GUEST EDITORIAL: Vanderbilt should take a stronger stand on Israel-Palestine conflict

Chancellor Diermeier’s statements should take a stronger stand and denounce antisemitism.
Students protest on campus in support of Israel, as photographed Oct. 27, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)
Students protest on campus in support of Israel, as photographed Oct. 27, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)
Barrie Barto

I am deeply saddened by Chancellor Daniel Diermeier’s statement about the terrorist attack on Israel. While there are “deep layers” regarding peace and land in Israel and the Middle East, the atrocities of Oct. 7 are far from “complex” as he labels them. They are simply the acts of a terrorist organization.

My grandparents and relatives on both sides of my family lived through the Holocaust. My maternal grandfather was a member in the Bielski Partisan brigade, fighting to survive and save the lives of Jews in what is now Belarus.

It is their sacrifices and struggles that helped shape my life, work and my time at Vandy. As an alum, I condemn the fact that 20 years later, our university leadership still does not do enough to condemn and stop this antisemitism on campus and in the world at large. 

I joined AEPi and was an active member of Hillel. During my senior year, I was president of Hillel and, through the efforts of the executive board, we were able to bring The Schulman Center to fruition in 2002. I was also an active participant in the Holocaust Lecture Series, and I did my part to stand up to ignorant and hurtful statements that remind me of the chancellor’s recent statement.

We cannot accept rape, torture, kidnapping and cold-blooded murder as “nuances,” which is what Diermeier referred to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks as. Diminishing these atrocities is akin to normalization and acceptance, and our chancellor has a responsibility to set an example to our entire Vandy community to stand against those acts and not normalize them at any level. Diermeier sent a longer statement to the Vanderbilt community about the drop in rankings in this year’s U.S. News Best National Universities rankings than he did about the Middle East conflict. I would argue that Diermeier’s recent comments have a bigger impact on Vanderbilt’s status than U.S. News’ rankings.

Diminishing these atrocities is akin to normalization and acceptance; and our University President has a responsibility to set an example to our entire Vandy community to stand against those acts and not normalize them at any level.

There are innocent Palestinians horribly dying in this conflict. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is recognized as a terrorist organization by multiple governments and has self-proclaimed its goal to annihilate the people and state of Israel. In recent weeks, governments across the world have held Hamas accountable for using hospitals and schools as bases and using their own people and hostages as human shields. Our Vanderbilt leadership has a responsibility to ensure these facts are shared, while we also recognize the horrors of war and the living conditions of the Palestinian people.

To truly be a world-class and top-tier university, we must be strong in our resolve and stand up against tyranny, terrorism and injustice. Vanderbilt has a history of encouraging public action and charity (or in Hebrew Tikkun Olam, meaning “repairing the world”). Let us continue that tradition by taking the step beyond “[we] denounce violence, hate, and prejudice in all forms…” Our statements must take a stronger stance and not normalize any hate speech including antisemitism and Islamophobia. While there are many sides to the history of Israel and Gaza, there are not two sides to this conflict; only victims of a terrorist organization and a war caused by their actions, and we as the Vanderbilt community should recognize that and stand up for those victims.

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About the Contributors
David Bach, Guest Writer
David graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering. During his time at Vanderbilt, he was involved in Vanderbilt Hillel, the Holocaust Lecture Series and AEPi.
Barrie Barto, Senior Staff Photographer
Barrie Barto ('25) is majoring in medicine, health & society with minors in communication of science & technology and neuroscience in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as Photography Director. Outside of The Hustler, you can find Barrie cheering on the St. Louis Blues or tracking down the best gluten-free food in Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (8)

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A
anonymous
2 months ago

A clearly biased article. This does not take into account the colonial zionist ideology on which the state of Israel was formed and off which it thrives.

A
Anonymous
2 months ago
Reply to  anonymous

Which is not a justification for terrorism

S
Seeking justice in all things
17 days ago
Reply to  Anonymous

But it is a justification for resistance. Why is it that resistance on behalf of an oppressed white people is lauded but that on behalf of an oppressed colored people (especially when muslim) is deemed terrorism? Words are powerful, and, much as calling protests riots twists the narrative, calling violent resistance terrorism excludes a wholly relevant context. This is not to say that violent resistance is okay; the loss of any innocent life (Israeli or Palestinian) is a tragedy. But, in order to respond fairly and efficaciously, it is important to note the larger context in which such tragedies occur.

P
Paul M. Kurtz
2 months ago

Good for you, David. I am a proud fellow alumn of Vandy and a brother of yours from long ago.

L
Lo Meisel
2 months ago

How do you feel about the rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder of innocent Palestinians by the IDF and Israeli police?

A
Alan C
2 months ago
Reply to  Lo Meisel

Please provide evidence.

A
Anonymous
1 month ago
Reply to  Lo Meisel

Believe women means believe women regardless of their nationality, race, or religion. We can believe Israeli women and Palestinian women. This feels like a whattabaoutism to deflect on the very real crimes of Hamas

S
Seeking justice in all things
17 days ago
Reply to  Lo Meisel

There have been many atrocities committed on all sides. No one is debating that. But, while everyone agrees that the murder, rape, and torture of Israelis by Hamas is horrific, the U.S. actively funds that of Palestinians by IDF. Let’s please give all innocent human life the same value.