Calls for ‘Intifada’ Are Traumatizing MIT’s Jewish Community

To Jews with connections to Israel, the word “intifada” is associated with suicide bombings, terrorism and the wanton loss of innocent life

The MIT Jewish community huddled together in Hillel, supporting one another, as a swelling crowd loudly called for the extermination of our friends and family. Outside, the crowd was chanting “one solution, intifada revolution,” using a term which connotes violent uprising against Jews and thereby implying that the brutal murder of Israeli civilians is anything other than morally abhorrent terror. To say that I felt unsafe would be a gross understatement of the fear and horror I experienced as a group of students from the university which I have chosen to call my home supported violent, indiscriminate attacks against the home of my people.

For those who are not yet aware, a few weeks ago, Hamas, an Iran-backed terror group, murdered over 1,400 Israeli civilians and kidnapped 222 hostages in a single day. This terrorist attack, which targeted women, children, and the elderly, constituted the biggest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust. Jewish communities all over the globe are still reeling from the unprecedented scale and brutality of the attacks. Many of us are reminded of the pogroms of Kristallnacht, which were smaller in scale, especially since one of the hostages is an elderly Holocaust survivor. These attacks were not legitimate acts of war, as some on this campus have unfortunately claimed (see dormspam from Oct. 8, subject line: Rally for Palestine TOMORROW: Statement and Call to Action). They were abhorrent acts of “intifada,” a word which signifies the slaughter of innocent Jewish civilians.

This is not the first time Jews have heard the word “intifada”. Most recent in our memory is the Second Intifada, a series of violent attacks against Israel in which 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis lost their lives. Although I was not in Israel during the intifada, many of my friends and family were, and they experienced trauma beyond description. To Jews with connections to Israel, the word “intifada” is associated with suicide bombings, terrorism and the wanton loss of innocent life. As such, when Jewish students at MIT hear calls for “intifada revolution”, we cannot interpret them as anything but an active call to violence against the Jewish nation. Words gain meaning from the historical context in which they are used. In this case, the historical context is violence and terrorism in the name of resistance. Claims to the contrary are either misinformed or dishonest.

As a Jew, I have experienced hate because of who I am. During my time at MIT so far, I have been inspired by the university’s commitment to combating antisemitism and helping me feel secure in my identity. That sense of belonging came crashing down as I observed the Institute’s passivity and complacence in the face of violent speech. I firmly support MIT’s deep commitment to fostering free speech on campus. The CAA has the legal and moral right to express their violent opinions, just as neo-Nazis have the right to free assembly. But, in the words of MIT’s 18th president, there exists a “clear distinction between what we can say … and what we should say.” When students on campus call for attacks against Jews, MIT’s administration has a moral responsibility to state unequivocally that it does not support, and in fact abhors, such violent ideas. 

Sadly, MIT has failed to fulfill this responsibility. In the hours after the intifada rally, President Kornbluth released a lukewarm statement in which she denounced all forms of hate without mentioning the CAA by name or making note of their calls to violence. We call on President Kornbluth to use her presidential voice to directly condemn these calls for violent intifada against Jews.

The sun set, and the voices outside, full of anger and vitriol, continued to chant. Some of my friends took an Uber home, fearful of walking across their own campus. Many more remained, attempting to process the shock, grief, and trauma of the past few weeks. In this dark time, when it felt as if the whole world was turning against us, we somehow found solace in togetherness and community.

Avi Balsam is a sophomore, studying computer science and mathematics. He is a vice president of the MIT Hillel student board.