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I Refuse to Endorse Zionism, So I Am Resigning From My Leadership Position

I have experienced unrelenting pressure from Florida Atlantic University to disavow my anti-Zionist ethical commitments.

Nicole Morse speaks on behalf of Jewish Voice for Peace South Florida at a march organized by the South Florida Coalition for Palestine on November 11, 2023, in South Beach, Miami.

Part of the Series

Today, I submitted my resignation as director of the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Although it might at first appear that this choice was driven by the ever-intensifying political attacks against gender studies in Florida, these attacks are precisely why I would have wanted to remain as director. As a genderqueer scholar, I have been deeply committed to defending the center and advocating for the value of our research and teaching. However, I am also an anti-Zionist Jewish scholar, and since October 7, I have experienced unrelenting pressure from the university to disavow my religious practice, my religious community and my ethical commitments.

On January 16, FAU administrators made it explicitly clear to me that to be a leader at the university, I must support Israel. I have chosen to resign from the directorship in order to speak out about what I have experienced, and to add my experience to the hundreds of stories of academics and cultural workers who are being targeted in order to silence criticism of the state of Israel amid its genocidal campaign in Gaza.

One of Many Anti-Zionist Jews

Growing up as a third-generation American Jew, I learned about the Shoah and I was taught that Jews have responded to our experience of genocide by understanding that resisting oppression is an ethical and a religious imperative. Although I also grew up immersed in hasbara (Israeli state propaganda), my parents’ values and my commitment to justice led me to the conviction that an ethnonationalist state built on ethnic cleansing, occupation/siege and apartheid is fundamentally contrary to Judaism’s values of tzedek (justice) and shalom (peace).

This is a perspective that is shared by many Jews, whether religious or secular. In fact, until World War II, anti-Zionism was quite common among world Jewry. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the International Jewish Labor Bund rejected Zionism in favor of internationalism, diasporism and socialist solidarity. In response to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the only Jewish member of the British Parliament, Edwin Montagu, described the declaration’s Zionist position as antisemitic.

In the 21st century, anti-Zionist Jews include everyone from ultra-orthodox groups like Satmar Hasidim and Neturei Karta, to Jews organizing for social justice with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), to my home synagogue, Tzedek Chicago. For many Jews worldwide, anti-Zionism is a principled political commitment and an important part of our religious identity and religious practice.

Prejudice and Repression in the Academy

FAU, however, has deep ties to the state of Israel and any hint of anti-Zionism is swiftly silenced. These dynamics are longstanding and predate October 7. In September 2023, I was pressured by FAU administration not to serve as the faculty adviser for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) because, like myself, some members of the group are committed to the democratic principle of “one person, one vote” in Israel/Palestine. During one meeting, I was told by a horrified administrator that democracy in the region “would mean an Arab majority.” The implication was that racialized people are dangerous, untrustworthy and incapable of participating in civic life, which is a longstanding colonialist trope.

After October 7, the situation at FAU rapidly became untenable for many Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students, as they faced racist harassment, eliminationist rhetoric, death threats and rape threats — all while receiving no institutional support. They were characterized by FAU leadership as violent, even implicitly as antisemitic. Some of these dynamics are chronicled in a University Press story about the repression of pro-Palestinian voices at FAU.

Simultaneously, as I participated in Jewish efforts advocating for a ceasefire (including my synagogue’s weekly Jewish Fast for Gaza and peaceful protests organized by South Florida JVP), I found myself similarly targeted and smeared as “antisemitic,” despite being an observant Jew. To be clear, anti-Zionism should never be conflated with antisemitism, whether it is a position held by Jews or non-Jews, religious or secular. But my experience is inevitably colored by my Jewishness, and by being treated as an antisemite because of my religiously informed commitment to anti-Zionism.

Harassment, Accusations and Investigations

Enquiries into my supposed “antisemitism” have focused on two incidents: my letter to the editor that was published by the Palm Beach Post on October 9, and my arrest for participating in peaceful civil disobedience at the office of Sen. Rick Scott on October 17. These are activities that occurred outside of my work hours and they are unrelated to my responsibilities at FAU. Though these actions made me a target for right-wing doxxing and harassment, they are actions that any participant in a democratic society should be able to take, and which are commonly used strategies in movements for social change.

When I ended up on Turning Point USA’s “professor watchlist,” a few colleagues quietly reached out to me, but I received no support from FAU leaders. Instead, I have endured unrelenting criticism along with intense institutional pressure to change my religious and political views and actions. I have been asked repeatedly whether I will stop participating in protests. I have been required to defend my religious beliefs and to explain how they are not antisemitic. I have been questioned repeatedly about my views on Hamas, despite the fact that I have been clear that I do not support violence against civilians. Although I am director of the Center for WGSS, I have been told not to discuss the consensus in the field, which is reflected in the many statements from the National Women’s Studies Association supporting Palestinian liberation.

As I participated in Jewish efforts advocating for a ceasefire (including my synagogue’s weekly Jewish Fast for Gaza and peaceful protests organized by South Florida JVP), I found myself … targeted and smeared as “antisemitic.”

This pressure campaign was pervasive. After members of the Zionist student organization Owls for Israel harassed me on October 9, I was warned not to put anything about the experience in writing. Although there were many eyewitnesses, including six police officers, I faced stonewalling from the police department when I attempted to report the students’ rape threats, transphobic slurs and shouts of “zonah” (prostitute). When I tried to advocate for Palestinian students facing similar harassment, I was directed into a bureaucratic maze and cautioned that reporting experiences shared with me by students who did not give me their names could constitute a policy violation. Rumors about my pending termination and stories about colleagues being questioned regarding me have circulated, creating an atmosphere of fear that appeared designed to isolate me.

When three Zionist donors claimed falsely in private emails that I was “willing to put lives at stake” through my membership in anti-Zionist organizations and congregations, and then demanded my removal from the directorship of WGSS, I received repeated requests for information about my activities as director, while being kept almost entirely in the dark about what seems to be an ongoing investigation. For months, I have been periodically called into meetings — or, more often, received information third- or fourth-hand, regarding this campaign against me. Many of these conversations have included implicit and explicit pressure to resign from my position with WGSS, including warnings that what happened to Claudine Gay could happen to me. On January 16, I was presented with the choice between taking a leave of absence or disaffiliating from my anti-Zionist congregation.

At no point has any evidence been offered suggesting that I have actually caused harm or neglected my responsibilities as director. Yet I was told that my religious beliefs are only protected as long as they don’t “harm others,” which is aligned with a pervasive pattern of treating Zionists’ feelings as more important than the material well-being of Palestinians. It seems that the university administration has accepted at face value accusations based entirely on dubious information on anti-Zionism proffered by the controversial Anti-Defamation League, which (as pointed out by a coalition of social justice groups) “has a history and ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence.”

A Landscape of Censorship and Silencing

I am far from alone in enduring this kind of pressure. Across the country, institutions of higher education are engaged in a campaign of repression against advocacy for Palestinians while legislatures are passing laws that criminalize criticism of the state of Israel. At Columbia University, both SJP and JVP have been banned, and in Florida, attempts to ban SJP have not yet officially succeeded, but their chilling effect is palpable. In every sector, pro-Palestinian speech is being censored and punished, and Palestine Legal describes the climate of repression as “unprecedented.”

It is vital to remember that this crackdown on freedom of speech and freedom of conscience is occurring in the midst of what many experts describe as a genocide. As of January 22, Israel has killed over 25,000 people in Palestine, including over 10,000 children, over 100 journalists and over 300 medical professionals. Genocide targets culture as well as people, and Israel has damaged or destroyed more than 100 cultural sites as well as every university in Gaza. Amid my horror and heartbreak, I feel more strongly than ever that anti-Zionist Judaism is a necessary part of the collective effort to build a better world. For my part, resigning gives me the opportunity to speak out and continue to work toward justice and freedom for all, from the river to the sea. As Rabbi Hillel famously said, when describing the ethical imperative to act in the face of injustice, “If not now, when?”

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