The Double Standard At The Heart of Anti-Zionism

While the boundaries of hate speech when it comes to most minority groups are clear, treatment of Jews is an unfortunate double standard.

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By Faith Choi

Nowadays, in the Stuyvesant community—and the world at large—the expectation is that when speech crosses a line where minority groups tell us that something is offensive, we take them at their word. That is, except when Jews express their offense, fear, or pain.

This is the definition of a double standard. While discriminatory language relating to race, gender, and sexuality is typically recognized as offensive, anti-Zionist and antisemitic speech has recently seen wide acceptance and even encouragement in society, regardless of how often Jews express their offense and pain. The word “Zionist” in particular has become a “safe” way to engage in hate speech against Jews. I believe that “Zionist” has been misused and misunderstood. In order to understand what Zionism truly is, we need to look back in history.

Archaeological evidence shows that after escaping enslavement in Egypt, Jews formed the Kingdom of Israel in what is now the country of Israel. While many groups have also lived in this area over the centuries, there is an undeniable depth of archaeological evidence showing that Israelites (Jews) have lived in this land for thousands of years. The Kingdom of Israel stood until about 70 C.E. when Romans captured it and forced the Israelites to flee. Jews settled in parts of the Middle East and Europe but were never ultimately allowed to integrate into these societies. During the First Crusade of 1096, Jews were massacred and faced pogroms in European cities and Middle Eastern countries that they had previously called home. The Spanish Inquisition, between the 15th and 19th centuries, forcibly converted Jews to Christianity; if they refused, they were murdered. From the late 18th century to the early 20th century in Eastern Europe, Jews were legally confined to living in the specially designated “Pale of Settlement,” an enclosed area located on the borders of Russia

Overall, each time Jews were rejected from society and forced to relocate—each time they faced antisemitic hatred in a country they believed had accepted them—the necessity for Zionism increased. Following the Dreyfus Affair in France, Theodor Herzl finally invented Zionism. The spirit and self-determination of Jews lay in their desire for a homeland in the face of violence. After the Holocaust, when six million European Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany and their collaborators, Jews were finally encouraged to settle in Israel—their ancestral homeland. For many Jews, the very idea of Zionism is intertwined with Jewish identity. While not all Jewish people identify as “Zionist” and not all Zionists are Jewish, Zionism is a representation of the Jewish struggle for self-determination, which throughout history has gone hand in hand with the Jewish identity. 

The term “Zionist” indicates a person who supports a national Jewish homeland. Not all Zionists have to be Jewish; there are plenty of non-Jews who believe in Israel’s right to exist. However, recently “Zionist” has been used as a slur in phrases such as “Zio” and “Zio-b****” as substitutes for “Jew” or “Israeli” to mask anti-Semitism. People often use “Zionist” as a slur because they believe Zionism to be a “colonialist enterprise” intent on taking land from others. This disregards the idea that Jews have always lived in the land of Israel and that there is an Israeli population native to the area.

In Stuyvesant High School, a fellow student provided me with a screenshot of a class group chat where a student claimed that one of our teachers was “Zionist” (with a skull emoji attached), and another student responded “gross.” A third student proceeded to equate knowing a Zionist with knowing a Nazi. The students spread both hate speech and rumors about the teacher’s beliefs and substituted the word “Zionist” for “Jew” with an intention of making antisemitic comments.

Outside of Stuyvesant, actions and hate speech against Jews have recently been on the rise on college campuses. At an anti-Israel rally at Columbia University, students chanted, “7th of October is about to be every day. Every day.” October 7 was a day of brutal terror attacks against Israel. Hamas killed 1,200 Jews (including infants), raped and disfigured women, and took about 240 hostages. It seems absurd to even have to say this, but to chant in support of this being a daily occurrence is far beyond hate speech. However, the people at the rally chanting in support of October 7 and other atrocities have found that when it comes to rallying against Jews, chants fall under the category of “free speech.” While the NYPD eventually took action to disband the anti-Israel protests at Columbia University, the police response was due to a claim that the protests were a “noisy distraction”, and since the students took over a building and barricaded themselves inside. While a university spokesperson mentioned that the protests created an “unwelcoming environment” for Jewish students, this is a major understatement. On top of that, there was no move to call the police until the building was infiltrated, demonstrating the overall lack of a response.

Furthermore, several Columbia University Jewish students have claimed that Jewish students “have been punched, shoved, spat upon, blocked from attending classes and moving freely about campus, and targeted by pro-terrorist hate speech.” A leader of the Columbia University encampment, Khymani James, even said “be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists” in an Instagram video in January that has recently resurfaced. While he has since said that his words were “wrong,” when asked at the time whether his words were problematic in any way, he responded in denial. He has since been suspended, but it is chilling to think that he was a leader of this movement.

In contrast, Jewish professor at Columbia University Business School Shai Davidai decided to lead a small, peaceful counter-protest. Davidai requested a police escort in order to safely shout the names of 133 Israeli hostages held by Hamas. However, the university instead offered him the opportunity to lead a counter-protest far from the anti-Israel protesters, out of earshot and out of view, with no escort. When Davidai approached a campus gate later that day surrounded by a few students with Israeli flags, he found that his ID card was deactivated and he was barred from entering the school. He never ended up leading his protest that day.

Harassment of Jews and violence toward Jews has spread like wildfire to other universities around the country. Jewish students are being targeted by protesters and are too afraid to even set foot on campus. Jewish Yale student journalist Sahar Tartak was stabbed in the eye with a Palestinian flag in the Yale protests. Protestors across the country have celebrated the events of October 7 and according to the American Jewish Committee, “directly targeted Jewish and pro-Israel students, preventing them from accessing some areas of campus.” If any other minority group faced this level of violence and hatred across the country, would we be so silent? I don’t think so. This is the double standard that is so blatantly applied to Jews.

It is vitally important for the Stuyvesant community to become a safe space for Jewish students. The administration, as well as all clubs and organizations, needs to enforce a single standard for the safety and treatment of all students, including Jewish students. It is equally important that students and faculty learn the definition and history of Zionism as well its close link with many individuals’ Jewish identities. We need to break the chain of antisemitism and misinformation swimming around our school. We need to end the double standard that discounts Jewish pain and silences Jewish voices, as seen on October 7 and now across American college campuses.