I am a Zionist. Not only am I a Zionist, but I am a female, Jewish person of color and I have never felt more marginalized in my lifetime. When Zionists are boxed into the categories of “white settler-colonialists” and “white Jews,” the erroneous nature of such statements generalize an entire population while simultaneously excluding half of it. That would be tantamount to me saying that all Palestinians are violent, when in reality, it is the radical few.

However, I am not here to pour out my emotions to you, but rather to raise an important issue, and to mark the distinction between free speech and slander. As many pro-Israel students are aware, there was a Letter to the Editor penned by Jonathan Gelernter, ‘18, in response to Michael Harel’s column from September 12. This letter shook our community not solely because of its content, but also due to the unprecedented animosity and biased speech that marred each line of it. I am a champion of free speech, and firmly believe that it is the only way to engage in true discourse, but when one person accuses another of “craven propagandizing” for merely reiterating the facts about Zionism and the unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and their ancestral homeland, it is my obligation to speak out.

Mr. Gelernter charges Mr. Harel with conflating anti-Zionists and anti-Semites (although anti-Semitism constitutes anti-Zionism in the U.S. governmental definition), and goes to great lengths to prove his points by referencing so-called pro-Israel Nazis and proponents of such. The individuals to whom he refers are not pro-Israel, but rather vehement anti-Semites who want nothing more than the riddance of their Jewish neighbors. Speaking of neighbors, he continues on to discuss the 700,000 Palestinians “expelled” from their homes in 1948, and describes the event as an act of colonialism. Mr. Gelernter exemplifies the very “willful ignorance” he accuses Mr. Harel of in this statement, and fails to share the history and facts with his readers. On the contrary, in many places, such as Haifa and Jaffa, Israeli authorities urged their Arab neighbors to stay, but the latter chose not to under mounting pressure from their overseers in Beirut and surrounding Arab nations, who said leaving the Mandate of Palestine would be temporary, believing that they would decimate the fledgling state.

Lastly, Mr. Gelernter claims that Gaza is occupied by Israel, a claim that any person educated about the conflict would deem incorrect (Israel disengaged from Gaza in 2005). When your neighbors fly swastika-painted kite-bombs over your fields and send away balloons and missiles with the aim of killing civilians, there lies an imminent threat. Israel has the absolute right to protect her borders and the moral obligation to combat terrorist activities that seek to harm the Israeli population as a whole. It is unfortunate that Hamas, a dictatorship and an internationally recognized terrorist organization, is oppressing its people and taking precious aid money to fund terrorism.

It is crucial for people to educate themselves about the ongoing situation in the Middle East and to understand the complex history of the region, rather than sound-bite snippets from contemporary sources. As a person who spent most of their upbringing in Israel, and even lived in Jerusalem for a year, I have encountered the diverse body of Israel’s inhabitants, including many Palestinians, who were kind and yearned for peace. In fact, polls from the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion show that over half of Jerusalem’s Palestinians would prefer to live as Israeli citizens with equal rights than as citizens of a future Palestinian state. Does that sound like colonialism to you?

The most important thing to note, as Mr. Harel did in his original column, is that anti-Semitism is conflated with anti-Zionism because groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and campaigns such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) serve as platforms for people who seek the annihilation of the state of Israel and have zero concern for social justice. When my friends in other universities were spat upon and called “dirty Jews” and “Zionist scums” by members of SJP, the anti-Semitism was well-founded and deep-seated. These groups have never mentioned the 850,000 refugees expelled from Arab countries in the 1900s, my grandparents among them, and ignore the fact that Israel is a country largely composed of refugees. Without a Jewish state, Jews are without protection from ongoing persecution and subjugation.

To engage in dialogue is one thing, but to denigrate one’s moral character for upholding justice and ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Jewish and pro-Israel students alike is reprehensible and offensive. People like Mr. Gelernter create a hostile and barren climate for any peace, and poison the leaders of tomorrow with the venom of hate and conflict. It is impossible to create a normal and civil society under the conditions that the Palestinians both created for themselves and were forced into. The only true way to establish a prosperous society is through rebuilding and cooperation, but as history shows, this is not the course of action that has been taken. Our choices will determine the fate of what happens in the Middle East, and through mutual understanding and true diplomacy, we might be able to find the key to peace in the near future.

Shiraz Otani is a junior majoring in political science.