel’s government. I can do that, and still support the existence of a Jewish state in our ancestral homeland.

When you say “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” this is a call to ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homeland, from the only state in the entire Middle East that would look remotely familiar to you in terms of basic rights and freedoms and a democratic system if you were to visit the region. When Hamas supporters – like those who led you all in a rally on my home campus today – talk about Jews as “occupiers,” they don’t mean Gaza. They mean the whole state of Israel. They want Jews eradicated from the entire land. Hamas actually wants us gone from the whole world, as they have stated many times. Who are the Nazis now?

But here I am, teaching again. I can’t help myself. I wish that you cared what I had to say. I wish that some knowledge, some context, some understanding, could reach beyond the slogans and chants for my death that you are repeating mindlessly and endlessly as you march to the beat of hatred across the tattered remains of my broken soul.

If you have been moved by this post, please consider copying, sharing, or posting this on your own page. Doing so will widen its reach, and increase the possibility that a person more removed from my community will see this narrative. 🧡 



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Tags: Jewish Identity, Take Action, Activism, Social Media, Hasbara