(JTA) — Stony Brook University’s Muslim chaplain is under fire for standing up for the campus Hillel against an attack by a member of the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter.
The SJP accused chaplain Sanaa Nadim of a “heinous level of betrayal to the Palestinian people” for supporting a statement calling for tolerance after an SJP member called for Hillel to be expelled from campus.
The dispute was touched off by comments made by Rakia Syed, a member of SJP and a senior at the state university, to the campus newspaper, The Statesman.
“We want Zionism off this campus, so we want Hillel off this campus,” said Syed. “What we want is a proper Jewish organization that allows Jews to express their faith, have sabbath – everything like that, that are not Zionists, that doesn’t support Israel.”
The comments came in an article about tension between SJP and Seawolves for Israel, a student club supported by Stony Brook Hillel, over an information table sent up in the Student Activities Center for Israel’s 70th Independence Day last month. During the event, Hillel students handed out free snacks and commemorative T-shirts, while SJP members chanted and held up signs saying “Zionism is Terrorism,” according to The Statesman.
In response to Syed’s comments and other comments by pro-Palestinian students, The Interfaith Center at Stony Brook University, representing several religious groups on campus, issued a statement calling for campus religious groups to respect each other’s views.
“While we do not expect students or student organizations to agree with everything that other groups stand for or advocate or believe, we do expect that they respect the rights of those students to observe their faith, hold by their beliefs, and celebrate their culture and identity on our campus,” the statement said.
The campus Islamic Society and Muslim Student Association signed the Interfaith Center statement.
The Students for Justice in Palestine responded in a statement saying that the group “is and will always be against Zionism. We are attacking neither the religion of Judaism nor its practice, but the political ideology of Zionism.” It defined Zionism as “the creation of a Jewish state on top of the pre-existing Palestinian state, and maintaining such a state.”
SJP also took aim at Nadim, the Muslim chaplain, who heads the Muslim Student Association. . “You have reached a heinous level of betrayal to the Palestinian people by working with and aiding Zionists on their endeavors. For 3 years we have been on this campus, you have not only helped Hillel normalize their Zionist agenda, but also suppressed your own Muslim students from speaking out against the state which has killed our Palestinian brothers and sisters. You have continually harassed our members and slandered our organization with claims of terrorism,” the statement said.
Nadim denied the claims. “There’s so many things that I have done to support the Palestinian people and bring their plight and bring their story to light,” she told The Statesman, mentioning fundraising work she’s done through the United Nations to provide aid to Palestinian refugees. “But all my life I have always learned that hate is never a component of peace and never creates a platform for a productive solution.”
She also said: ““We as a people cannot create an agenda of hate or alienation, dictating to our fellow colleagues on campus what to believe in and how they should go about observing their religious convictions.”
The SJP statement also compared Zionists to Nazis. “[I]f there were Nazis, white nationalists, and KKK members on campus, would their identity have to be accepted and respected? Absolutely not,” the SJP wrote. “Then why would we respect the views of Zionists?”
Following the Israel Independence Day event last month, Rabbi Joseph Topek, the Hillel director, rejected such comparisons.
“I’m a Jew, and I’m a Zionist,” Topek told The Statesman. “Zionism only means the liberation of the Jewish people from our exile and the reunification of the Jewish people to our ancestral homeland. It doesn’t mean the denial of the rights of other people.”