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Monday, March 04, 2024

Jewish UF students show support for Palestinians

These students question the lack of community focus on Gaza

An attendee of UF SJP’s discussion in Turlington wearing a Palestine keffiyeh neck scarf on Thursday Oct. 12, 2023.
An attendee of UF SJP’s discussion in Turlington wearing a Palestine keffiyeh neck scarf on Thursday Oct. 12, 2023.

Clay Robison received an Instagram message saying he was an embarrassment to the Jewish community.

Robison, a 21-year-old UF political and economics senior, took to social media to post about his support of the Free Palestine Movement, which calls for the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. 

After Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, Robison said he had witnessed overwhelming anti-Palestine rhetoric and fear from the Jewish community.

“A lot of people associate Israel itself with safety,” he said. “So when they see an attack, they feel like their personal safety is under threat.”

Since the violence began two weeks ago, Robison said Palestinian and anti-Zionist voices have been largely neglected. Zionism is the Israeli national ideology that Judaism is both a nationality and religion and that Israel is an ancestral land that exists for the Jewish community. 

Although Robison completed Birthright, which is a heritage trip to Israel for Jewish people ages 18-26, in the summer of 2021 and has extended family living there, he does not view Israel as inherently correct in this conflict. 

Robison believes Israel colonized Arab land meant for Palestinians. This perspective formed when he was 14 and watched John Green’s YouTube explaining the conflict’s history. Since then, he has worked to educate himself on Palestinian issues and support groups advocating for peace.

“This is a human rights issue that I need to stand up for, because of the fact that throughout Jewish history, we have been the victims of oppression and hate and violence,” he said.

Patricia Sohn, the former undergraduate coordinator for UF’s Center for Jewish Studies, said although Zionist and Arab nationalist movements had separate origins — beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, respectively — over time, the two movements would begin to see one another as a problem.

For the Jewish community, a country of its own would create a safe haven against antisemitic persecution. For the Palestinians, land of their own meant autonomy from other Arab states.

“Let me emphasize that no one today was alive during those events, and no one of us is responsible for them,” Sohn said in an email. “Nonetheless, these events left indelible scars in local memory.”

There may be confusion over who is right or wrong in this conflict, she said, but under the United Nations’ definition, Sohn emphasized that Israel is not an apartheid regime. There is no evidence that Israel is persecuting Palestinians because of race in this cross-border conflict, she said.

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Nadine Ghourra, a 20-year-old UF political science junior, has family in Gaza. She attended the Oct. 12 Students for Justice in Palestine teach-in at Turlington Hall. Although the event filled to capacity before she could get a seat, she stood outside the building to show her support.

In Gaza, her cousin’s home was bombed, and her family fled to her grandfather’s house nearby.

“Her husband and her three kids — all toddlers — barely made it out and only left with the clothes on their back,” Ghourra said. 

Ghourra’s dad told her everyone was evacuating from the grandfather’s house to seek shelter in a hospital or school. The family was warned of a possible Israeli air raid, but the path to escape to Egypt had been bombed.

After the first few days of overseas violence, she wore a kaffiyeh, or a Palestinian headscarf, to campus. Although she was not directly approached by anyone, she said she did receive stares.

“My father advised me not to wear anything that would show that I am from Palestine,” she said. “He didn't want me to deal with anybody that would say anything to me or harass me.”

Ghourra also sympathizes with what Israelis and their families are going through, she said. She has spoken with Jewish friends and said they tend to agree that the violence in Israel and Gaza is not the fault of civilians. But online, Ghourra has witnessed people tie Palestinians to the terrorist group Hamas and call for Gaza to be wiped out.

Meir Schochet, a 20-year-old UF astrophysics junior, is the vice president of UF’s Jewish Voices of Peace chapter, an anti-Zionist activist organization that advocates for Palestinian freedom. 

He began questioning Israel’s history when he was a high school senior and taking a Jewish history seminar. 

The curriculum discussed the Deir Yassin massacre, which was a 1948 Zionist paramilitary massacre that left more than 100 Palestinians dead. While Schochet was appalled, he said his classmates justified the violence as necessary for establishing and preserving Israel.

“It is very difficult for me to affect any change among people who share religious identity with me,” he said.

Schochet said he understands the importance of the Israeli state, especially with family living there, but emphasized it took a violent escalation against Israel for the public to learn about Palestinian oppression.

He is using Jewish Voices for Peace to emphasize nonviolence for Israel and Palestine. His family doesn’t understand his advocacy for Palestinian autonomy, and he said it’s difficult trying to debunk misinformation and spread his views in a town that feels predominantly Zionist.

“We begin arguing with opinions, and we begin arguing with ideas,” he said. “That's good and all, but not when you neglect empathy.”

Contact Sophia Bailly at sbailly@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_bailly.


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Sophia Bailly

Sophia Bailly is a second-year journalism major and covers politics for the enterprise desk. Some of her favorite things include The Beatles, croissants and Agatha Christie books. When she's not writing stories she's either reading or going for a run.


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