GUEST EDITORIAL: Solidarity with whom? A response to Vanderbilt Student Government’s latest letter.

As a former student and current Jew, I object to VSG’s bizarre and antisemitic rhetoric.


Hunter Long

Empty path on Vanderbilt’s campus, photographed October 26, 2020. (Hunter Long/Hustler Multimedia)

Foster Hartmann Swartz, Guest Writer

The views expressed in this Guest Editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Hustler or its editorial board. 

Hamas, the majority party in the fractured Palestinian legislature and de facto governing agency of the Gaza Strip, is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States. Article 7 of the 1988 Hamas Covenant proclaims as a guiding prophecy: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” After the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh condemned the United States and lauded bin Laden as an “Arab holy warrior” and “martyr.” In 2012, Hamas’ Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council sermonized on live television: “O Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O Allah, destroy the Americans and their supporters. O Allah, count them one by one, and kill them all, without leaving a single one.”

The line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is a fine one. Anti-Zionism encompasses opposition to the state of Israel and support of “Palestinian liberation,” whereas antisemitism denotes hatred of or prejudice against Jews. All antisemites are anti-Zionist; many, though not all, anti-Zionists are antisemitic.

On which side of the line does VSG’s latest letter fall?

Published to Instagram on the evening of May 22, the post is entitled “In Solidarity with Students.” The authors, high-ranking members of Vanderbilt Student Government (VSG), encourage the student body to “reach out to Palestinian friends to offer support, educate themselves on this issue, and find ways to support the Palestinian community at large.” Following a curt extension of “support and consolation to Israeli students also affected by this crisis,” the authors provide their account of the recent fighting. The story, as they tell it, begins on May 10, with Israeli airstrikes killing 20 people in Gaza. These airstrikes, along with other Israeli attacks, are condemned as “inhumane acts of war, supremacy, and genocide”—the oppressive Israeli government, we are told, must be held accountable.

The letter concludes with an obligatory statement against antisemitism: “The signers of this statement denounce antisemitism in all forms and will continue to support Vanderbilt’s entire student body.”

I suppose the only question for us is: do we believe them?

As a Jew, and thus someone who has engaged in intense dialogues over the state of Israel in the past, I have learned to identify the putrid odor of antisemitic sentiment festering beneath an anti-Zionist mask.”

— Foster Hartmann Swartz, Class of 2020

Its most egregious hallmark is the deliberate downplaying or wholesale ignoring of the suffering of Israelis involved in the conflict, often coupled with the omission of pertinent information regarding the actions of Hamas and other terrorist groups.

In VSG’s letter, it is telling that the authors decide to begin their narrative of the recent clash precisely on May 10 at around 6:50 p.m. IDT. Starting 43 minutes earlier might have forced them to acknowledge that, at 6:07 p.m. IDT on the same day, Hamas commenced the airstrike exchange by launching a volley of rockets at Israeli civilians in the Jerusalem area. It is further illuminating, perhaps, that the specific Israeli civilian death count is entirely absent from the piece—all that is referenced is a vague “approximate total of 2,000 Israeli and foreign civilians” who have died as a direct result of “increased pressure against indigenous Palestine.” Could the deaths of these individuals have had anything to do with Hamas, the Palestinian governing authority in the Gaza Strip? The group firing barrages of rockets indiscriminately into Israeli cities?

Presumably not; Hamas is referenced not a single time in the whole post.

I understand that neglecting certain facts might not necessarily evince antisemitism. But this letter, signed by not one representative of a Jewish organization on campus, is too deliberate in its exclusion of relevant information which might allow the reader to in any way sympathize with the Jewish state for its rhetorical shortcomings to be coincidental.

The final sentence of the letter directs “[a]ny students, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, etc. who are hurting and grieving right now [to] find resources linked in the VSG bio.” Perhaps there one might find a pro-Israel, or even just a neutral, perspective? Surely, if the resources are for all students, at least one of them must provide an alternative viewpoint.

The LinkTree in VSG’s Instagram bio presents two germane resources: the first is a button entitled “Co-Sign Palestine Statement.” The second is a button labeled “Donate and Educate Yourself on Palestine,” which links to a list of Palestinian charities and anti-Zionist texts such as “Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine” and Palestine: A Socialist Introduction.

That’s it.

The last several weeks have seen an explosion in gruesome incidents of antisemitic violence committed on American soil. Anti-Zionist protestors harassed diners in Los Angeles, demanded to know whether they were Jewish, and then violently attacked them after they answered affirmatively. An antisemitic gang pummeled a Jewish man with punches and flagpoles in New York City’s Times Square. The hatred of Israel and the hatred of Jews continue to bleed together; unilateral condemnations of Israel which fail to acknowledge even the existence of Hamas become particularly suspect.

The decision of the authors, which include the current president and vice president of Vanderbilt Student Government, as well as the VSG Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chair, to publish a letter like this—insistent in its ignorance and disturbing in its omissions—is confounding.

As a Jewish former Commodore, the letter and curated resources make but one thing clear: Vanderbilt Student Government does not stand in solidarity with me.

To submit a Guest Editorial, please email our Opinion Editor Zoe Abel at [email protected].