Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Jewish Students Under Assault – Part I

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 worldwide. 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 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 a 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, California, 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,” they say. “Israel’s 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) convention, 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 views 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 to 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 not be 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 JerusalemPost’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,” and “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 backgrounds. 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.


That subject is next week’s discussion, along with an analysis of what can be done to reverse the current situation.




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