The Battle for the American Campus
College students got some bad press last May with the release of a poll conducted by the Luntz Research Co. for the group Americans for Victory over Terrorism. "Only 16% believe Western culture is superior to Arab culture," the poll found, "but 79% do not." If true; it explains a lot about whats happening on the campuses of America.
Over the past 20 months, many fronts have been opened in the Palestinian offensive against Israel. One of the most important has been on American college campuses. Palestinians see themselves as the underdog in the battle with Israel so they are looking to engage in every possible arena to try to make up some of the lost ground in the battle for American public opinion.
They have chosen the campus as a place in which to have a major impact in the years to come. The result has been an increasingly tense and polarized climate on American campuses, where rhetoric has escalated into hate speech and even tipped toward violence.
In many campuses across this country from the University of Chicago to the University of Florida at Gainesville, from the University of California campuses to the University of Nebraska and from Columbia to SUNY-Binghamton left-wing politics and the Palestinian cause have joined forces, and the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is being blurred.
According to the latest ADL survey, during the first 5 months of 2002, 626 anti-Semitic incidents were reported across the country. 10% of those incidents took place on our campuses - four times as many as in the same period in 2001.
And Jewish college students have neither the funds, nor the structure, nor the knowledge to fight back.
Here's a sampling of what our children are experiencing on campuses around America.....
San Francisco State University: In April, 2002, a flyer advertising a pro-Palestinian rally at San Francisco State University (SFSU) featured a picture of a dead baby with the words "CANNED PALESTINIAN CHILDREN MEAT - SLAUGHTERED ACCORDING TO JEWISH RITES UNDER AMERICAN LICENSE" - casually reintroducing the 900-year old "blood libel" myth that Jews slaughter gentile children and use their blood to bake into their matzos.
During a vigil for Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 19th, students recited the Mourners' Kaddish - the Jewish prayer for the dead - and were shouted down by protesters who said prayers in memory of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The rash of incidents culminated on May 7 when approximately 30 Jewish students at SFSU, cleaning up after a peaceful, university-authorized pro-Israel demonstration, and grouped under an Israeli flag, were surrounded by at least twice as many pro-Palestinian students armed with whistles and bull horns, who shoved them against the wall, spat on them, and screamed "Too bad Hitler didn't finish the job," "Fuck the Jews," "Get out or we will kill you," "Die racist pigs," and "Go back to Russia, Jews." The Jewish students were trapped for more than 20 minutes before police were able to transport them out of the area.
Then, on Passover, a cinder block was thrown through the glass doors of the UC Berkeley's Hillel building.
University of California (Berkeley): In May, 2002 two Orthodox Jews were badly beaten one block from the UC Berkeley campus, and anti-Zionist graffiti appeared on the sidewalks, garbage cans and buildings near the school. Students coming out of the University synagogue got egged. Death threats were received over the telephone.
Even academics have joined the fray. Snehal Shingavi, a UC Berkeley graduate-student instructor gained notoriety earlier this year for offering a class entitled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," stating in the internet version of the college catalogue that the course dealt with "Israel's brutal oppression of Palestine since 1948" and suggesting "Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections." Shingavi noted in an interview "Many people (at the rallies) tell me they knew nothing about Israel before last year." Indeed, California campuses, in particular, have become something of a magnet for anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic figures from around the country. In recent months, supporters of David Duke have distributed flyers railing against "Israeli genocide"on the UC at San Diego campus; at Stanford, Lyndon LaRouche adherents have handed out literature condemning Israeli oppression; and Holocaust denier Bradley R. Smith recently ran an OP-ED piece in the Berkeley student newspaper condemning the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians.
This is not civilized discourse. If it sounds an awful lot like what's happening in Europe ..that's because it is. In the ivory towers of American academia, as in Paris, Rome and Madrid, the workaday fascination of hating America and its foreign policy has been transferred to one of its allies...and that's not good news for Israel.
University of California (Irvine): An anti-Israel demonstration featured a display of mock "body bags" of Palestinians "murdered by the Israeli army.
University of California (San Diego): The Muslim Students Association distributed flyers titled "The Jenin Massacre" (that never was!!) on campus.
Columbia University: Hamid Dabashi, a specialist on Iran, compared Israel's military maneuvers in Jenin (to prevent future suicide bombings) with the Nazi Holocaust. When one student protested his canceling class to attend a rabidly anti-Israel sit-in, he sneeringly replied, "I apologize if canceling our class in solidarity with [Palestinian] victims of a genocide . . . inconvenienced you."
Joseph Massad, a Jordan specialist at Columbia, spoke at that same anti-Israel rally, calling Israel "a Jewish supremacist and racist state" that, he proclaimed, "should be threatened." This is in addition to a talk with the inflammatory title "On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy" and a course that (students report) served as a soapbox for anti-Israeli polemics.
SUNY-Binghamton: Robert Ostergard of the political-science department converted his course into an anti-Zionist platform. One guest speaker, Ali Mazrui, presented a lecture that a student called "a 45-minute diatribe against Israel" equating Zionism with fascism, Israel with apartheid South Africa and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with Hitler.
Oberlin College (Ohio): "LOCKED IN: A Week of Education About Palestine," a series organized and sponsored by Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine. The series featured movies, guest lectures and an introduction to the "Divestment from Israel" Campaign.
Arizona State University: A rally held on the campus featured a highly anti-Semitic Christian Patriot group condemning Israel and U.S. foreign policy. "We Hold These Truths" as the group is known is based in Scottsdale, Arizona and advocates an end to U.S. support of Israel.
Kent State University, Ohio: Julio César Pino of the history department published an ode to a Palestinian suicide bomber, lauding her courage and calling on Allah to "elevate your place in paradise."
University of Oregon: In a course entitled "Social Inequality," the sociology department's Douglas Card called Israel "a terrorist state" and Israelis "baby-killers" and insisted that students agree with his view that Israel "stole land" on the final exam. One student said Card bashed Israel and Jews "at every opportunity."
University of Illinois (Chicago): The Muslim Students Association used the internet to spread the libel that 4,000 Jews did not show up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11th, and that Israel was behind the terrorist attacks. And the University of Chicago and DePaul fare no better.
University of Chicago: A car drove up to a Jewish student on campus and a passenger screamed: "Death to Jews. Hitler should have finished you all off when he had the chance."
On a public list in the Humanities Department, a pro-Palestinian graduate student joked openly about Auschwitz.
A Jewish senior was told by a university-appointed preceptor that he couldn't be "bothered" reading her B.A. paper because it focused on topics relating to
Judaism and Zionism.
Fliers posted in a dorm to publicize a pro-Israel rally were defaced with obscenities and vile, anti-Semitic suggestions.
Students at the University of Chicago tell a story of
professors teaching literary theory turning seminars
on writing into condemnations of Israel. Professors
in Near Eastern Language and Civilization teach
history without ever suggesting there is a legitimate
Israeli perspective on the birth of the Jewish state.
Other professors simply stifle dissent and nuanced
discussions or treat students with different points of view.
University of Florida (Gainesville): Posters showed Palestinians with numbers on their arms suggesting that Israelis are intent murdering the Palestinian population. Articles have appeared in campus newspapers stating that there are "Palestinian concentration camps" near Jerusalem.
Penn State University, University of Maryland (College Park) and the University of Michigan: Palestinian supporters wearing military garb and brandishing toy machine guns staged mock "Israeli checkpoints" (with one direction marked for "Israelis" and another "Palestinians" outside the University Library demanding to see students' IDs. and "declared it "occupied territory." At the University of Maryland (College Park) protest, one student, throughout the entire day over a microphone, read through a list of UN resolutions that Israel had allegedly violated.
Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh): A swastika was painted on the Hillel Center on campus and there were hostile reactions against Jews wearing skull caps.
University of Massachusetts: Graffiti portraying Israelis as Nazis and Sharon as a war criminal were everywhere.
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor): Student protesters had themselves bound and gagged to dramatize the Israeli army's detention of Palestinians.
University of Colorado (Boulder): Students desecrated an Israeli flag and chalked anti-Semitic slogans ("Zionazis") on the main campus walkway during Holocaust Awareness Week. This was followed in mid-September when a swastika was found pained on the Hillel Sukkah at the University.
And more than 30 college campus pro-Palestinian movements from Harvard and MIT to California have held rallies in support of a national effort to persuade universities to divest themselves of stock in corporations that do business in Israel. This nascent movement is based on the successful divestiture campaign in 1986 in which many colleges sold their investments in companies operating in South Africa.
In short, Jewish students on the campuses of America are under siege.
And they need our support.
Many Jewish student organizations have responded to the pro-Palestinian movement sweeping through American campuses with educational programs and campus speakers of their own. But the key difference between Jewish pro-Israel groups and Arab pro-Palestinian groups is that Jewish speakers are more likely to entertain questions that challenge their position. Pro-Palestinian speakers do not.
Further, whereas Hillel provides a broad range of cultural, religious, social and educational activities in addition to pro-Israel work, the sole mission of the anti-Israel protesters is political activism.
Jewish students also have a problem unifying their multiplicity of views. Arab pro-Palestinian groups do not.
But the most significant handicap of our Jewish college students is that they are politically ignorant and emotionally unengaged.
In truth, there have even been pro-Palestinian demonstrations on certain campuses where Jews have been known to participate because they believed the pro-Palestinian propaganda, and were totally unaware of the Israeli position on any of the issues!
And those who do support Israel are often open to the ridicule, censure and intimidation of anti-Israel protesters, and are unable to defend Israel's position on a wide variety of fundamental issues of the day such as:
- What to do if one encounters a professor who is teaching anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism in the classroom;
- How to respond if one is drawn into a debate over various issues relating to the Israel-Palestinian conflict;
- What resources are available to combat the wide proliferation of myths.
What can be done by the Federations of North America on our campuses?
This is not a battle to be fought by our college students alone. These students will inevitably become the citizens of tomorrow and their attitudes will shape American foreign policy toward Israel in the years to come.
Israel will either benefit from these attitudes or suffer as a result of them.
In other words, anti-Semitism has become the latest
form of political correctness on campus.
Where can Jewish students turn in the face of such hostility?
Nationally, a primary objective should be to work with the Campus administration to set a fair and equitable policy in such matters:
- A policy that states grades should not be affected by one's political opinions and that indoctrination should not be a goal in the classroom;
- A policy promoting civility starting with professors;
- The creation of one class on campus on modern Israel that explains the Zionist perspective;
- A policy of promoting balance in university-sponsored seminars on the Middle East;
- A suggested panel discussion on the topic: "When does legitimate criticism of Israel slip into anti-Semitism?"
In addition, Federations should assist by:
- cultivating benefactors capable of endowing Chairs of Israel Studies;
- funding Israel Advocacy Seminars for Jewish campus students and student leaders to familiarize the students with the issues that they will confront;
- funding an Israel Information Desk at key campus locations to disseminate information on the above issues (and to provide T-shirts and posters expressing solidarity with Israel);
- providing funds to enable our students to attend annual Advocacy Conferences in Israel (such as the two-week crash course offered in the Spring on Zionism, the history of the Middle East, and the issues confronting Israel - presented annually at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Tel Aviv - where students meet with Israeli officials, journalists, educators and tour historic sights); and
- funding pro-Israel rallies, teach-ins, public information programs, debates, film festivals, prepare Federation-written letters for our students for submission by the students to their college newspapers, and work with Jewish campus leaders.
Locally, Federations throughout America should sponsor speakers, special lectures and provide informational materials for pre-college students in a social setting to enable them to understand the issues that our students will confront on campus such as:
- showing the difference between what the Palestinians say to us, in English, and what they say, in Arabic, to their own;
- Special web sites that translate selected sections of the Arab Press into English;
- the threat and many manifestations of Islamic fundamentalism (ie: that Israel's war is also America's war);
- the history of Zionism;
- the "right of return" issue;
- the "culture of martyrdom" prevalent within Palestinian society;
- the so-called "occupation" of the West Bank;
- the implications of Palestinian statehood to the region and to the world;
- the Oslo Accords and the Trojan horse behind it;
- the immoral equivalence between those who perpetrate acts of terrorism and the right of nations to retaliate against the perpetrators;
- the "double standards" by which Israel is judged;
- the colossal failures and crimes of the Palestinian Authority against their own people;
- the undemocratic nature of that Authority;
- the attitudes of mainstream Palestinian society (as reflected in recent polls); and
- the absolutist dreams of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and al-Fatah.
This enterprise cannot exist in a vacuum. Only Federation tactical support and funding can ensure its success.
As Jews, we can no longer afford to have our children sit idly by on the sidelines of America's campuses while pro-Palestinian organizations are allowed to distort the truth.
Failing to assist them today will undermine the survival of the State of Israel tomorrow.
This is how it begins.
The bullies are winning the day.
Can what is happening in Europe happen here?
It has already begun.
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