I have a colleague at another institution, a person of color who has for years been vocal on matters of concern to people of color and to all marginalized people. He is the quintessential progressive. He speaks often of diversity, inclusion and allyship. He is quick to call out racism when he sees it and proudly declares himself anti-racist.
Because I respect him and his concerns, and believe he genuinely strives to be a good person and does not have hate in his heart, I thought he would want to know when something he had said after the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, no doubt with the best of intentions, was profoundly offensive. Perhaps he would want to address it.
I wrote to him as follows after an earlier conversation about why he had been absolutely silent for some four days after the massacre.
Are you aware of the scope of the slaughter on Oct 7? Not just the numbers (now upwards of 1,400, mostly civilian) but the details?
Forgive me, but you should know: [Here, I went into painful detail on Hamas’s atrocities, which I will not reproduce].
“Say their names,” people like to say. It’s important. These are real people, real human beings. There is no shortage of videos available to watch, put online by Hamas terrorists themselves. You owe it to humanity to watch these, to bear witness, to understand the depth of the depravity and the brutality of the barbarity.
These slaughtered people were not “militants.” They were not “settlers.” These were human beings, like you and me, like your parents, your children. Imagine gunmen bursting into your home one morning and torturing and slaughtering your whole family. Slitting your child’s throat in front of you, then doing the same to you. 1,400 of them, mostly civilians, mostly Jews, so many children, savagely tortured and murdered, and here is how you explained your silence to that point during our earlier conversation:
“I am still learning about this conflict from multiple perspectives. It is extremely complicated.”
What exactly do you think could possibly justify such barbaric cruelty? To babies, children, disabled people, grandmothers?
When the Nazis showed up at Polish towns and forced all the Jews to strip and walk miles into the woods and dig their own graves and then shot them, mothers holding their babies, would you stop and say, “Wait a minute, I need to hear the Nazis’ perspective on this before I reach a judgment?”
Who watches little girls raped and then dismembered alive (yes) and says, “Well, I need to learn more before making a judgment”?
Who watches a mother and a father and their three small children tied up together and then burned alive (yes) and says, “Well I need to hear the other side before I make up my mind”?
When nine black people were gunned down in South Carolina in 2015, did anyone say, “Wait until we get the gunman’s point of view”? Or in regard to the 2019 mosque shootings in New Zealand in which 51 Muslims died?
Is there any other identity group whose massive slaughter is met with the search for justification, with the “need to learn more”?
Closer to home, when talking about your activism for important causes, you also said, “The George Floyd affair was about the daily police brutality black Americans have faced for centuries and the continued oppression of folks of African descent across the diaspora.”
Imagine someone responded to you and said, “Well, you know, that situation is actually extremely complicated. After all, black people do commit a lot of crime and have a lot of police interactions. And anyway, let’s hear from David Duke and the Proud Boys before we reach any conclusions.”
Do I need to go on to imagine how you would feel, and how pretty much everyone we know in academia would erupt against such a response, which would instantly be branded racist?
1,400 mostly unarmed Jews—babies, children, teenagers, pregnant women, grandmothers—were just slaughtered in the most sadistic manner possible by the members of an openly genocidal group. Their founding charter literally endorses the murder of all Jews on earth. They literally posted footage of the atrocities so everyone could celebrate it. And you need to “learn more”?
But you didn’t stop there.
Given the “complexity” of the conflict, you then endorsed the (otherwise surely laudatory) view that we needn’t play the “Oppression Olympics,” that “we must oppose all oppression, have empathy for every suffering person, etc.”
Of course. But when certain people responded to the Black Lives Matter campaign so dear to you by pointing out that, in fact, “all lives matter” and “unarmed white people are also shot by police,” well we know how that was received, not least as evidence of their racism. Yet when 1,400 Jews were slaughtered in the most cold-blooded manner possible, you responded, “Well, all lives matter.”
You literally just “all lives mattered” every Jewish person on earth.
Of course all lives matter—or do they? I’m not convinced you, or far too many people among our academic colleagues, actually believe that.
This past spring, my campus community responded vigorously when marginalized students complained of their marginalization, and you were admirably and devotedly supportive of their concerns. The faculty conversations went on for weeks. There was massive concern for the welfare and well-being of our students. There was a demand that every department release a statement of solidarity. There were classes cancelled and buildings occupied and the removal of the president, at great financial and emotional cost to the institution.
Not one person said, “Well, it’s actually complicated.” Not one person said, “Let’s hear some other perspectives first.” Not one person said, “Hey we don’t need to play the Oppression Olympics here. You know, everyone has difficult things they’re dealing with, everyone struggles and suffers in their various ways, we shouldn’t prioritize the concerns of these students over those of others.”
No, we need not play the Oppression Olympics. But if someone said that in response to your 2020 George Floyd activism or our own spring 2023 situation, it would rightly be understood as a racist dismissal ofthe oppression felt by marginalized people. Yet that’s exactly what you said to me in response to the sadistic slaughter of 1,400 mostly Jewish civilians.
And you know maybe we should play the Oppression Olympics, just for a moment. Frankly I’m pretty sure that the harms and oppression and suffering our marginalized students felt while pursuing college degrees on this beautiful privileged campus with a faculty committed to their well-being were just ever so slightly less than the harms experienced by the 1,400 mostly Jewish people mercilessly tortured and murdered by genocidal terrorists, and maybe even less than the concrete personal injuries this episode has inflicted on most of the Jewish people here on this campus and yours, many of whom know people and are even related to people who were just murdered and kidnapped while much of the world watched and celebrated.
And yet with the former our community exploded in concern and solidarity, and with the latter there is—silence.
Including from you.
This difference in response does not exactly broadcast the message that Jewish lives are included in the otherwise laudatory belief that all lives matter to this community.
(I suppose that the silence is at least better than the massive rallies openly endorsing the murder of Jews seen on many campuses, including yours—but only marginally.)
To be clear, I am not asking you to be “pro-Israel” when I ask you to condemn this atrocity. This is not political.
It is simple humanity.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complicated. But this is not complicated. The mass torture and slaughter and kidnapping of civilians, of babies, children, teenagers, disabled people, pregnant women and grandmothers by an openly genocidal group is not complicated at all.
A woman I know was murdered with her husband in her home, the two of them managing to cover their teenaged son with their bodies as they were riddled with bullets. The son was severely injured and lay there under his dead parents for eight hours with a bullet in his stomach, but he survived after multiple surgeries—although he now must live his life as an orphan with that unbearable experience burned into his memory.
Imagine this happening to you and your children. This woman was the daughter of a mentor of mine, and both he and the woman and her husband had dedicated their lives to various projects promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence. She and her husband, and almost all of their neighbors in the surrounding houses, were murdered by people who do not believe in Jewish-Arab coexistence or Jewish existence at all for that matter.
Is this really so complicated?
Silence is complicity, they say.
If a person cannot condemn this, one can only conclude that the person supports it. There is no middle ground here.
You have the opportunity to be a real moral leader here by saying something.
Please take it.
I received no response.