Israel on Campus: Where Are We?

The situation on campus continues to change for Israel’s supporters: abuse is now almost everyplace. There have been important successes, like upholding the recent veto of a “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) proposal at the University of California at Berkeley’s student council, and the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s recent definition of anti-Semitism on campus as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But there have also been notable failures, such as the continuing unwillingness of the administration of the University of California at Irvine to take harassment of Jewish and Israeli students and speakers seriously. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was heckled and silenced there by a group of students from the Muslim Student Association before university security stepped in and removed them. These students later accused the university administration of denying them their First Amendment rights.

At Evergreen State University Jewish students have felt compelled to transfer to other schools after overt harassment. Sukkahs have been vandalized in recent years at Stanford, the University of Colorado, the University of Southern California, and other campuses. “Israel Apartheid Week” is now an established part of the calendar at colleges across the country, bringing verbal harassment and even physical assaults against Jewish students. At these events, “Jews” are assumed to be “Zionists” and are subject to abuse on this basis, as well as because they are Jews. Worse, universities and the community at large are getting accustomed to it all.

Seeing the anti-Israel movement in isolation has always been part of the problem. There is a well-organized network of international anti-Israel activists and organizations. In the U.S. it operates at all levels, from giant state universities, to local churches, to suburban living rooms. The group that makes up “International Apartheid Week” sponsors a coordinated week-long protest in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Israel, Italy, South Africa, Holland and elsewhere. Groups like “Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition” sponsor speaking tours by noted anti-Israel figures such as Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway and countless others throughout the U.S.. Local branches of Al-Awda and the “International Solidarity Movement” are found throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Coordinated internationally, these groups share speakers and also train and bring “activists” to Israel. Muslim student groups facilitate and support these. and bring their own speakers, such as the radical Muhammad al-Asi, to their gatherings.

These groups have made common cause on and off campus with extremist groups, seemingly united by their hatred of Israel, the U.S., and its policies worldwide. Anti-Israel events have also been co-sponsored — or organized as a part of “anti-war,” “anti-globalization'” and “anti-imperialism'” protests — by groups such as “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER),” “United For Peace and Justice,” and the “Stop the War Coalition.” The U.S. and Israel appear to be regarded as part of a larger “capitalist-imperialist conspiracy” that must be “exposed” and “smashed.”

Anti-Israel groups have also been allied with those defending Iran, such as the Socialist Workers Party; although the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” are both forthright about defending themselves and the freedoms of others. The related “boycott, divestment and sanction” (BDS) movements against Israel are also active everywhere, from the Cambridge City Council to the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia Washington, to pension funds in Canada and England. This too is an international movement. The group “International BDS” is directed by the “Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Campaign National Committee,” made up of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), trade unions and Islamist groups While they have so far failed to get any American university or significant group to actually boycott or divest from Israel, they lie and say they have succeeded, as occurred recently at Hampshire College and Harvard University.

In Europe, BDS has mostly succeeded in provoking weekly protests outside Israeli shops, such as the Dead Sea cosmetics firm Ahava, and rampaging through French supermarkets.

While extreme right-wing groups have always hated Israel, usually on traditional anti-Semitic terms, anti-Israel organizations are now primarily on the far left. But Neo-Nazis, radical Muslims and anarchists are all happy to put aside their differences to join in hatred of Israel. Far right groups such as the John Birch Society or the Lyndon LaRouche movement and neo-Nazis are still not welcome on campus. But left-wing groups have been accepted or even invited on American university campuses by faculties that either embrace them or who are merely “tolerant” of their presence, and who indignantly pull out free speech and academic freedom defenses when challenged. University administrations and trustees have been equally tolerant. They simply want the problem to stay manageably quiet, and for the money to keep flowing in from the government and from donors.

The language and tools of human and civil rights have also been hijacked. The respect for NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International is especially high on campuses, along with the United Nations, since these represent secular and “global” alternatives to the U.S. government and groups like church-based charities. NGOs and international organizations are wrapped in a “halo effect” provided by the secular religious term “human rights.” To question them and their ideas is to appear to be “against human rights.” Mainstream NGOs tend to focus on Israel to a disproportionate degree, as opposed to countries that violate human rights extravagantly; these NGOs bitterly criticize every Israeli action to defend itself against terrorist attacks and overt threats of annihilation. Other NGOs, such as Adalah, Badil and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, often backed by the European Union, attack Israel as virtually their sole focus, and are deeply connected with the BDS movement. Even Israel’s defense of its identity as the sole Jewish state has been cast as a violation of “international law” and “human rights,” and regularly send speakers to appear regularly on U.S. campuses.

The Goldstone investigation, ordered by the United Nations Human Rights Council, was apparently intended provided legal cover for the intensification of such abuses of law and language. By ignoring evidence presented to them by Israelis, and ignoring the words and deeds of Hamas, the report reached a completely predictable outcome that has rippled around the world. Shooting back at those who shoot at you was declared de facto a “war crime;” Israeli politicians and military leaders have now been subjected to investigations and arrest warrants in Europe, on charges brought by NGOs, Muslim groups and other fellow travelers. Pro-Palestinian groups have long claimed that Israel is practicing “genocide,” albeit a strange kind that actually increases the life span and numbers of its alleged “victims,” as just this year alone, over 180,000 Palestinians, as well as people of all races and creeds are treated daily in Israeli hospitals.

This vitriol, however, his has spilled over onto college campuses in the U.S., where Israel is branded as a criminal state by a growing number of activists and professors, both inside and outside the classroom. Convincing idealistic college students not to be blinded by the “halo effect” around NGOs is a challenge. Helping them to recognizing that faith in NGOs and other forms of “global governance,” which may be distorted and politicized, and is part of a Western secular religion of internationalism, albeit where there is no further recourse, is vital to understanding and combating their abuses.

The hijacking of human and civil rights has been especially cruel blow to persecuted peoples elsewhere. Darfur, while not entirely off the map, has been pushed far to the back burner in favor of “engagement” with the cruel government of Sudan. Accusations that Sudanese persecution and mass murder are all Zionist fabrications are common from those who elsewhere express passion for the “plight of the Palestinians.” These trends also explain something about why the plight of persecuted Christians in Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Iraq, and Christian communities fighting for survival in countries like Nigeria, get so little attention. Anything that takes away from the obsessive focus on the supposedly unique evil and cruelty of Israel is dismissed as either a myth or disinformation. Even Christians slaughtered in church in Baghdad receives barely a fraction of the attention of an announcement that an Israeli urban planning committee has approved construction of housing in Jerusalem. In the view of all too many, Christians can only be the persecutors and not persecuted. Defending Christians on campus is often as difficult as defending Israel.

The unique focus on Israel on campus increasingly fits former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky’s ‘3-D test’ of the new anti-Semitism; demonization, double standards, and delegitimization. Israel is singled out for special attention, judged not simply by Western standards but impossible ones — and then condemned. The revival of the “one state solution” by academic activists as the preferred outcome is another such sign. To them, Israel is so uniquely bad and its future such an impossible blight that it must dissolve itself and share its land, institutions and wealth by accepting the “right of return” by Palestinian “refugees.” Never mind that ethnic groups all over the world are busy trying to break away from one another. The Czechs and the Slovaks divorced in 1993; and the Scots and the Welsh have been trying to get out of the United Kingdom for centuries; there is Quebec from Canada; the Basque from Spain; the Chechnyans from Russia; the Kurds from Turkey, and so on. Israel is expected to go out of business, voluntarily or by force,. Increasingly, if one does not accept that Israel is uniquely bad and its dissolution necessary, one is called a racist. Accepting that Israel must go is a litmus test for both the far left and the far right, and for all too many liberal Jews and Christians alike.

In short, the situation on for Israel and its supporters on campus is abysmal. Jewish students especially are finding it harder and harder to avoid being actively challenged by professors, activists and the general campus atmosphere; they are urged to give up Israel and join the “mainstream,” or be labeled “far right” or “racist.” Once students are informed about Sharansky’s 3-D test, however, and sensitized to the way concepts like “human rights” and “international law” are being abused, it will be apparent that there are few places to hide.

There are no easy solutions. Becoming informed about the facts is a prerequisite. Groups like the David Project and Christians United for Israel are active across the country providing resources and support for students and communities who refuse to accept the one-sided picture of Israel’s “original sin” put forward by many professors and activists. Larger Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Federations of North America and many Hillels (although unfortunately not all) are more conscious of the problem and have begun taking steps to combat the skewed propaganda. The Israeli Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces are also equipped to get information into the hands of those who are countering attacks on Israel,

Sadly, the uncritical financial and moral support of universities continues from Jews and others, who refuse to believe that isolated incidents add up to a pattern. The treatment of Jews and Israel in Western universities merely reflects the larger corroding intellectual and moral health of the West.

The nature of activism is changing rapidly. Groups of rival students standing on opposite sides of the quad holding banners has given way to aggressive behavior in which students are challenged and assaulted by activists, and active responses are quickly met with un-thought-through bumper-sticker cries of “racism” or “Islamophobia,” ‘”censorship” or “interference in academic freedom,” wherein name-calling replaces discussing issues.

Pro-Israel groups have not stooped to that level of intimidation, insults and even violence, which means that their voices are typically drowned out. But pro-Israel groups must aggressively hold universities to their own standards of free speech and freedom from intimidation. Universities want to cover up exactly how ugly anti-Israel protests have become. This cannot be permitted.

Both pro-Israel and anti-Israel protests should be filmed to document just who is using what kind of language and techniques. Legal complaints about universities and state and Federal authorities should be pursued when necessary. Parents and alumni need to get involved as well, letting their peers and the universities know that campus anti-Semitism is unacceptable and has consequences.

Social networking is another new battleground, along with new media. The numbers of pro-Israel Facebook groups and YouTube videos are tiny compared to those belonging to pro-Palestinian groups. The need to organizing these areas is obvious, relatively easy and does not require an aggressive personality or special leadership training. Getting Israel’s message out, and showing the lengths to which anti-Israel activists will go, is vital.

BDS petitions have a way of being submitted at the end of a student council meeting and debated on Friday nights or holidays. Once publicized, they tend to wither in the light of day. And new, creative means to get Israel’s case across have been used across the country – “buy-cotts,” in which Israeli goods are sold, dance parties where a message is delivered, and expert panels are only some of the ways. Keeping a bright light shone on campus is especially important. The best way to fight back is to use the truth. Finding like-minded people through church and synagogue groups also remains key. But having the courage to speak up for Israel in ways large and small remains a challenge that canbe met by first finding resources within ourselves.