The failure of the mainstream Jewish organizations with respect to Jewish students on campus is twofold. First is the failure to aggressively defend students from physical and verbal intimidation, especially when they identify with Israel. Second is the failure to provide them with the information they need to defend Israel and to fend off a type of Stockholm Syndrome.
Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser draw an interesting parallel to an incident that took place at the University of California-San Diego in 2009. A noose – presumably a symbol of lynching – was found on campus and students occupied the chancellor’s office in response. Everyone from the governor on down condemned the incident, and the university quickly established a task force on minority hiring and a commission to address declining black admissions. (The noose, it turned out, had been placed by a minority student.)
Yet, write Jacobs and Goldwasser, when Jewish students and Jewish buildings are attacked and defaced, “Jewish leaders sit on their hands. No one calls for sensitivity training for Muslim and leftist students about the history of blood libels. . . .”
Students who fight back aggressively usually do so independently or with the assistance of little known groups like The Fellowship for Campus Safety and Integrity or The Institute for Jewish Community Research. Jessica Felber, a student at University of California-Berkeley did not just sue the Palestinian leader who rammed her from with a loaded shopping cart and sent her to the university emergency medical services, as she held aloft a sign “Israel Wants Peace.” She sued the University of California for “ignoring mounting evidence of anti-Jewish animus” and “physical intimidation and violence by Students for Justice in Palestine.” And Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at University of California-Santa Cruz fought for years – in the end successfully — to get the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to open an investigation of her own university for allowing an environment in which “professors, academic departments, and residential colleges promote and encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and anti Jewish views and behaviors.”
This type of confrontational suit is anathema to many of the mainstream groups, who recall Israel Zangwill’s old description of the Order of Trembling Israelites. Jacobs and Goldwasser, for instance, had to create a new organization, the David Project, when they decided to do a documentary exposing the naked anti-Israel propaganda to which students were subjected by Columbia University’s Department of Middle East Studies.
When it comes to providing campus speakers and information as well, much of the heavy lifting is being done by smaller groups: CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Chabad, the Aish HaTorah affiliated Hasbara Fellowships. Among old line “defense organizations” only the Zionist Organization of America is highly active in the field.
Hillel would seem to be the logical choice to lead the campus fight for protecting Jewish students, as well as making the case of Israel. Yet the organization’s devotion to maintaining the “big tent,” which includes anti-Israel Jewish groups as well, renders it ill-suited to the task. One Hillel even funds Jewish groups that support BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel.
THE ORGANIZED JEWISH COMMUNITY cannot protect Jewish students who identify with Israel, in part because it is itself so ambivalent about Israel. The rise of J Street is emblematic of the tension within the community. J Street has never heard a criticism of Israel that it did not endorse: the group opposed the United States exercising a veto of a U.N. resolution singling out Israeli settlements for special condemnation. Nor has the organization ever heard a criticism of one of Israel’s enemies that it could endorse. It has opposed sanctions against Iran, and is currently working against a congressional letter urging the administration to take a tougher stand on incitement against Israel in the official Palestinian media and educational system.
Just as Hillel seeks to preserve a big Jewish tent, at the cost of preserving any consensus on Israel, so does the mainstream Jewish community. The General Assembly of Jewish Federations created a new initiative last October to combat the BDS movement. The Israel Action Network (IAN) was budgeted at $6,000,000 and to be headed by Martin Raffel, the vice-president of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs. In a recent speech, quoted by Richard Baehr of Frontpage Magazine, Raffel, the leader of the anti-boycott effort, distinguishes between those advocating a total boycott of Israel, and those, including left-wing Jewish groups, who only advocate a boycott of goods produced beyond the 1949 armistice lines. The latter, he argues, should not be placed outside the tent. Thus the head of the mainstream community’s anti-boycott efforts legitimates the tactic as applied to Israel, and leaves the opposition to a technical one over where to draw the lines.
The Washington Federation allocates communal funding to support an anti-Israel Jewish theater troupe called Theater J. One of the troupe’s special offerings was Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, a short play based on the metaphor of Israeli Jews as today’s Nazis. And the company also sponsored a bus trip to a showing of the anti-Israel agitprop play My Name is Rachel Corrie. The Orange County, California Federation and the University of California-Irvine Hillel participate in the Olive Tree Initiative, which features two-week trips to Israel, where students will hear from both Palestinian and Israel speakers who share a common animus for Israel. And, in the name of preserving multiple voices, the New York Federation CEO defends partnering with Jewish groups that support economic and political warfare against Israel.
As the communal consensus about Israel crumbles, it is hardly surprising that Federations and Jewish defense organizations are unable to assist pro-Israel students on campus. Nor can one blame Jewish university students for feeling tainted by any association with Israel, when so many of their elders feel exactly the same way. The late NYU professor Tony Judt, a teenage kibbutz volunteer in Israel, wrote a famous piece in The New York Review of Books in which he termed Israel – indeed the very idea of a state built on religious-ethnic identity — an atavism for which there is no place in the modern world. His strictures, needless to say, applied only to Israel, not to any of the world’s 57 or so Muslim countries. Towards the end of the lengthy piece, Judt let drop what really griped him about Israel: He was tired of having criticisms of Israel directed at him at university teas and sherry hours.
One hears the same ennui in New Yorker editor David Remmick: “Even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.” Remmick isn’t interested in the issues, or rights and wrongs, but in the fact that Israel embarrasses him in the left precincts where he hangs out. “Sorry, it can’t go on this way,” he lectures Israel. President Obama is trying out of good will to get a peace process going, and Israel should go along with whatever he suggests, argues Remmick.
He couldn’t care less about the security concerns Israelis have about further territorial withdrawals, or about Palestinian incitement, or anything else. Israel has made life more difficult for him and must capitulate in order to remove the unpleasantness to Remmick.
If Jewish adults cannot bear being looked at askance by their left-wing comrades, and have wearied of being associated with their militaristic Israeli co-religionists, how can we possibly expect university students to do any better?
This article first appeared in the Yated Ne’eman, April 8. Provided by Jewish Media Resources.