Why Jews are Losing the Battle for the Campus
The warnings have been there. In 2006, the US Commission on Civil Rights found that “many college campuses thought the US continue to experience incidents of anti-Semitism.” Gary Tobin in his 2005 book “Uncivil University: Politics and Propaganda in American Education,” concluded that “anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism are systemic in higher education and can be found on campuses all over the United States.” Across the country too many Jewish and pro-Israel students are patronized, mocked, intimidated and sometimes physically attacked, while anti-Israel professors poison the minds of America’s future leaders. Yet Jewish leaders have by and large not responded effectively.
How did the Jewish community, known for its rhetorical genius, lose a critically important political battle on American campuses? Here is a thumbnail sketch:
In 1990, James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, explained on Jordanian TV how the Arab Lobby can and will match Jewish political and organizational success in America. Zogby and his allies recognized that the campus and the media, unlike Capitol Hill, are two battle grounds that Arabists could win by allying themselves with the American left. In both venues they already had beachheads and feet on the ground. The campus was in transition politically, influenced by ’60s tenured radicals who had adopted the dogma of post-colonialism, and its Palestinian version, Professor Edward Said’s “Orientalism.”
Moreover, America was experiencing a significant increase in foreign born Muslim students as well as increased Muslim immigration (many from countries with a culture of vicious anti-Semitism). Zogby focused on forming alliances with Marxist professors, die-hard socialist activists, African- American student groups, gay-lesbian groups and, most importantly, Jewish progressives. He also realized that an emerging anti-Israel Left/Muslim axis on campus could be better organized and benefit from an inflow of Arab petro dollars into prestigious American universities. All this was happening while many Jewish leaders, intoxicated by the Oslo agreement, were abandoning Israel programming.
Today, we can see the brilliance of Zogby’s strategy: Anti-Israel sentiment suffuses the campus atmosphere. In the classroom, radical professors express the the dominant narrative that the Palestinians are right and the Israelis are in the wrong. In its mild form, the Palestinians suffer needlessly at the hands of Israeli occupiers; in its more vicious version, Israel is a racist, genocidal apartheid nation. Outside the classroom, anti-Israel groups hold conferences, screen films and conduct theatrical demonstrations that portray Israel in the harshest of terms. Israel’s advocates are rudely interrupted, 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 groups to initiate dialogue with Palestinian students are rejected. Any acknowledgement of Israelis’ humanity is seen as a validation of Palestinian oppression. Our epoch’s secular religion – political correctness and multiculturalism – judges people by who they are, not what they do. Israelis are by definition always guilty, while darker skinned, impoverished, indigenous Palestinians are eternally innocent.
Far more than their parents and their community suspect, Jewish students find it challenging and often unpleasant, if not actually frightening, to support Israel on many campuses today.
Through research and interviews with campus activists and students from around the country, we are developing a compilation of anti-Israel incidents and descriptions of hostile atmospheres on campuses.
Here are just four recently reported incidents:
Hampshire College, Amherst. Last semester a pro-Israel student was repeatedly verbally harassed by individuals covering their faces. The student was called “baby killer,” “genocide lover,” “apartheid supporter” and “racist.” After receiving an email that read “Make the world a better place and die slow,” she moved off the campus. She has now returned but is still afraid to disclose her identity.
Rutgers University. Last month, a group of pro-Israel students and Holocaust survivors were made to pay an entrance fee to an event that likened Palestinians to Holocaust victims. The event had been advertised as free and open to the public; Palestinian supporters were let in without charge.
Indiana University. Last November, five incidents of anti-Jewish vandalism were reported in one week, including rocks thrown at Chabad and Hillel; sacred Jewish texts placed in various bathrooms and urinated upon; and an information board about Jewish studies programs smashed with a stone.
Carlton University, Ottawa. Last April, a non-Jewish supporter of Israel and his Israeli roommate were attacked by an Arab-speaking mob who screamed anti-Semitic epithets. Nick Bergamini was punched in the head and chased by a man who swung a machete at his head, missing by inches.
Now ask yourself: What would have happened on campus, in the media or in the community if these incidents had been directed at African American, Hispanic or Muslim students?
We have the answer: In October 2009, a noose was found at the University of California-San Diego library. Students occupied the chancellor’s office. The governor, the chancellor and student leaders condemned the incident. The school established a task force on minority faculty recruitment and a commission to address declining African-American enrollment, and vowed to find space for an African- American resource center.
All this – only to discover a few weeks later that the noose was planted by a minority student.
Jewish students and Jewish buildings attacked and intimidated are not a hoax, yet Jewish leaders sit on their hands. No one calls for sensitivity training for Muslim and leftist students about the use of blood libels and anti-Semitism. No one demands students be taught about proper behavior in a civil society or about principles of free speech and academic inquiry. More and more, the ugly aspects of the “Arab street” are coming to campus. With the commendable exception of the Zionist Organization of America – which won civil rights protection for California students under Title 6 – Jewish leaders have remained mostly silent. Without their protest, why should university administrations care?