Activism in religious spaces:
Smithies pushing for peace at the J Street Conference

Students gather to share the successes and challenges of forming on-campus coalitions

A handful of Smithies traveled to our nation’s Capitol last weekend to join 1,200 students at the national J-Street conference, which coincided with the organization’s 10th anniversary. J-Street is a national political movement that advocates for a peaceful, two-state resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The student organizing branches, called J-Street U, play a significant role in the representation and rigor of J-Street.

The pro-Israel, pro-peace group stands by Israel as the Jewish homeland; however, these young activists refuse to unequivocally support the Israeli government and are advocating for the human rights of Palestinians under occupation. Chloe Carter-Daves, a young J-Street U activist from Hunter College, said: “I’m holding Israel accountable because I love it, because I want Israel to succeed.” Many young Jewish students struggle to reconcile their love for Israel with their disdain at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disenfranchisement and abuse of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Palestinians living within Israel. J-Street united, joined by impassioned, diverse speakers, to secure a future for Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.

Hannah (center) with co-facilitators Ellie (left) and Devon (right). Hannah holds a sign that reads: “Ask me about gender pronouns!”

On the Saturday morning of the conference, Smith’s very own Hannah Karp ‘21 co-led a queer working group alongside two other students. Hannah also successfully pushed for pronoun stickers to be included at the conference registry! The stickers were optional, but easily applied to attendees’ nametags. Hannah, Ellie Cooper (Florida State University), and Devon Conway (UC Davis) guided the group through a series of questions that explored how internal identities manifest into activism in Jewish spaces. Students spoke to reconciling their LGBTQIA+ identity with their Jewish identity, especially in the face of  what some call Israel’s “pinkwashing” tactics. Many students also struggle to convey the mission of J-Street U to others who are explicitly pro or anti-Israel. This narrative underpinned the session, exhibited by a student who said: “People love to work within the binary, gay/straight, Israel/Palestine, Coke/Pepsi…but there’s a lot of nuance within these communities.”

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont applauds young activists

J-Street’s ongoing campaign “Stop Demolitions, Build Peace” partners with Palestinian communities in the West Bank whose homes are at risk of demolition. These activists push back against creeping annexation by appealing to their elected representatives, forming coalitions with other organizations, and directing public attention to injustice. Smith College and other campuses in the Northeast are paired with the village of Abu Nawar, a Bedouin village of 115 families. European NGOs and the European Union have contributed funding and resources to Abu Nawar to provide education, resources, and electricity via solar panels. Unfortunately, the Israeli Civil Administration stationed within the West Bank seized these solar panels. Many accuse Netanyahu of engaging in pinkwashing and greenwashing to divert unwanted criticism from the international community, and some feel that President Donald Trump has turned a blind eye, indicating a complacency in the occupation. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin captured the spirit of the conference during a panel titled “The Policymakers”: “When leaders of Israel and the United States do things that contradict the foundations of their two countries, we need to speak out. This is part of being true allies,” he said.

J-Street U Smithies left the event feeling empowered and hopeful. They will actively be pursuing coalitions on campus and in the greater Pioneer Valley area to push for a pro-Israel, pro-peace solution.

This entry was posted in Interfaith Matters, Social Justice, Student Reflections and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.