LTTE: In regards to President Kaler’s message from a Jewish graduate student

Sam Seidman, Graduate Student

I am a Jewish member of the Case Western Reserve University community for whom President Kaler claimed to speak in his email of Nov. 9. In the email, he informed the CWRU community that the Undergraduate Student Government had disappointed him when they had joined the international consensus in accusing Israel of the crime of “apartheid” within its borders and especially in the territories it has occupied since 1967—East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza—and demanding that CWRU divest from assets funding or supporting these crimes. Of course, his feelings are his own. Who am I to tell him not to be disappointed that his students support the Geneva Conventions? 

However, I found several of his assertions to be erroneous and slanderous—two of which I’m concerned with and writing about today. First, that the resolution’s assertions are “anti-Israel” and its adoption is “profoundly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.” Second, and more personally, he insisted that adopting this letter “undoubtedly promotes anti-Semitism,” “undermines the safety…of our Jewish community” and promotes “aggression toward the Jewish members of our community.” To the first claim, he seemed to be characterizing factual information as “anti-Israel,” which it may be his prerogative to do, but the function of his generalization seems to be to mislead rather than inform. For instance, one might ask what the point of even having international human rights law is if we can so simply dismiss accusations as “anti” the country of concern. Reading through the resolution the reader receives a compelling, factual picture of the crime of apartheid committed by Israel. Indeed, the historical record as recounted in the resolution demonstrates that Israel has committed the crimes of occupation and apartheid: forced migration, re-settling its population in occupied lands, political disenfranchisement and so on.

Moreover, a review of the full historical record reveals that the resolution paints an overly conservative picture of Israel’s behavior. As the resolution states, apartheid is a crime whereby an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination” is established, and details evidence of this in their “whereas” statements. But if one accepts the definition from such radical bodies as the UN General Assembly resolution on apartheid, then we must include not just apartheid but the “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies.” In this broader definition, considering the acts resulting from the policy and practice of apartheid we get a more grim but more accurate portrait of the crime being committed. Pulling back this veil reveals a decades-long regime of torture, atrocities and deprivation. For an example of their reserved account, the resolution mentions that “between September 2000 and August 2014, approximately 440 Palestinians…were killed during targeted killing operations.” But this is an overly restrictive picture. In just a few weeks in 2014, during Israel’s “Protective Edge” operation in occupied Gaza, an estimated 550 children alone were killed and 18,000 homes were leveled. This wanton killing of children perhaps is not a surprise considering Israel’s blockade of Gaza includes such nefarious items as children’s puzzle games

The above accounting of Israel’s behavior is widely accepted and has informed the international consensus leading mainstream organizations and human rights groups to agree that apartheid is indeed taking place, as the resolution mentions. This is hardly even hidden within Israel itself anymore with the passing of the “Nation-State” law in 2018 proclaiming that the “fulfillment of the right of national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” Even if one were to deny the existence of an occupation, despite the overwhelming evidence, this is tantamount to the formal establishment of a Jim Crow regime within Israel’s post-1967 borders. Is a factual account of Israel’s criminal behavior, the response from the international community and the lack of action by the CWRU community “anti-Israel,” as he asserts? This is indeed an interesting standard and I hope he also applies this standard to factual accounts of American Jim Crow in the Deep South, in this case as being “anti-American.” If not, then an emotionally potent oversimplification (“anti-Israel”) is being deployed as a distraction and has no place in a serious consideration of justice. The resolution’s account of things does not even begin to approach Israel’s other crimes which fall outside the rubric of “apartheid” but nevertheless meet criteria for international crimes under the Rome Statute including other crimes against humanity (e.g., torture), war crimes (e.g., targeting homes) and aggression (for example in its invasion of Lebanon in 1982). Criminality demands accountability.

I also want to address his second claim, that adopting the resolution harms the Jewish community. Besides the fact that the resolution never uses the words “Jews,” “Jewish,” “Judaism,” etc. it is presumptuous of him to speak for the Jewish community as a monolith. More importantly, the charge of antisemitism is erroneous. Indeed, the Jewish community is enhanced by consistent condemnation of injustice wherever and committed by whomever. The Jewish values that I was raised with insist that I speak up about injustices regardless, particularly those that I have some complicity in as all American taxpayers do, given the billions of dollars of funding the US provides to Israel’s military each year. 

“Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (“tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” Deuteronomy 16:20). Justice that does not account for the consequences of one’s own actions is hypocrisy.

Moreover, his letter intentionally conflates Jews and the State of Israel. This is at best also erroneous and at worst confirmation of real antisemitic tropes. For instance, according to Pew Surveys, American Jews—about half of world Jewry—rank having an orientation towards justice and leading a moral life far above caring about Israel as key to being a Jew. Caring about Israel is at about the level of having a good sense of humor. Therefore, the assertion that criticism of Israel is the same as criticism of the Jewish people as he does is out of step with Jewish opinion on the matter. This is, however, in keeping with the attitude of the far-right American politicians (who are interestingly almost all not Jewish) who chastise Jews for being so out of step with Israel as to insist it observe international human rights law. It is troubling then that his assertion here echoes historic antisemitic tropes: that Jews have “dual loyalties,” have allegiances to an outside state and are therefore a parasite on the national body politic.

It is important that CWRU actualizes the values that it claims to hold, divest from those financial interests which benefit from apartheid and support the CWRU community in upholding human rights. 


Sam Seidman

Doctoral Candidate

Department of Psychological Sciences