Jewish Students Under Assault — Part U

Jewish college students find themselves increasingly under attack on campuses around the world. The seventh annual Israel Apartheid Week just took place on 55 campuses world-wide. Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney rightly described such events seeking to “promote Palestinian human rights” as “accompanied by anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and bullying.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper lamented that the “anti-Israel mob” is frequently “allowed to prevail.” And opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff described the anti-Israel events as a “cocktail of ignorance and intolerance.” At Ottawa’s Carlton University, a non-Jewish supporter of Israel and his Israeli roommate were surrounded and then chased by an Arabic-speaking mob, one of whose members swung a machete that missed the head of the non-Jew by inches.

The demonization of Israel to which young Jews are exposed begins long before university studies; the campuses are merely the venue for the most intense exposure. British journalist Melanie Phillips described on Israel TV this week the “demonization, dehumanization, and delegitimization” of Israeli Jews that has become the daily fare of the mainstream British media, and which she documents in nauseating detail in her new book The World Turned Upside Down. Channel Four recently broadcast the four-part historical fiction, The Promise, whose theme was summed up thus by Richard Millett, “rich European Jews came to Palestine after the Holocaust, stole the Palestinians’ land and murdered British soldiers.” Another Channel Four film portrayed Jewish soldiers killing Palestinian children for blood sport, a charge repeated in a recent BBC TV lecture by MP Richard Morpurgo.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, explained on Jordanian TV already in 1990, how a powerful Arab Lobby could conquer the campuses and media by allying the Palestinians with the American Left – ’60s radicals now tenured professors, African-American student groups, and, above all, Jewish progressives. Vast sums of Arab oil money have been used to advance the process. Over the last ten years, 600 million dollars in Arab money has flowed to American universities — most to the elite universities, where the next generation of American leaders are trained — to fund Middle East Studies programs, for which excoriation of Israel is always the soup du jour. The recent resignation of the head of the prestigious London School of Economics over the receipt of very large donation from Libya, and the granting of a spurious PhD. to Muammar Gaddafi’s son Seif in return, is an example of the same Arab largesse with strings attached in England.

The Jewish progressives have certainly filled their assigned role. Thirty professors of Jewish studies recently signed a petition asking Orange County, Calif. prosecutors to drop charges against Arab students who conspired to prevent Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren from speaking at University of California at Irvine. The use of the criminal justice system to regulate student speech, the petition said, “is detrimental to the values exemplified by the academic and intellectual environment on our university campuses.” The Jewish professors did not explain what intellectual environment is fostered by forcibly preventing pro-Israel speakers from being heard.

Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser, co-founders of the David Project to combat the anti-Israel tenor of American universities, describe the success of Zogby’s project: Radical professors express the dominant narrative that Israel is a racist, genocidal nation. “Outside the classroom anti-Israel groups hold conferences, screen films and conduct theatrical demonstrations that portray Israel in the harshest terms. Israel’ advocates are prevented from speaking; pro-Israel events are disrupted; Jewish students are intimidated verbally or even physically, and are excluded from pro-Palestinian events. Pathetic attempts by Jewish students to initiate dialogue Palestinian students are rejected. . . . ” Political correctness, Jacobs and Goldwasser continue, dictates that the Israelis are by definition always guilty and the “darker skinned, impoverished Palestinians eternally innocent.”

EVEN THOSE of us who would never contemplate sending our children to university should be profoundly troubled by these trends. Jewish students invariably find themselves identified with Israel, and the effort to flee that association can also lead them to stop identifying as Jews. At this year’s AJOP (Association of Jewish Outreach Programs) an entire session was devoted to the impact on campus kiruv when Israel is no longer a source of pride or identification for many, if not most, Jews. At least at the subconscious level, intermarriage can seem like the most effective way to avoid being labeled one of those “racist” Jews, who are concerned only about their own kind and sure that their lives are more valuable than everyone else’s.

The pressure to not identify as Jews becomes even greater when the demonization of Israel so readily slips into traditional anti-Jewish tropes. In a recent survey conducted by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is associated with Germany’s Social Democratic Party, nearly half of all Germans surveyed agreed that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians, and 35.6% agreed with the statement, “Considering Israel’s policy, I can understand why people do not like Jews.” The comparable figure for the second question in England was 35.9% and in the Netherlands 41.1%.

Nor do academics even feel the need to hide their visceral distaste for Jews, not just Israelis. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz just returned from Norway, where none of the country’s three leading universities would agree to sponsor a lecture by him on Israel and International Law, offered free of charge. The same universities have hosted speeches by prominent academic proponents of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) against Israel, such as Ilan Pappe. The framer of one Norwegian academic boycott petition began with an explicit reference to Jews’ – even secular Jews’ — “self-satisfied [and] self-centered tribal mentality.”

The impact of the attacks on Israel on young Jews is profound. David Berkley, president of the Manchester Zionist Central Council, recently discussed with The Jewish Chronicle’s Jonathan Kalmus the effect on Jewish youth of having grown up with “Israel the regional superpower, Israel the aggressor, the occupier and human rights abuser.” (It was not even entirely clear from the quote in The Jewish Chronicle whether Berkley, like many leaders of mainstream British Jewish organizations, himself agrees with that characterization.) David Tuck, a 17-year-old Manchester Grammar School student, told the Chronicle that while he had “always thought Israel has a right to exist” – apparently a major concession – “it is hard when there is so much anti-Israel news and a lot of people I go to school with are quite strongly anti-Israel.” Another student in Manchester’s Zionist King David school echoed that sentiment, and admitted that he and many of his friends brought up in left-leaning families hold critical view of Israel. Blogger Edgar Davidson confessed that his daughter, who attends an Orthodox Jewish school, tells him that when Israel comes up in the Jewish studies classes, students routinely express the opinion that Israel has no right to exist because the land was stolen from the Arabs.

ON THE UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES, there will always be a hard-core group of students whose identity is strengthened by the sense of being a minority under siege, but for most the effect is just the opposite. Even those with the strongest Jewish identity become apologetic, if not absolutely cowed, when the subject of Israel arises. Consider the response of the Brown Hillel to the placement in the campus newspaper by the David Horowitz Freedom Center of an advertisement called the Palestinian Wall of Lies in response to Israel Apartheid Week. None of the Hillel students had written to the campus newspaper to protest Israel Apartheid Week or to remonstrate with the local Muslim Students Association for sponsoring it.

In an open letter to the Brown newspaper, the student leaders accused the Palestinian Wall of Lies advertisement of being “Islamophobic and racist,” and expressed their opinion that there should be no place for these “spiteful, bigoted words” in the Brown community, even under the guise of political speech.” The letter did not quote one word from the advertisement, much less try to refute it, and implicitly called for censorship of anything that Muslim students might find hurtful.

Communications guru Frank Luntz recently described to the Jerusalem Post’s David Horowitz a focus group he did with 35 Harvard and MIT students, 20 non-Jewish and 15 Jewish. Within ten minutes, the non-Jewish students had started talking about “Israeli war crimes,” “the Israel Lobby,” “Jewish power.” And all the while the Jewish students just sat there as if struck dumb. It took a full 49 minutes, until the head of the Harvard Israel Action group tried to answer. After three hours, Luntz dismissed the non-Jewish students and berated some of the brightest Jewish students in America for having being unwilling or incapable of responding. The latter sat there painfully embarrassed by the realization that if they could not even speak up to a group of peers, they would never be able to defend Israel any place else. And the situation at Cambridge and Oxford, where he spent three years in graduate school, Luntz confided, is even worse.

By way of partial explanation, Luntz suggested that the Jewish students have been raised by parents for whom tolerance and being non-judgmental are the supreme values – particularly the vast majority of Jewish students from left-wing background, As a consequence, they are uncomfortable standing up for Israel against Palestinian claims.

Luntz is right. When speaking to Jewish student groups, I have been stopped after a minute or two by a student asking, “How do I know that you are not just feeding me propaganda? I want to hear an Arab speaker.” The students do not even have enough feeling of shared identity with Israeli Jews to first want to hear the Israeli side.

David Olesker, who teaches Israel advocacy, stresses that even among student groups brought to Israel there is no assumption that Israel needs or deserves a defense. In this respect, Jewish students are the polar opposite from Arab and Muslim students, who are highly politicized and relentlessly on message. Any private disagreements they may have are rarely expressed publicly. And one will never hear a Muslim student asking to hear the Israeli position. As one Jewish student at the University of Chicago explained to Olesker: the Arab students are simply more attached to their roots than we are.

The failure to provide Jewish university students with more tools to defend themselves constitutes one of the great failures of organized Jewry in both the United States and Great Britain. But the explanation is not hard to find. In their ambivalence towards Israel, Jewish students merely reflect the ambivalence of the larger community, including many in leadership positions in organized Jewish life.

This article first appeared in the Yated Ne’eman, April 1. Provided by Jewish Media Resources.

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10 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The underlying problem is that many Jews, including students and adults, have bought into the anti-Israel narrative philosophically. This can follow from an upbringing that establishes today’s liberalism as the primary religion. It is reinforced by constant contact with peers and teachers who share that religion or something even more radical. What’s a mere collection of facts to a true believer in falsehood?

  2. Yehoshua C. says:

    Rashi comments on Devarim 30:3 that bringing Klal Yisrael out of exile will be so difficult, that Hashem will have to grab each Jew singly by the hand to bring him/her back (as if against their wills).

    So, what could be the difficulty that Rashi alludes to? Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld zt”l provides the answer: “Now I understand the words of Musaf for Yom Tov: ‘because of our sins were we exiled from our country and distanced from our Land.’ This we have done VOLUNTARILY. Many times have I directed that the religious Jews in the Diaspora be instructed that anyone who has the ability to come to Eretz Yisrael and doesn’t, will have to account for his FAILURE in Haolam Haba.” [Ha’ish Al Hachoma, vol. II, p. 149].

    Klal Yisrael has become so comfortable in their lands of golus that they don’t want to leave. It can be cogently argued that he situation described by R. Rosenblum is, indeed, a part of the strategy of geula to force Bnei Torah to realize that at every level, the Diaspora has become so poisonously hostile that the only sane option is to get out and get the heck back home.

  3. BobF says:

    Ben Sales, the editor of a Jewish Student Magazine called New Jewish Voices, wrote an article for the Jewish Week emphasizing that though some anti Israel rhetoric exists on campus, it is much less than articles like this state.

  4. Micah Segelman says:

    “the Diaspora has become so poisonously hostile that the only sane option is to get out and get the heck back home.”

    Bnei Torah should not run away from the fight. We are the ones with the commitment and knowledge to take a leadership role in advocating for Israel. We need to reach out to fellow Jews and teach them about Israel the same way we need to teach them Torah.

    “EVEN THOSE of us who would never contemplate sending our children to university should be profoundly troubled by these trends. ”

    Why the apologetics? Any committed Jew, especially Bnei Torah, should be deeply troubled by the demonization of Israel. How can we not be motivated to act?

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    At the risk of sounding deja vue, if one’s committment to Israel is based on writing a check or any secular or heterodox substitute for Torah observance, then it should be no surprise that college aged students from such a background probably have less of a sense of the Jewish connection to the State of Israel, and the Land of Israel, as well as the Jewish People, than the average MO or Charedi student in elementary school. A community that knows all of the facts and figures about the Shoah, but cannot tell you what the elements of Echad Mi Yodea mean is an educationally illiterate community.

  6. Taylor says:

    Perhaps you could provide some citations for some of your information; particularly the supposed violent incident at Carleton (not Carlton) University. I have been a student there for quite some time and have never heard anything about this incident. After doing several searches on Google News, still nothing turned up. Certainly if there was a mob and someone wielding a machete as you claim, there must be some news report on it, no?

  7. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    The information about the incident at Carleton University in Ottawa was reported in an article in the Jewish Advocate of Boston on Feb. 24, 2011 by Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser. The incident in question took place in April 2010. The non-Jewish victim (i.e., the roommate of the Israeli student) was named Nick Bergami.

  8. Taylor says:

    Hmm…well unfortunately I am unable to find said article as I am not a registered member on that website. Thank you though for providing more information. I was able to find this (and a few other articles):

    It turns out there was some type of incident as you mentioned; however, it did not take place at Carleton University -it did not even take place in Ottawa, but in the city of Gatineau (about a 20 minute drive from the university). As terrible as this incident may have been, it has nothing to do with Carleton other than the fact that the two involved were students there.

    Carleton’s student body is in fact an overwhelmingly welcoming community.
    And our yearly Israeli Apartheid Week is an event that is meant to attack the actions of the Israeli administration….not the Israeli people or people of Jewish heritage. It has nothing to do with race. Those who criticize the Israeli government based on their actions are no more racist than those who criticize Barack Obama based on his actions. Surely one may criticize President Obama without hating people of colour, and it is the same with Israel.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    Taylor, whatever the organizers may claim their intent to be, the essence of an “Israeli Apartheid Week” rests upon a falsehood and reprehensibly holds Israel to an untenable double standard. Far from being an Apartheid State as was South Africa, Israel’s Knesset has many Arab representatives from several different parties. Your average Jewish Israeli believes Arabs should be treated respectfully even in the middle of racially motivated terrorism directed against them.

    With such bastions of liberty as Iran, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Mubarak’s Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and, of course, the Hamas terrorist base formerly known as the Gaza Strip all around it, to single out Israel for an “Apartheid Week” is so clearly irrational that it cannot be explained by any other standard than that of anti-Semitism, which throughout its history has known no logic or reason.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Taylor wrote:

    “And our yearly Israeli Apartheid Week is an event that is meant to attack the actions of the Israeli administration….not the Israeli people or people of Jewish heritage. It has nothing to do with race. Those who criticize the Israeli government based on their actions are no more racist than those who criticize Barack Obama based on his actions. Surely one may criticize President Obama without hating people of colour, and it is the same with Israel.”

    When one holds Israel to a higher standard of poltical behavior than Cuba, North Korea or any similar state, that IMO is anti Semitism.

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