The following is a letter to the editor and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit a piece to the Opinion section, click here.
To the Editor:
I am an Israeli postdoc at the University. Yesterday, Oct. 25, my plan was to work from home. At around quarter to noon, I saw the security alert from the University about a threat. After a short search online I saw that a pro-Palestinian walkout was planned. I took my flag and drove to the University to show my presence, as part of my freedom of speech, while respecting and honoring the freedom of speech of others, who I do not agree with and who I think sometimes might not speak the truth. This is the nature of the freedom of speech — the ability to talk, to protest — even if it is uncomfortable to some people. This is a sacred right, and for this reason it should have limits.
If the chants at the walkout in solidarity with Palestine requested for Princeton to divest from companies associated with Israel, called Israel an apartheid state, and made other statements of this sort, I probably would not have chosen to stand on top of the steps of Nassau Hall, and would have stayed in the back. To be clear, I definitely disagree with the aforementioned claims, but will fight for the right of people to chant them, while telling these people that they are wrong.
However, I had a fundamental problem with two specific chants at the walkout: “Intifada, intifada, long live the intifada” and “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free.” No matter how people will try to frame these chants, they are calls for violence and genocide. When you are chanting “long live the intifada," you only need to go back 20 years to see the intifada that you want to continue. This intifada includes suicide bombers in restaurants, buses, and clubs, and mass shootings in the streets of Israel. The statement “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free” — for the people who are not familiar with the geography of the region — refers to the entire state of Israel, which falls between the river (Jordan) and the sea (Mediterranean). What do you mean that Palestine will be free there? Free from what? This chant effectively calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, as a result, the genocide or ethnic cleansing of all Jews living in this region. In front of these chants I felt obliged to make a statement, and stood in front of the protest silently covered by my country’s flag. I think that the University leadership cannot stand on the sideline while these phrases are chanted within the walls of the University, as they not only call for violence, but also create a hostile and unsafe environment for Israelis and Jews.
I want to thank the protestors for being peaceful; unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all protests in the United States these days — days which are not normal. I am not sure that a similar act of my part even in a place like New York would not result in me getting harmed. So, without diminishing any word from my previous paragraphs, I thank you for your ability to remain peaceful. I hope that the last lines that I wrote will put into perspective the state of mind of Jews and Israeli people in the United States, especially on university campuses today.
Ilai Guendelman is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Geosciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.