Dear SUNY New Paltz campus community,
We wish this letter was not necessary; we wish that SUNY New Paltz was the open-minded, tolerant, place that we thought it was going to be coming in, but it is not. As much as we love the diversity and inclusivity of New Paltz, that inclusivity has not always included Jews. Until we are all free of the yoke of hatred, none of us are. That includes racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and yes, antisemitism.
Antisemitism has existed for as long as the Jewish people have, and is quite possibly the world’s oldest form of hate. But antisemitism is not just a fact of history. It has never ceased. Not content to only be the world’s oldest form of hate, it has also been its most pernicious. According to the Jewish Agency, 2021 contained the most antisemitic incidents recorded in the last decade. Nearly a quarter of US American Jews say that they have experienced antisemitism in the past year, and in 2020 antisemitic incidents made up 54% of religiously based hate crimes, despite Jews only making up 2% of the American population. Last month a Jewish synagogue in Texas was taken hostage by an antisemitic gunman. Four years ago the worst ever antisemitic attack on US soil occured in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shooting. Four years ago. Things are not getting better – they are getting much worse.
Several weeks ago the (non-SA recognized) student organization, New Paltz Accountability, a group ostensibly meant to agitate “for better sexual violence policies and accountability towards abusers” (-@newpaltz_accountability on Instagram), kicked out two of their Jewish members. The students were removed from the organization for their unapologetic zionism, and supposed support of “colonialism,” as was previously reported by the Oracle. We will not mince words: this was an act of antisemitism, pure and simple, and the members of NPA should be ashamed of themselves and held fully accountable.
NPA has isolated Jewish survivors of sexual assault and their allies, and has, ironically, made it so that Jewish survivors no longer have a place to turn to. While we agree with NPA on their essential mission, their conduct on this matter has been inexcusable. This campus desperately needs a space that will support all survivors of sexual assault with all resources available, but NPA has shown themselves to be unable to live up to that mission.
Zionism is the support for the Jewish right to self-determination – a fundamental human right enshrined in the charter of the United Nations – in our indigenous homeland, Israel. Jews are not solely a religious group, but also an ethnic group with a distinct identity and sense of peoplehood, and have been for thousands of years. Zionism is not a colonial endeavor, as Israel is the indigenous home of Jews. A people group cannot “colonize” their own land. To be an anti-Zionist is to deny the Jewish people one of our fundamental human rights and is thus innately antisemitic. Moreover, Israel has become the one place in the entire world where it is consistently safe to live as a Jew, and so to deny Israel’s existence is to deny Jews our safety – another form of antisemitism. Non-Jews do not get to tell us what is or is not antisemitic. That is for us to claim, and non-Jews to accept.
Zionism is neither pro nor anti-Palestinian, and has no bearing on the current Israeli governments treatment of the Palestinian people. We condemn any and all violence against Palestinians.
The opaquely antisemitic often use anti-Zionism as a supposedly acceptable way to cover their Jew hatred. It is not acceptable. We, the SUNY New Paltz community, have allowed this cancerous rhetoric to spread, unchallenged.
We wholly reject the language employed by President Christian in his letter to the campus last Friday about the incident with NPA. Nothing about this situation is “complex.” Nor was this a case of mere “bias” – this was visceral hatred directed at a person solely because of their identity. We suspect that if this was regarding any other people group, then clearer terms would have been used. But as usual, when it comes to the Jews, all we ever get is half-measures and empty rhetoric.
You may want to disassociate yourself from antisemitism, but chances are you already have been complicit in it. You may have not thought twice before you or someone close to you says or does something hurtful to Jews, allowed an atmosphere to spread wherein Jew-hatred has become acceptable, or unknowingly parroted blind vitriol from unsourced internet articles. As a result, our Jewish students fear for their safety attending Jewish events. We look over our shoulders to make sure that we are not being followed. We have been made to feel embarrassed to call out the hatred that we endure on a constant basis. We have endured enough hate over the last 3,000 years, and it is time for it to stop. It is time for you to help make it stop.
When was the last time that you spoke to an actual Jewish person about their experiences with antisemitism? When was the last time that you asked a Jew what Zionism meant to them? When was the last time that you did actual research into the history and meaning of that term? When was the last time that you called out somebody else for their antisemitism, or investigated your own preconceptions about Jews to see what ingrained antisemitic beliefs you hold? If your answer to any of these questions was “never,” then you are part of the problem.
But we believe you can become a part of the solution. Judaism teaches us that everybody can recover and correct themselves from their past misdeeds, no matter how bad. This is not done by mere apologies or empty words, but by a process known as “teshuva.” Teshuva requires genuine grief, and a committed, consistent, pattern of action whereby you right the wrongs of your past. No one is ever too far-gone that teshuva is no longer an option, nor is one required to be Jewish to perform it. The process of teshuva is open to all people, regardless of who they are, regardless of whether they’re Jewish or not. Teshuva is not a religious act, but a moral one.
Open up a dialog with your Jewish neighbors, classmates, and peers. Learn about Judaism and what it means to be Jewish from those who know best. Learn just how ingrained antisemitism is in our campus community and country, and work to rid yourself of it. We need you to learn, and to act – our lives depend on it.
To take these first steps, we invite everyone reading this to attend a seminar on the New Paltz campus hosted by us in the near future on the subject of antisemitism and how you can work to support your Jewish community members and neighbours.
This letter was one of the hardest things for us to ever write in our lives. We hope to never take another look at it ever again – that it be thrown to the annihilating fires of irrelevance. Let us hope, together as a campus, that a letter like this will never be necessary again.
your hurting brothers, sisters, and siblings at the Jewish Student Union.
 Aaron Reich. “2021 was the most antisemitic year in the last decade – antisemitism report.” The Jerusalem Post. 22 January, 2022.
 Joe Hernandez. “1 in 4 American Jews say they experienced antisemitism in the last year.” National Public Radio. 26 October, 2021.
 “AJC Deeply Troubled by FBI Hate Crimes Data Showing Overall Increase, Jews Most-Targeted Religious Group.” American Jewish Committee, Global Voice. 31 August 2021.