Keffiyehs, Yarmulkes and “Belonging” at UVA

by James A. Bacon

It’s “Palestinian Liberation Week” at the University of Virginia this week, and the Students for Justice in Palestine have organized loads of activities for antizionists, culminating with a “Die-In for Gaza” Friday.

“Wear your keffiyeh,” urges UVA’s Students for Justice in Palestine on its Instagram page. Keffiyehs are traditional Arab scarfs, which students wear to signal their solidarity with Palestinians seeking to combat “settler colonialism” in Israel.

Meanwhile, Jewish students have stopped wearing yarmulkes, Stars of David or other ornamentation that would identify them as Jews.

What does that dichotomy say about the sense of “belonging” — the holy grail of the Ryan administration — experienced by Arabs and Jews respectively at UVA?

The Jefferson Council has highlighted fears of parents of Jewish students who have spoken most openly about the hostile climate. We acknowledge that these parents do not speak for all Jews. The president of UVA’s SJP chapter, for instance, is a Jew. Many left-wing Jews have major reservations about Israeli policy toward Gaza and many oppose the conservative coalition in the Knesset headed by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Those differences are mirrored in the Jewish community at UVA. There is a marked division, for instance, between the Hillel House and the Chabad House. As a generality, Hillel House caters to more liberal/progressive students while Chabad appeals to more theologically and politically conservative students.

Five students speaking as representatives of Hillel House wrote a letter April 3 to the Board of Visitors decrying what they call “concerted efforts to exploit Jewish students as pawns for political agendas.” The letter didn’t name names, but we’re pretty sure it’s referring to the Jefferson Council and/or certain Youngkin-appointed members of the Board.

However, even these students conceded they were unhappy about passage of the student referendum calling for the University endowment to divest itself of companies doing business in Israel. More to the point, they said this in their letter:

There have been instances where we do believe that students and faculty have acted with ignorance and hate. We are of the opinion that this is a small, but vocal, contingent of the University community. …

Although much of the speech at student protests and events do not fall into this hateful category, we still have watched protests unfold where the Star of David was used in a derogatory political manner and we have heard chants exclaiming that “Jews are committing genocide.” … This kind of speech is hateful and crosses a line.”

Despite these misgivings, the five Hillel students say they “remain grateful” for all that President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom and Cedric Rucker (a senior executive in the Office of Student Affairs) have done to promote the “safety and well-being of Jewish students.”

For the record the Jefferson Council has never suggested that a vast majority of students and faculty have been anything but accepting and welcoming to Jewish students at UVA. But the campus climate is not determined by the passive majority — it’s driven by a vocal minority of militants who feel empowered to speak openly, organize rallies and events, flaunt their badges of pro-Palestinian identity, dish out ethnic slurs, and ostracize the few students who openly proclaim their Judaism.

Whatever UVA leadership might have said to people in private, their words and actions have been ineffectual in altering the reality that pro-Palestinian students feel comfortable wearing their badges of loyalty while most Jews have stopped wearing theirs.

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Walter smith
Walter smith
29 days ago

Back in the Dark Ages, when UVA was great, but not good according to our oh so enlightened Lightbringers in the Admin, we did not have entire departments of “belonging.” We didn’t need psychiatrists. We didn’t need a Newcomb Hall of “inclusion” by subdividing students into a ridiculous number of grievance groups (counterproductive to insist on organizing people by differences and then Demanding you not to notice the differences and then to proclaim that they are being treated differently because of the differences…). Somehow, as young adults, you learned to navigate the way yourself. We also could drink beer at 18. Fraternity parties were open to all. We had Pavilion XI and University Union and an honor system that everyone believed in. Someone stealing your stuff was unthinkable. UVA was “and good” then. Not perfect, but we are human. So are the critics. Blindness to one’s own moral failings is a human condition, but is perhaps worse now than then…

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
29 days ago
Reply to  Walter smith

I think we should forget about Yartmulkes and Kelliyehs and as a sign of University unity and inclusion, all male students should be encouraged to wear Orange and Blue striped bow ties, and all female students wear Orange and Blue striped ribbons in their hair. The “Rugby Road Song” should be played at all sporting events by a Pep Band, not a marching band. A single sanction Honor System should be reinstated so all in the University community could feel safe and unthreatened, and students could focus on what’s truly important, learning. Maybe the University once was “good” and we just didn’t know it!

Walter smith
Walter smith
29 days ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

Why not get rid of the women, too? You think you are being clever, but you’re just doing the nullification by saying things I am not saying. Nice try, but typical of those opposed to The Jefferson Council.
Why would UVA be in opposition to a group wanting free speech and intellectual diversity?
Why would UVA be opposed to wanting a vibrant, real honor code? UVA has no problem raising money on the fumes of the near dead honor system.
Why would UVA oppose respecting the Lawn and Rotunda – the only school in the US with a World Heritage site?
Why would UVA be opposed to protecting Thomas Jefferson’s legacy?
Does a faculty contributing 95% to Democrats indicate an imbalance? How come when UVA brags about speakers from all sides the moderate speakers were all funded in whole or part by TJC with NO help from UVA? UVA with $14 billion in endowments, and therefore $700 million in non-FOIAable spending annually, can’t throw a few crumbs around to actually prove a commitment to intellectual diversity?
Why did UVA hide the BOV approved 2018 climate survey? How is the free speech environment at UVA? Why does the Ryan Admin go out of its way to hide documents on what it is doing? Does the “unequivocal” support for free inquiry mean anything, or was it stated only in hopes of shutting up critics?
Curious minds want to know…

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
29 days ago
Reply to  Walter smith

Walter, you’re on fire. You nailed it. Geoffrey Close’s sophomoric attempt at humor fell very flat.

Anon Hoo
Anon Hoo
29 days ago

This is a confusing article to read. Thousands of students voted to initiate the audit for divestment, and the author considers that a vocal minority? Students have never chanted “Jews are committing genocide”– the chant is “Israel you can’t run you can’t hide / you’re committing genocide.” Although I suppose we live in a time of people hearing what they want to hear. This article is just another example of the double standard that exists for pro-Palestinian activists and Palestinians (some of whom, yes, attend UVA): Jewish students, who are conflated with the state of Israel, are held up as vulnerable and the victims of “ignorance and hate” regardless of whether they criticize the state of Israel or not; meanwhile Palestinians are routinely critiqued for not responding to their oppression in the correct way. I’m fine with recognizing that some Jewish students on campus have tummy aches because they think that the ceasefire movement affects them. What I’m not fine with is people saying that this pain is on the same level as the enormous loss Palestinians have suffered since October 7th — the genocide that is happening as I write this comment.

GRob
GRob
29 days ago
Reply to  Anon Hoo

The Palestinian population has increased from 1M in 1970 to 5.417M in 2023 (>500%)– hardly a “genocide.” (+500% in last 50 yrs; +170% in last 20 yrs).
They were given an autonomous state in 2005. There has been no “occupation” since then. And what did they do with that autonomous state? Attack Israel.

Student
Student
28 days ago
Reply to  GRob

“GRob,” Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is illegal under international law.

Palestinians, along with the entire Arab World through the Arab Peace Initiative, have accepted the international consensus of peace based on two sovereign states on 1967 borders. Yesterday, the US vetoed Palestine’s bid for full UN member status. It is the US and far right Netanyahu government are the obstacles to peace. In 2019, Netanyahu said, “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” adding that, “This is part of our strategy.”

Recently, Netanyahu stated, “Citizens of Israel, Everyone knows that it was me who – for decades – has blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state that would endanger our existence. My position has been, and remains, clear. It has only been reinforced since the terrible massacre of October 7. In any case, with or without a permanent settlement, Israel will maintain full security control over all areas west of the Jordan River. Of course, this includes Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.”

It seems to me that Israel and the United States’s positions can be summarized as, “from the river to the sea, only apartheid there shall be.”

Peace can only be based on equal national rights and dignity for both peoples.

Israel, at the moment, is likely engaged in genocide. At the start of Israel’s genocidal war. Israel barely attempts to hide this reality.

At the start of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza, Israeli Minister Avi Dichter stated, “we’re rolling out Nakba 2023.” The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a systemic, organized crime that took place in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. In December, Minister Smotrich, the second most powerful minister in the Israeli government, made Israel’s intentions clear when he said, “What needs to be done in the Gaza Strip is to encourage emigration.” He added that Israel’s aim for the “day after” would be to have “be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million” remaining in the Gaza Strip. His statements were never contradicted by Netanyahu or Israeli government spokespersons.

“GRob,” the United States is knowingly facilitating, aiding, and directly engaged in genocide against a stateless civilian population in the world’s largest reservation, an open air prison. Shame on us, and shame on anyone who justifies this atrocity.

It’s clear that Israel’s goal is to make the Gaza Strip uninhabitable and either kill, starve, or drive out the Palestinians. Israel has already killed more children than had been killed in all the world’s conflict zones combined in the past four years. And, today, 80% of those facing phase 5 catastrophic levels of famine are in the Gaza Strip. Each day, child are starving to death daily in Northern Gaza, where Israel claims that it has full operational control. Once again, anyone with a shred of humanity cannot continue to justify this atrocity.

P.S. Image of Netanyahu holding a map of the Middle East with Palestine erased. Today, there is already a one state reality “from the river to the sea.” Unfortunately, it’s an apartheid state that subjugates the native Palestinian population.

New-Middle-East
Student
Student
28 days ago
Reply to  GRob

“GRob,” Israel continues to occupy the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is illegal under international law. Palestinians, along with the entire Arab World through the Arab Peace Initiative, have accepted the international consensus of peace based on two sovereign states on 1967 borders.

Yesterday, the US vetoed Palestine’s bid for full UN member status. It is the US and far right Netanyahu government are the obstacles to peace. In 2019, Netanyahu said, “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” adding that, “This is part of our strategy.”

Recently, Netanyahu stated, “Citizens of Israel, Everyone knows that it was me who – for decades – has blocked the establishment of a Palestinian state that would endanger our existence. My position has been, and remains, clear. It has only been reinforced since the terrible massacre of October 7. In any case, with or without a permanent settlement, Israel will maintain full security control over all areas west of the Jordan River. Of course, this includes Judea and Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.”

It seems to me that Israel and the United States’s positions can be summarized as, “from the river to the sea, only apartheid there shall be.”

“GRob,” Peace can only be based on equal national rights and dignity for both peoples. Israel, at the moment, is likely engaged in genocide. Israel barely attempts to hide this reality.

At the start of Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza, Israeli Minister Avi Dichter stated, “we’re rolling out Nakba 2023.” The Nakba refers to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, a systemic, organized crime that took place in order to establish a Jewish state in Palestine. In December, Minister Smotrich, the second most powerful minister in the Israeli government, made Israel’s intentions clear when he said, “What needs to be done in the Gaza Strip is to encourage emigration.” He added that Israel’s aim for the “day after” would be to have “be 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million” remaining in the Gaza Strip. His statements were never contradicted by Netanyahu or Israeli government spokespersons.

“GRob,” the United States is knowingly facilitating, aiding, and engaged in genocide against a stateless civilian population in the world’s largest open air prison. Shame on us, and shame on anyone who justifies this atrocity.

It’s clear that Israel’s goal is to make the Gaza Strip uninhabitable and either kill, starve, or drive out the Palestinians. Israel has already killed more children than had been killed in all the world’s conflict zones combined in the past four years. And, today, 80% of those facing phase 5 catastrophic levels of famine are in the Gaza Strip.

Each day, child are starving to death daily in Northern Gaza, where Israel claims that it has full operational control. Once again, anyone with a shred of humanity and decency cannot continue to justify this atrocity.

GRob
GRob
28 days ago
Reply to  Student

In 2005 Israel ended its occupation and forcibly removed 50,000 Israeli settlers, and a flood of humanitarian aid followed. Gazans elected Hamas to run the territory and supported them in 17 years of constant war and missile fire into Israel, funded by humanitarian aid and Iran.
17 years of a completely autonomous state and it was all wasted.

Walter smith
Walter smith
29 days ago
Reply to  Anon Hoo

Our anonymous student friend is back. Genocide is not happening in Gaza. People are dying in a war started by Hamas. The “Palestinians” could end this pretty quickly – remove Hamas and return the likely already dead hostages. And quit the terrorist attacks. Maybe use all the aid for actually helping the people you use as props, instead of spending the money on tunnels and weapons to conduct your terror campaigns.

Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Walter smith

No, “Walter,” I am your anonymous “friend,” not the student who made the previous comment.

Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Walter smith

Walter, we will likely never agree on this issue. You have a right to your position, and I have a right to mine. Most students support BDS and ending U.S. support, both diplomatically and militarily, to apartheid Israel. As long as you don’t attempt conflate this with antisemitism, there is no problem.

Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Anon Hoo

Agreed!

Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Anon Hoo

If there have been real instances of antisemitism on grounds, the perpetrators should be held accountable. In fact, I hope that the university will do everything in its power to hold accountable anyone who engaged in antisemitic slurs or physical assaults directed at Jewish students. However, chants such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” are not inherently antisemitic, as the ADL claims.

I personally haven’t seen evidence of or heard of any antisemitic incidents on grounds.The Jefferson Council claims it has evidence of students targeted simply for being Jewish. If this is the case, share it. If I’m not mistaken, one of the students who made and publicized similar claims is currently being investigated by the honor committee for lying.

The main issue at hand is the attempt to conflate BDS and criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Israel, a state established through the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, continues to maintain the longest ongoing military occupation in the world. It engages, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in a brutal system of apartheid. And, today, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that it is engaged in acts of genocide.

The attempts to conflate activism against Israel with antisemitism are disingenuous attempts to silence speech. They should not be taken seriously.

I hope that Jewish students feel comfortable proudly wearing yarmulkes, Stars of David, or whatever else they’d like to wear. Jews are not responsible for the actions of Israel, and Israel doesn’t represent all Jews. Thank you.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
29 days ago
Reply to  Student

You want proof? Here it is. A verbatim transcript of UVA Jewish parents and their kids meeting with President Ryan, Provost Baucom and others on Feb. 14. They’ve done NOTHING to rectify the situation.

“C:\Users\Owner\OneDrive\Desktop\Documents\UVA\The Jefferson Council\Smoking Guns\UVA Jewish parents\Parent, Student, UVA Administrator 2-14-2024 Antisemitism Meeting.pdf”

Last edited 29 days ago by Wahoo74
Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

You didn’t to link anything in your comment. If there is evidence, perpetrators should be held accountable.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
28 days ago
Reply to  Student

Here’s a cut/paste of the Parents’ meeting with President Ryan et al:

To President Ryan, Provost Baucom, Vice President Bonner, and Dean Acampora:
As a parent of two students here at UVa, who have both experienced antisemitism throughout
their lives, including here on Grounds, I appreciate the opportunity to address you today.
Anti Semitism refers to hostility or prejudice against Jewish people. Incidents have been steadily
increasing in recent years, with an almost 400% spike since the October 7th massacre in Israel.
My two and other UVA Jewish students have reported their experiences through the ‘just report
it’ system hoping that antisemitism incidents would be addressed. However, the responses
received have been generic acknowledgments via email, offering assurances of available
resources. Similarly, emails and letters sent to UVA administrators from concerned parents have
been met with generic replies leaving the hostile environment unaddressed.
Jewish students and parents are perplexed by the lack of action taken and the disparity in
treatment compared to other minority groups. Our inclination is that the reason strong actions
have not been taken and codes of conduct have not been enforced is because the administration
feels the incidents are a free expression of politics, which is not the case here. There is an
integral connection between Jewish identity and Israeli homeland that is being mislabeled as
political. Often, rhetoric mislabeled as political becomes protected as free speech.
It is crucial that you, the administrators understand that the antisemitic incidents reported are not
political and fall directly in line with UVA’s codes of conduct addressing discrimination. These
incident reports stem from genuine feelings of threat due to one’s identity and heritage.
I’d like to provide some often misunderstood information about Jewish identity, specifically the
ethno-national aspect of Jewish identity that will help in understanding the impact of the current
campus anti semitic climate. For most Jews, including ones who’ve never been to Israel, like my
family, Jewish identity includes a deep, identity-level connection to the ancestral Jewish
homeland of Israel, which includes a belief in the right of the Jewish people to live and thrive in
that land–that is Zionism. Much of the activity on Grounds (as on other campuses right now) is a
direct attack against that component of Jewish identity. Zionist Jewish students are being
discriminated against. They are being marginalized, demonized, and at times outright threatened
and assaulted because of this aspect of their Jewish identity.
For example, when their fellow students march through campus or bellow from bullhorns things
like “Globalize the Intifada!” or “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free!” – These
Zionist Jewish students do not hear mere political disagreement with Israeli practices or policies
as you may think (which would be legitimate political expression) but that’s not what these
phrases ACTUALLY mean. When you understand and accept that the term “intifada” refers to
violent terroristic uprising activity targeting Jews (first in Israel, then globally), or that “From the River to the Sea…” seeks to make the entire area that is now Israel – from the Jordan River to the
Mediterranean Sea – “free” from Jews (note: this would mean eradicating roughly half the
world’s Jewish population), then you can understand why Zionist Jewish students hear a clear
threat in such language that sends a chill down their spines.
When you understand that SJP received a “Toolkit” from the National SJP organization
reminding student chapters of SJP that they are not merely “in solidarity” with the so-called
“resistance” (i.e., terrorist) movement led by Hamas against Israel but are in fact “part of it.” Part
of “a terrorist group whose fundamentally immoral non-negotiable goal is eradicating Jews.”
When you understand this, you’ll understand why it feels so terrifying on Grounds
day-in/day-out for Jewish students. You’ll hear directly from some of them shortly.
I hope now you’re starting to know that when students report incidents, it is not “a political ploy”
as was stated in this past November’s Daily Progress letter signed by Professor Ogunnaike who
is part of UVA’s newly formed Religious Diversity and Belonging task force. Instead, they are
real threats of discrimination and harassment felt by Jewish students living in a hostile campus
environment.
I hope now you understand that a statement against Zionism such as “From the river to the sea,”
is palpable as it is heard as a direct personal threat.
Allow me to illustrate with a recent incident involving Boris, a Jewish UVA student who
encountered a poster in the Alderman library advocating for the destruction of the Jewish state
with “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” There was a QR code that linked to a
17-page document containing offensive disinformation about Israel and calling for the
eradication of the Jewish State where some of Boris’ friends and family live. Boris reported to
‘Just Report It” explaining the phrase is hate speech and promotes an unsafe intimidating
environment for Jewish students. In his words “I got a meeting with the general dean who told
me that the university will not do anything about it.”
Not do anything about it? We all know that if fliers mentioned threatening sentiments against
any other minority, there would be dire repercussions and codes of conduct would be enforced on
the creators of the offending document.
Imagine Jewish students who continue to hear chants and calls for Intifada wherever they go on
Grounds. And then imagine the hate speech targeting one’s own personal identity and homeland
is being normalized, and administrators are telling students like Boris, “The university will not
do anything about it.” According to UVA’s Student Rights, UVA is obligated to provide an
environment free from discrimination, an environment conducive to learning and of course a safe
environment whereby students can function in their daily activities without unreasonable
concerns for personal safety. Jewish UVA students are not feeling safe.They are feeling stressed,
discriminated against and unsafe which is not the environment promised to them.
Similarly, Matan, who is here with us today, endured verbal, emotional, and physical harassment
(such as being spat upon at least 3 times)) to the extent that he felt compelled to conceal his
Jewish identity by no longer wearing a yarmulke. Other Jewish students including mine, now
conceal their star of David necklaces. In essence these students are hiding–hiding their identity
reminiscent of the times in 1930s/1940s Nazi Germany. These acts of intimidation and threats of
violence against Jewish UVA students solely based on their national, religious, and ethnic
identity are disturbing , frightening and clearly go against the university’s anti-discrimination
policies.
Provost Baucom, you mentioned in an email that there have been few reported incidents of
antisemitism compared to other universities. First, a university finding themselves on a list of
anti semitism should be appalled as 1 is too many. Second, please consider the reasons behind
the under-reporting. 1) students have been encouraged by Annie and Truman at Hillel and in
private with UJC but students don’t b/c they fear retaliation from the perpetrators. 2) they’ve
heard from Jewish peers like Boris that UVA’s administration will not address their problems.
I’ve shared two incidents today and am leaving you with a list of antisemetic incidents we know
about which underscores the urgent need to END the disparate treatment and for appropriate
consequences to be enacted to ensure the safety and well-being of Jewish students here. Provost
Baucom, President Ryan, Vice President Bonner, and Dean Acampora, your leadership is
paramount in addressing these issues and to stop discrimination against Jewish students at UVA.

Student
Student
29 days ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

Your link doesn’t work

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
28 days ago
Reply to  Student

See above

Student
Student
28 days ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

I just read the transcript. It provides no evidence, and it conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. I can see why President Ryan and Provost Baucom have done to rectify the situation, as there is nothing to rectify.

I see nothing wrong at all with chanting, “Intifada,” or “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” If some students are uncomfortable, then they should learn to deal with opposing viewpoints.

Great book by the way: A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance by Mary Elizabeth King (Author), Jimmy Carter (Introduction) – July 12, 2007

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
29 days ago
Reply to  Anon Hoo

Let me quote you: “I’m fine with recognizing that some Jewish students on campus have tummy aches because they think that the ceasefire movement affects them.”

Are you serious?

Women were raped. Babies were burned alive in ovens. The Hamas rabble proudly displayed this on their iPhones. I guess you didn’t see that.

The “peaceful Palestinians” voted in Hamas in 2006 as their ruling party. Fact. They had their chance. It’s now too late. Deal with it

Read the Hamas Covenant. It calls for genocide – the extermination of Jews worldwide and the destruction of Israel. Have you ever read it? If not, do so. the link is below:

https://irp.fas.org/world/para/docs/880818a.htm