Letter to the Editor: On erasure of experience

Hagar Gomaa

Last Wednesday, I stood in front of my peers and spoke in support of NUDivest. I implied that the opposition was engaging in racist rhetoric. Today, I am no longer implying. I am explicitly stating that I and countless others were victims of violent language.

After the divestment resolution passed, I heard and read accounts of students claiming that Jewish identity was under attack and that I, an NUDivest organizer, have somehow erased a history of Jewish oppression. These claims linger, waiting for substantiation but absorbed as truths nonetheless. I find these claims deeply disturbing, problematic and offensive. How do I erase other experiences when I speak of my own? How does speaking of my own marginalization and oppression as an Arab-American woman attack the Jewish identity? These claims are unwarranted and serve as a tool to derail dialogue about the oppression of Palestinian people.

For decades, the tactic of tying pro-Palestinian perspectives with anti-Jewish sentiment has been used to silence and marginalize pro-Palestinian voices. There was not a single speech on Wednesday that attacked the Jewish identity or stated that Jews have not had a history of oppression. On the contrary, every person who spoke on Wednesday was afforded the time to speak on his or her own identity and experience.

We, NUDivest supporters, shared narratives of our oppression both on and off campus because that is how we have personally related to the struggle of Palestinians and why we choose to stand in solidarity with them. It can be uncomfortable to learn about oppression, and I reiterate that comfort is not a right, but a privilege.

In looking for examples of erasure of experience, look no further than the racist comments that were made last Wednesday. Many who spoke in opposition to the resolution spoke in colonial language on behalf of Middle Eastern women, Middle Eastern queers, black South Africans and Palestinians, to name a few. The struggles of aforementioned groups were used as a talking point empty of any real empathy or solidarity, to, ironically, derail actual empathy and solidarity.

As an Arab woman who proudly wears a hijab, I felt like I was going to throw up when I heard a man drop this claim: “Israel is the only country in the Middle East where women can wear what they want.” Not only is this factually incorrect, but it is an appropriation of my struggle for his agenda. If I felt this way, I can’t imagine how it must have felt to be one of the Palestinian students in that space sitting by while their agency was repeatedly stripped away.

To students who complain about being called racist: Speaking on behalf of Palestinians, Arabs and Middle Easterners at large, insisting that you know what’s best for them is racist. There’s anti-colonial language for that: the white savior complex. Repeatedly stating that all speech must be kept civil, painting NUDivest as extremists incapable of dialogue and implying that people of color are angry or uncivilized are forms of racism, and it is our moral imperative to reject racism in all of its forms.

Hagar Gomaa

McCormick ’15