We, the undersigned UVM students, urge you to reconsider your decision to allow Catamounts Supporting Israel to fly the Israeli flag on the Davis Center special events flagpole in the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. Those of us who are Jewish, while deeply grateful for the resources the University has provided during this difficult time for our community and cognizant of the supportive intent of this decision, nevertheless stand with our fellow students as we together emphasize the harm this causes to Jews and to other marginalized students on campus. Those of us who are Jewish together with the support of our fellow students affirm that the State of Israel, while branding itself as the Jewish State, is nevertheless a nation-state and its Flag is the flag only of that nation-state. It is not the flag of the Jewish people. Israel further is a nation-state with a long and continuing track record of oppression, discrimination, and human rights abuses, including but not limited to the brutal Occupation of the West Bank and continuing illegal settlement construction there, the blockade of the Gaza Strip and use of deadly military force against its civilian population, its institutional racism against its non-Jewish citizens, its anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies, the initial and continuing ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians, the continual refusal to allow the return of these refugees and their descendants, its discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews, and its sexist, homophobic, and transphobic policies. As such, the tacit endorsement of these policies by flying Israel’s flag stands strongly at odds with the University’s values of Respect and Justice as expressed in Our Common Ground.
We know that the Flag of Israel is not the flag of the Jewish people because many of us who are Jewish are opposed to the State of Israel and/or its current right-wing government, and as such do not see Israel as synonymous with our Jewish identities. Some of us are critical of the Israeli government because of its aforementioned oppressive policies, and others of us are opposed to or non-supportive of Zionism (the political idea of a Jewish State in former Mandatory Palestine) in general. Some of us, even though Jewish, would be treated as second-class citizens in Israel or even barred from entry because of our political views, sexuality, gender identity, religious beliefs, conversion status, and/or the nature of our Jewish ancestry. For all these reasons, Israel and its flag do not represent us.
No citizens of Israel were killed in Squirrel Hill last week. Flying a flag that purports to represent the victims but fails to do so is disrespectful of their memories, and even more so when this flag represents a state whose government has exploited their deaths. For those of us who are Jewish who feel this flag doesn’t represent or include us, flying it as a way to ostensibly show support to the Jewish community here on campus harms us by erasing our Jewish identity.
Those of us who hold marginalized identities, or who are allies, wish to articulate the harm the flying this flag causes to other students here on campus. For us, the Flag of Israel can be understood as a symbol of the policies Israel enacts that are oppressive and violent towards people sharing our identities and/or towards ourselves. Furthermore, we stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom and dignity. This flag is emblematic of the racist and oppressive dispossession and violence Israel has enacted upon the Palestinians for decades and we know that support on this campus for what this flag represents also reflects support for the oppressive systems that target us. We urge you to consider the impact this decision will have on students’ ability to feel safe on campus.
Finally, for those of us who are Jews who strive to work in solidarity with other oppressed peoples, we are deeply aware of how the conflation of Jewish identity and support for the State of Israel creates mistrust between ourselves and our allies. We are strongly opposed to UVM’s decision to fly this flag as an ostensible symbol of Judaism also because it further entrenches this conflation. We wish to state unequivocally to our fellow students at UVM: Judaism is not synonymous with support for Israel; we as Jews stand with you in opposing your oppression, including the ways it is enacted by the State of Israel.
We urge you to remove the Flag of Israel from the special events flag pole and instead consult with Jewish students to identify an appropriate flag to fly that recognizes all forms of Jewish identity and neither endorses an oppressive state nor harms marginalized students.
Sincerely, the undersigned students