In June 2020, after the shooting of George Floyd, students took to organizing to ensure safety on their campuses. At Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), this activism led to the establishment of the Black and Palestinian Liberation Club (WashU BPL).
The club picked up momentum in December 2021, when “The Story That Never Ends,” a mural of Black leaders, was defaced with white supremacy graffiti. The school administration’s statement condemned the racism but failed to acknowledge the connection between the perpetrators and the white supremacist group, the Patriot Front.
In response to the vandalism, WashU BPL partnered with the school’s Association of Black Students and Black Senior Alliance, publishing a statement that “Black students are disgusted, outraged, and fear that their well-being is in danger.” The clubs powerful response to the graffiti allowed WashU BPL to gain credibility. Had their activism remained focused on uniting marginalized communities, all students on campus would have felt included. But it didn’t.
Instead, WashU BPL used their newfound reputation to exclude Jewish students. On February 1, the club made an Instagram post comparing the university’s affiliation with Boeing, which manufactures several Israeli aircrafts, and Birthright, a 10-day trip to Israel, to the Patriot Front and imperialism.
The post claimed “WashU obscures Israel’s genocidal military violence” because the engineering school has a partnership with Boeing. This is not the first time the group has made such claims. In November, the group protested Boeing with signs that read “your tuition is blood money.”
It further stated that Birthright is “fundamentally inseparable from the greater rhetoric of white supremacy and colonialism,” similar to that of groups like Patriot Front.
Suggesting Jewish students are white supremacists is antisemitic; Jews have historically been targets of white supremacy. Claiming that those who participate in Birthright are white supremacists alienates Jews while rewriting the complexity of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
When numerous Jewish organizations, including Jewish on Campus, made statements accussing the group of antisemitism, the group responded with another post comparing Zionism to imperialism, insisting that Israel upholds “what bell hooks called ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalism.’”
While WashU BPL claimed they do not “condone antisemitism or acts of violence against the Jewish community,” their previous message made it abundantly clear that Jews — especially those who identify as Zionists — were not safe nor welcome in their community.
Hillel at WUSTL made a statement saying they “will not tolerate threats or intimidation tactics levied at students.”
The analogy that Jews are white supremacists for recognizing and having a connection to their homeland isolates Jewish students. A campus club which spreads hateful rhetoric is unacceptable. More must be done from the administration to ensure a safe space on campus for everyone — including Jews.