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I am writing as a UT graduate, a Jew and a member of the Austin chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace to express my admiration for the Palestinian and Palestinian solidarity activists who introduced the divestment resolution, AR 3, to UT’s Student Government. I am also writing to express my frustration with the claims made by AR 3 opponents. 

Rather than focus on the resolution’s content, opponents argued that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement of which AR 3 was part seeks to destroy the state of Israel. 

This is not true. BDS seeks to ensure the human rights of and a peaceful existence for Palestinians by making three demands of Israel: End the occupation of Arab lands, which for almost 50 years has displaced and traumatized Palestinians as well as Syrians and Bedouins; ensure that non-Jewish and Jewish citizens of Israel have equal rights, which coincides with basic principles of democracy; and allow Palestinian refugees, who were forced to flee their homes in 1948, to return.

At no point does BDS discuss Israel’s future. Rather, Israel’s supporters and apologists have decided that, if Israel were to meet BDS’ demands, it would cease to be a Jewish state. Perhaps they are correct, but they ignore one crucial point: BDS’ demands are good. If Israel cannot do right by Palestinians and still maintain its integrity as a Jewish state — if Israel must oppress an entire people in order to survive — then Jews and non-Jews alike must question Israel’s right to exist. 

Opponents of AR 3 also sidestepped the resolution’s content by arguing that the resolution’s passage would create disunity on UT’s campus. In so doing, they asked the University to unite around injustice.

This is a false union, for injustice always divides and generates discord. AR 3 supporters sought a different sort of unity, one grounded in compassion and peace. I pray that, though AR 3 did not pass, it will motivate UT students to educate themselves about Israel’s occupation of Palestine and cultivate in themselves an enlightened sense of compassion for oppressed people so that this vision of a just unity can become reality. Until then, Palestinians and their supporters will keep fighting the good fight.   

Pace is a UT alumna and member of the Austin chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Clockwise from top left, Kallen Dimitroff, government junior and University-wide representative, Mohammed Nabulsi, law student, law school representative and co-author of the resolution, Mukund Rathi, computer science senior and co-author of the resolution and Jonathan Barak Dror, economics sophomore and University-wide representative debate the passing of the divestment resolution at the Student Government meeting Tuesday evening.

Photo Credit: Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

After weeks of contentious debate, the Student Government Assembly voted against a divestment resolution which would have asked the UT System Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) to pull investments from five corporations that the resolution claimed “facilitate in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”  

The Assembly voted against the resolution by a 11–23–1 vote Tuesday night.

The resolution asked UTIMCO to divest specifically from Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and United Technologies because of “human rights violations,” according to the resolution. 

University-wide representative Santiago Rosales said he voted against the resolution because he thought it was too divisive to support.

“I do not mean to say that either side is divisive in itself but rather that the approach of [the resolution] is divisive in nature,” Rosales said. “This student government has taken unified approaches of bridging differences in this campus, bringing students together to bring meaningful change.”

After the vote, many students who had lobbied in support of the resolution protested outside of the Assembly room, voicing opposition to the decision. University of Texas Police Department officers came to monitor the scene.

English junior Josephine Lawson, a co-author of the divestment resolution, reacts with other students after the Assembly did not pass the resolution. Mariana Gonzalez | Daily Texan Staff

UTIMCO CEO and CIO Bruce Zimmerman said the company makes investment decisions solely based on the financial interest of the University and so would not have taken the resolution into consideration even if it had passed.

“The current policy is not to take into account political and social considerations,” Zimmerman said. “That’s a long standing policy, and it’s a policy supported by staff.”

Mohammed Nabulsi, SG law representative and an author of the resolution, said the authors wanted to pass the resolution despite UTIMCO’s stance on divestment based on political and social issues.

“What we’re doing with this resolution is saying, irrespective of what [UTIMCO has] already said, our student body continues, continues, continues to support divesting from human rights abuses,” Nabulsi said. “This is just following in line with other resolutions Student Government has
already passed.”

The 2010–2011 SG Assembly passed a resolution asking UTIMCO to revise its policies to include consideration of social policy. The divestment resolution also cited precedent from the 2014–2015 SG session, during which the Assembly passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that facilitate genocide in Sudan.

The resolution was based out of a national boycott-sanctioning-divestment, or “BDS,” movement started by Palestinian human rights groups. Nabulsi told the Texan on April 9 that Unify Texas, a student organization opposing the BDS resolution, does not understand the BDS movement.

“Unify Texas relies on a mischaracterization of BDS and our goals here on campus in order to make a straw man argument,” Nabulsi said. “BDS is a step towards leveling the negotiating playing field so that the Israeli government is forced to take Palestinian demands seriously.”

Earlier Tuesday, 17 former SG presidents and vice presidents sent a letter to the current Assembly, asking them not to vote in favor of the resolution.

“As our former student body presidents have said — the people who care most about our University — it is not our place to support this philosophy,” University-wide representative Kallen Dimitroff said. “The alienation it would cause certain groups on campus, the stance and precedent it would set for student government, would be very detrimental.”

Carmel Abuzaid, a international relations and global studies freshman and supporter of divestment, said passing the resolution would specifically recognize the oppression she and other UT students have experienced in Palestine firsthand. 

“Passing this resolution would not only recognize my experiences as valid but would also unify the University against injustice and oppression,” Abuzaid said.

Maya Russo, an international relations and global studies sophomore who spoke in opposition to the resolution, said she felt personally targeted. 

“This is not a human rights legislation, nor is it one that promotes justice. This is an anti-Israel legislation,” Russo said. “This hateful rhetoric that is directed at my people and at me personally is one-sided. … This is a step in the wrong direction toward the ultimate objective — peace.” 


Former SG leaders sign open letter in opposition to BDS resolution

Seventeen former Student Government leaders signed a letter addressed to the current SG executive board and Assembly, urging them to oppose a divestment resolution set to be voted on Tuesday night.

The resolution calls for the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest from corporations that authors said “facilitate the oppression of the Palestinian people by the State of Israel.”

The former leaders, who served SG terms ranging as far back as 1983, said SG should not associate with the boycott-divestment-sanctioning – known as BDS – movement upon which the resolution is based.  

"The BDS movement is rooted in a philosophy that rejects Israel’s very existence," the letter read. "While reasonable people can debate the merits and faults of Israel's specific policies, supporting BDS necessarily means supporting a philosophy that advocates the destruction of Israel and its inhabitants. We do not think the Student Government Assembly should align itself with such a philosophy."

Seven of the eight most recent SG presidents and vice presidents signed the letter, including last term's president and vice president, Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland.

The leaders also said Texas has kept close ties with Israel, regarding similarities in agricultural and policing policies.

"There is much that the state of Texas and Israel share, and the BDS movement attempts to undermine that relationship," the letter read.

The Assembly will vote on the resolution Tuesday night.

To read more about the debate surrounding the resolution, click here. 

To read about the resolution as it stands, before it heads to the Assembly for a vote tonight, click here. 

Read the letter here:

Former SG Leaders in Opposition to BDS and AR-3

Recently, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, in concert with other forces, proposed a resolution in Student Government urging the University of Texas Investment Management Company to divest itself from companies that the PSM deems to facilitate the oppression of Palestinians. 

Specifically, the resolution is part of a broader platform of boycotts, divestment and sanctions that has been proposed by likeminded individuals nationwide. I agreed with my compatriots on the Texan’s editorial board last Friday when we rightly recommended that the Student Government vote down this asinine resolution because it is not SG’s role to meddle in “foreign policy squabbles.” That much is true. But it is also true that this resolution, like any part of the misguided BDS movement, is hypocritical, anti-Semitic and wrong.

Proponents of BDS claim that such tactics are necessary to dissuade Israel from continuing its illegal occupation of Palestine. They have also been emboldened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dishonorable comments opposing the creation of an independent Palestinian state, an ostensible Israeli policy goal for the past 22 years. 

I, for one, certainly agree that Netanyahu’s comments are inexcusable and some of Israel’s conduct is nothing short of egregious. But punitive measures against the whole of Israeli society, such as the divestment considered by the university, are most definitely the wrong way to voice opposition to the many foreign policy mistakes that the Netanyahu government has made.

Countless other countries around the world, including Armenia, China, India, Russia and Turkey, to name a few, occupy others’ lands. Plenty more, including Georgia, Morocco and Serbia, have dragged their feet on recognizing breakaway regions as independent. Where is the controversy and, more appropriately, where are the organized punitive measures?

There are none, of course, because disagreeable foreign policy actions do not necessitate the collective punishment of a politically, culturally and ethnically diverse group of people such as the Israeli public. Comparisons to the South African apartheid, as the BDS movement regularly makes, are hyperbolic and incorrect.

During apartheid, blacks in South Africa were systemically denied their basic civil rights nationwide. They were denied rights based solely on the color of their skin, and no other rationale. In Israel proper — that is, the portion of the nation outside of the Palestinian territories that are the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, are granted full civil rights. More than a million Arab citizens enjoy all the rights and privileges of Israeli society, including the right to partake in all portions of the Israeli welfare state, vote and hold public office.

Palestinians in the occupied territories face discrimination and unneeded roadblocks to self-determination, but they are simply not victims of apartheid; rather, they are victims of a dragged-out war with a neighboring nation. The comparison to the apartheid is simply, to say the least, one of apples and oranges.

Sadly, though, BDS is not about seeking justice for Palestinians. Instead, it is about seeking to stigmatize, isolate and otherwise attack the Jews in our two-thousand year quest for a homeland. As reported in a New York Times op-ed, the leaders of BDS have revealed that their true quest is not an independent State of Palestine, peacefully coexisting side-by-side with an independent State of Israel. Omar Barghouti, one of BDS’ founders, was quoted by the article as saying that he does not want “a two-state solution,” instead advocating for “a Palestine next to a Palestine.” National leaders of BDS like Barghouti want one Palestine and no Israel.

I support a two-state solution, as do almost all of the American-Jewish community and a majority of the Israeli public. Sadly, Netanyahu does not appear to share this sentiment. He does, after all, have a lot of company in that position, including the Ayatollah of Iran, Hamas and the BDS movement. Prejudice, hatred and bigotry, be it Netanyahu’s islamophobia or BDS’s anti-Semitism, have much more in common than their proponents may admit.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.

At a meeting Thursday, an SG committee voted down three proposed amendments to a resolution that asks UTIMCO to stop investing in corporations that aid in Palestinian oppression.
Photo Credit: Aaron Torres | Daily Texan Staff

The Student Government Legislative Affairs committee voted down three proposed amendments to a highly-discussed divestment resolution Thursday and subsequently sent the resolution to a vote by the full assembly.

The resolution, which has gained widespread support and opposition from different student groups on campus, asks the University of Texas Investment Management Company to stop investing in corporations that, according to the resolution’s authors, “aid in the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.”

The first proposed amendment at the meeting asked for a broadening of language, specifically calling to alter a clause that currently refers to “Palestinian rights” and would have been changed to “human rights.” The amendment failed after no SG representative seconded the amendment proposal.

The second proposed amendment called for the removal of a clause containing a quote by Nelson Mandela from the legislation. The representative who proposed the amendment said the quote, which referred to divestment’s success in helping South Africa reach the end of apartheid, was not relevant to the legislation.   

Mohammed Nabulsi, law school representative and an author of the legislation, said the quote is relevant because he believes the allusion to the effectiveness of divestment is a crucial detail in the resolution’s argument. The amendment also failed after no SG representatives seconded the proposal. 

University wide representative Kallen Dimitroff proposed a third amendment to remove the specificity of Israel from the legislation, because she said she believes referring explicitly to Israel targets the country and causes a division within the University community.

“I think it’s divisive because it’s only advocating with one group,” Dimitroff said. “I just don’t think differentiating is the [proper] way.”

Removing any mention of Israel from the legislation would dilute the document’s intentions, Nabulsi said.

“The resolution does not aim to target Israel, but aims to target Israeli policies in Palestine,” Nabulsi said. “We don’t want to erase Palestinian suffering.”

The third amendment was also not passed. 

Walker Fountain, a government junior who spoke at the meeting, said he believes SG should not attempt to regulate UTIMCO’s business.

“The Permanent University fund, the largest [UTIMCO] fund, is not drawn from tuition,” Fountain said. “So first, I must ask if this resolution is relevant to students.” 

Melissa Smyth, graduate student in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, said she believes student contribution to the University gives UTIMCO’s actions relevance to student affairs.

“An institution we work for, pay tuition to and carry with us is implicitly justifying these acts of oppression,” Smith said. “That’s what we’re opposing.” 

The SG Assembly will vote on the legislation as it stands Tuesday.

Tracy Frydberg’s editorial response “BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community” entirely avoids the points that my original article makes. I make two key points: First, that Unify Texas is not open about its pro-Israeli politics and that prevents an honest campus debate; and second, that Palestine is a relevant issue of justice and human rights for students and UTDivest is a way to get involved.

For the first point, I explain that they are run by Texas Hillel, which announced Unify Texas in an email to its supporters and said they “must speak with one voice” that is pro-Israel. This is an explicitly political position. Neither Hillel nor this position is acknowledged by Unify Texas, and repeated requests about this from the author were ignored. To elaborate on why Hillel’s politics matter, I discuss the Open Hillel movement of Jewish college students. In short, the movement calls on Hillel chapters to reject the restrictive political standards of the organization and engage in dialogue about Palestine.

For the second point, I quote famous activists like Dorothy Zellner and Nelson Mandela, who argued that their work for civil rights and against apartheid rests on a principle of justice which should be extended to Palestinians. I explain that Palestine is particularly an issue for UT students because our University and our government support the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine with various investments. UTDivest and BDS are a way to fight against the occupation by ending our institutional complicity. I cite Martin Luther King Jr. and how white America hated him to show that we have to fight for justice even if it’s divisive.

Frydberg does not address any of these points. She argues that UTDivest activism will promote anti-Semitism and that I have already done so through my article. Her article contains no citations and makes verifiably false claims.

Frydberg says that I have “refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.” There is no citation. This is false and is particularly odd because I have never even been approached. On the other hand, I recently contacted Jewish student groups like Open Hillel to discuss Palestine and Hillel.

Frydberg says Texas Hillel is non-political. This is false, as repeatedly stated by Hillel itself. They openly advocate pro-Israel politics in the Unify Texas email and on their website. On their “About Us” page, they proudly say that they won the “Best Campus Political Organization” award for work that included “Texans for Israel advocacy.”

Frydberg accuses me of “insidiously” going from being “anti-Israel” to “anti-Semitic.” There is no explanation for how I or my article does this (because, again, she does not address anything I actually say). Perhaps the accusation is because I support UTDivest, which she says decided to “single out one Jewish state for its vitriol.” Readers should read the UTDivest resolution and my original article (and others I have written), all of which is on the basis of human rights. As such, I agree that the same standard should be applied to other companies and other countries.

Frydberg says that Israel and the Jewish people are “intertwined” and “inseparable.” It’s not clear what this means, but it’s clear after the recent Israeli elections that an increasing number of Jewish Americans do not agree with this. This is especially true for those who are in organizations like Open Hillel and Jewish Voice for Peace, which explicitly reject the idea that Israel has a monopoly on Judaism.  Frydberg claims that UTDivest has “slapped away” invitations from the “Jewish community” (again no citation). It’s also unclear what this means, especially because Austin Jewish Voice for Peace and Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights are members of UTDivest and have been publicly speaking at events.

Frydberg then makes a series of accusations about BDS and anti-Semitism at various universities with no citations. Moreover, she doesn’t actually state who is supposedly being anti-Semitic or what their relationship is to UTDivest. I can’t respond to these accusations without knowing this information.

Frydberg then repeats accusations that UTDivest is anti-Semitic and does not actually care about human rights because they are singling out Israel. Again, the reader should review UTDivest and see for themselves that everything is based on human rights, and that they are fully supportive of other such initiatives. As mentioned, BDS is modeled on a similar campaign conducted on US college campuses against South African apartheid.

UTDivest provides an opportunity for students to act on UT’s core values of Freedom and Responsibility with regards to the Palestinians. This requires open debate on the actual issue and honest politics. Students who are concerned about human rights and justice should take this debate seriously rather than avoiding the issue and relying on non sequiturs and baseless accusations.

— Mukund Rathi, computer science honors junior, in response to Tracy Frydberg's Wednesday Firing Line titled "BDS legislation would isolate UT's Jewish community."

Last month, this board asked Student Government to vote down a resolution that offered nothing but obsequious promotion and praise of the State of Israel. We did so not because we disagreed with the political points of the resolution’s proponents but because we felt it was inappropriate for Student Government to meddle in a “foreign policy squabble” such as the ongoing territorial and political disputes between Israel and Palestine.

Now, representatives of the Palestine Solidarity Committee have introduced legislation in Student Government to pressure the University’s investment company into divesting from any company that financially benefits from and is complicit in the occupation of Palestine. The plan is part of a broader platform called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), which seeks to stigmatize and isolate Israel into changing its foreign policy, particularly toward the Palestinians, whose lands they continue occupying in defiance of international law. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also recently backed away from statements supporting the creation of a Palestinian state on that land, as Israel has supported in the abstract for nearly 25 years. Both are serious transgressions that require immediate attention, but Student Government is the wrong place to deal with it because such contentious issues have nothing to do with the stewardship of this University.

With a new SG administration at the helm, this is a time for actually accomplishing real things, not mean-spirited fights over a foreign policy squabble half a world away. SG should vote down this divestment bill, as well as other proposals from the misguided BDS movement. It’s just, in more ways than one, the wrong thing to do.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial was overly broad in its description of the companies targeted by the legislation currently being considered by Student Government.

Mukund Rathi’s editorial “Support for BDS is support for justice and open dialogue,” published on April 14, is particularly ironic considering that Rathi has previously refused to engage with Jewish student groups on the issue.

Is this what we’re calling open dialogue these days? Refusing to talk to those we disagree with? Or is open dialogue calling out Texas Hillel for being associated with Unify Texas, a grassroots campaign highlighting the divisive and alienating nature of BDS?

Texas Hillel is a nonprofit, non-political Jewish student center on campus open to individuals of any belief and background. Anyone who has ever walked into this building or met its student leaders and staff, knows that Hillel is an open, loving, morally conscious community. Rathi’s non sequitur attacks on Hillel International and UT Hillel clearly illustrate that while being anti-Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, the former can insidiously and seamlessly transform into the latter.

Perhaps the reason that Unify Texas is associated with Hillel is because Jewish students — a religious group, not a political one -- on this campus are concerned with UTDivest’s decision to single out the one Jewish state for its vitriol. If the UTDivest campaign were truly about social justice, one would imagine it would also be calling for an end to investment in companies that function in countries such as Saudi Arabia, China and Russia. But that’s not what is happening.

Israel and the Jewish people are intertwined; we are inseparable. There’s a reason Jews are called the people of Israel. In the Passover haggadah, the holiday’s storybook that Jews around the world read last week, we end with the declaration, “Next year in Jerusalem,” reminding us all of our deep-rooted, unconditional ties to the land and its people. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every Jew agrees with every decision made by Israel’s government or supports every policy that affects the region.

I’ll speak for myself: As a Jew, deeply committed to my people and to fighting for a more just world, BDS is frightening. It isolates the Jewish community and its student center, by focusing on the Jewish state — while ignoring other gross human rights violations around the world. The Jewish community has no outlet to create dialogue with UTDivest since our invitations, our outstretched hand, was slapped away.

Let’s not be naive. Just as Hillel does not exist in a vacuum, neither does BDS. At Stanford University and UCLA this year, two different Jewish students leaders’ judgment and abilities were called into question for no reason other than the fact they are Jews. In the fall at Emory University, swastikas were spray-painted on the walls of the Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and last year at New York University, fake eviction notices were slid under the doors of Jewish students. As anti-Israel activity rises, so does the demonization of Jewish students on college campuses.

UTDivest’s cleverly disguised campaign, drenched in the rhetoric of human rights and social justice (normally very worthy aims) exposed itself in this paper for its true intentions by calling out Hillel, the center for Jewish life on this campus and a model for what any open community space should aspire to be.

If this group is so concerned with human rights, I suggest participating in this week’s Human Rights Symposium — an event sponsored by Texas Hillel’s White Rose Society, an organization committed to Holocaust remembrance and genocide prevention or Hillel’s Latino-Jewish Student Coalition, which is currently organizing efforts to keep in-state tuition for undocumented students.

No one is making excuses for the problems in the Middle East. Both Palestinians and Israelis are suffering in very real ways. But my problem is that UTDivest has taken a conflict in the Middle East as an opportunity to bash the Jewish community — and my community — at Texas Hillel.

— Tracy Frydberg, Middle Eastern studies and journalism senior, in response to Mukund Rathi’s Tuesday column titled “Support for BDS is support for justice and open dialogue.”

Collin Poirot, Plan II and communications studies senior, voices his opinion of the divestment legislation.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Students debated a Student Government resolution that would support divestment of the University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) from corporations that supporters said facilitate in the oppression of the Palestinian people.

The legislation, introduced Tuesday, states that UTIMCO’s investments in these corporations violate University values. The legislation asks UTIMCO to divest from five specific companies in which UTIMCO holds shares: Alstom, Cemex, Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble, and United Technologies.

“UTS continues to hold securities in — and thereby profits from — companies which have an active role in the human rights abuse and institutionalized structural violence perpetrated against the Palestinian people, consequently making it a complicit third party,” the legislation states.

Collin Poirot, Plan II and communication studies senior and an author of the document, said the investments directly affect students despite the overseas distance of Palestine and Israel.

“This resolution has direct implications for a number of UT students,” Poirot said. “These companies that our tuition dollars are supporting are directly responsible for the persecution and oppression of family members of UT students.”   

Rebecca Hanai, an advertising junior who spoke in opposition to the legislation, said the issue is too divisive for SG to take a vote.

“A resolution proposing a divestment from Israel would indeed divide our campus for the worse,” Hanai said. “As a Jewish student leader on this campus, I can personally say that I attend a school that supports such a polarizing issue.”

The divestment resolution, which members of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee and other allied groups drafted, is part of a larger “boycott-divestment-sanctioning,” or “BDS,” movement that Palestinian civil rights organizations have started.

Hanai said BDS movements cut off dialogue between the two  groups.

“The notion of [BDS] movement coming to the Forty Acres is a regression to change of any kind,” Hanai said. “The AR resolution poses a threat to our campus, not only by demoting justice, human rights or peace at UT-Austin, but also by repressing any opportunities for open dialogue.”

Amy Nabozny, College Republicans president and history and government junior, said she thinks the resolution would target Israel. 

“This piece of legislation would be responsible and deliberately singles out and demonizes the only Jewish state and few democracies in the Middle East,” Nabozny said.

Law student Mohammed Nabulsi, a law school representative and author of the resolution, said Unify Texas, an organization opposed to divestment, has misrepresented UTDivest, the movement that supports the resolution.

“It’s not asking for a divestment from businesses who do business in Israel; rather it’s asking for divestment from a little, limited amount of companies … all whom do business in the Occupy [Palestine] territories, participating in illegal activity and also participating in a violation of human rights,” Nabulsi said.

Student groups at other universities, such as UC-Davis and DePaul University, have been successful in passing similar legislation. UT’s SG also passed a resolution last session asking for UTIMCO to divest from companies that facilitate in genocide in Sudan.

The legislation will be sent to the Government Affairs Committee this week. 

 Fifteen thousand march in solidarity from Auschwitz to Birkenau last April in the annual March of the Living.

Photo Credit: Jason Epstein | Staff writer

Similar to the sound of a tornado warning in the states, two sirens will pierce the air in Israel in the next 24 hours, bringing traffic and society to a standstill.

But these will not be calls of warning. These two sirens, one Wednesday evening and one Thursday morning, will call for a moment of silence, solemnity and reflection on Yom HaShoah, the Israeli and Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Today, Israel commemorates each life lost in the mass murder of over 6 million Jews. In Israel, the sirens prompt civilians to recognize the holiday and observe it appropriately. Public entertainment shuts down for the day and radio and television programs switch over to oral accounts from the camps and similar Holocaust programs to re-educate viewers on the appalling events that occurred throughout Europe.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed by many countries including America, occurs in late January. But on April 8, thousands of people on the 40 Acres took flowers in commemoration. Organized by the White Rose Society, volunteers from different organizations distributed 10,000 white roses — representing the number of people killed in Auschwitz each day during the Holocaust.

The war ended nearly 70 years ago and the number of Holocaust survivors left decreases by the year. These survivors, well into their seventies or eighties at the very least, may not physically be around for our children and grandchildren to meet.

But their memories will live on.

Just last year, I did not observe Yom HaShoah in the comfort of my home or even my hometown. Instead, I marched. I marched among 15,000 others from countries ranging from Brazil to the United Kingdom to Panama and even Germany. We marched almost two miles from Auschwitz, a work camp, to Birkenau, the largest extermination center built and operated by the Nazis. 

Standing in the middle of Birkenau, I decided no sane human could ever fathom the extremity of the mass murders committed during the war. The deaths of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and other oppressed minorities amount to about 11 million, according to the El Paso Holocaust Museum. UT is a large public university, but this death toll totals over 200 times the number of undergraduate and graduate students on campus. And when you try to put the millions into perspective, one number cannot define the individuals who perished. Rather, try to use basic arithmetic to add one plus one plus one plus… until you inevitably give up out of frustration.

As I stood alongside a survivor of 86 years old and listened to his stories, I became a witness. I became a source of information to make sure that the stories live on, that his story lives on.

Like everyone holding a rose last week, we must continue to preserve the memories of the survivors — not just for the future, but for today.

We live in America, a first-world country with freedoms unimaginable to citizens in most places around the world, but we need to recognize and address genocides happening worldwide. History is repeating itself, and we cannot stand idly by, like many did during the Holocaust.

While we will not be able to hear the sirens in Israel nor experience the camps from our dorm room, I encourage you to seek out such videos and articles online. And still today, in the 21st century, the everlasting message persists: Never forget.

Epstein is a Plan II and journalism freshman from Dallas. Follow Epstein on Twitter @jwepstein96.