Jewish sexual assault survivors unwelcome at UVM and GW

Taylor Levy
July 27, 2021

Jewish sexual assault survivors unwelcome at UVM and GW

Perhaps one of the most considerable indicators of antisemitism occurring under the veil of social justice on college campuses is the exclusion of Jewish students from previously safe and inclusive spaces. The tactic of pushing Jews out of progressive spaces is not new but has been recently adopted by student groups at both University of Vermont (UVM) and George Washington University (GW).

Back in May, at the height of the Israel/Hamas conflict, a student-run club and Instagram page at the University of Vermont, @shareyourstoryuvm, created a highlight in solidarity with Palestinians. The posts conflated Zionism with terrorism and eliminated Jewish survivors of sexual assault from a previously safe space. In doing so, they silenced Jewish voices and invalidated Jewish survivors of sexual assault. After a few days of receiving messages from Jews who felt increasingly scared to be on campus, the Hillel at UVM responded with a statement in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault as well as Jewish students at UVM and “facilitated a conversation with survivors and students with UVM’s Bias Response Team representatives.” The @shareyourstoryuvm page then accused Hillel of not standing against oppression and implied that because Jewish students make up nearly 18% of the population at UVM, they cannot be oppressed.

Two months later, in July, Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) at George Washington University posted a Palestinian solidarity statement on their Instagram page, promoting their “Palestinian healing circle,” a night where Palestinian members of the George Washington community could come together. In doing so, they pinned Jews, Israelis and Zionists — and those whose identity is an intersection of these — for the totality of sexual violence in a single nation by claiming that sexual violence is one of the “Israeli human rights violations.” After the Jewish community voiced their fears in the comment section, the comments were deleted, shut off, and eventually, the post was deleted. Two days later, another statement was issued declaring that they support all survivors, no matter their background.

Part of the SASA statement (July 14)

Not only have these student groups invoked antisemitic libels, but they have also unequivocally silenced Jewish voices in a time when attacks against Jews are increasing. In the past, there have been cases of accusing Jews of being naturally inclined to commit sexual violence despite no actual evidence. This fear tactic was a derivation of the ancient blood libel. It was an especially frequent belief during the Nazi regime, despite the Nazis being the perpetrators of sexual violence against women. It seems to be used again today by the UVM and GW sexual assault student groups.

The @shareyourstoryuvm team was correct that Jewish students make up 18% of the student population while only making up 2.6% of the total US population. But their conclusion, that a larger Jewish community on campus means Jews cannot be oppressed, is a fallacy that conflates population with position of power. Further, claiming that people are harmed because of Jewish overrepresentation is reminiscent of quotas universities historically wielded against Jewish students.

The incorrect information in the posts pins Jews and Israelis as the sole perpetrator of sexual violence against Palestinians. Worldwide, people are most at risk of being sexually assaulted by someone they know. The same is true for Israel, where, according to the Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, 28% of reports were about a family member or parent. This trend is further amplified as sexual assaults committed by complete strangers only accounted for 11% of all reports. This is not to say that Palestinians do not face abuse at the hands of Israelis, but rather that Israelis are not the sole perpetrators of abuse against Palestinians, and are less likely to commit sexual assaults if they do not know the victim personally.

The statements made by UVM and GW are especially harmful to Jewish survivors of sexual assault. In fact, a clear link between misogyny and antisemitism is made clear. While gaslighting an entire population, Jewish and female-identifying survivors of abuse are made to feel as though their experiences are not valid because of their Jewish identity. Jewish identity has many intersections, and invalidating any one of them puts a significant strain on any individual’s external identity, which often results in false beliefs about a particular group. It also conflicts with the internal identity of an individual, or the lens through which they view themselves. A recent GW graduate and early contributor to the SASA page said they “feel isolated as a Jew, and also as a woman.”

While this isn’t the first time Jews have been scapegoated for issues of sexual assault on campus, the frequency, as well as the reach, that these posts have had is frightening. When student groups assert that they can only stand with Jewish survivors if they denounce key aspects of their identity, the Jewish and Zionist student experience is rejected. This is a trend that will most likely continue on all campuses. After removing Jewish voices and refusing to have an open conversation about the matter, student groups are making it abundantly clear that Jews are not welcome in previously safe spaces, and it is up to the administration to put a stop to this blatantly antisemitic behavior.

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