Growing Anti-Semitism On The Campus
The sad evidence that American campuses have been the site of rising anti-Semitism is truly an alarming phenomenon. Anti-Semitism has come from various sources: African-American student organizations; the Muslim Student Association at various colleges and universities, and the widespread movement on behalf of disinvestment in Israel, whose sponsors regularly compares Israel to South Africa, and advocate treating Israel today as the anti-apartheid movement treated South Africa decades ago.
But even more disturbing is the growing evidence that Jewish students are having a most confused response to this development. One has to look only at the announcement by J-Street- the self-described left of center antidote to AIPAC- that it would not call its campus chapters “pro-Israel” because that would limit their ability to gain members among Jewish students, as proof for how support of Israel is seen by many campus Jews as a position they do not wish to be identified with. The question that arises is what has happened to produce such sentiment?
Jewish students, like their non-Jewish counterparts, have grown up in a largely left-wing culture, in which the education they have received in high schools throughout the country, especially in the area of history or what used to be called civics, has been taught to them by teachers whose degrees are from left-leaning education schools. Or, perhaps, their teachers have been influenced by the view that the United States is the most evil nation in the world, which they in turn learned from people like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky. It is therefore not surprising to find the names of familiar left-wing Jewish figures on the nation’s campuses playing a prominent part especially in the disinvestment campaign. As Dennis MacShane, A Labour member of Parliament, put it in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed, “American universities have provided a base for Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said, among others, to launch campaigns of criticism against Israel, and the bulk of the West’s university intelligentsia remains hostile to the Jewish state.”
So when events like that taking place this very week–the campus crusade to condemn Israel as a nation based on apartheid–produces instead of a spirit and dedication to fighting back against this slander, a response by some Jewish students to try demonstrating that they too understand the apparent sins committed by Israel. Hence they join with the campus anti-Israel movement to demonstrate their basic support for their cause. It is more important in their eyes to have their bona fides as good leftists respected than to be accused of being a Zionist. I dub it the Michael Lerner Tikkun syndrome.
To liberal and left-wing Jewish students (one suspects many of the Jewish students in the elite universities in particular come from these families,) the Jewish tradition demands support by Jews for those who are most oppressed, and the list of groups that come first extend from blacks at home to gays fighting for rights against the supposed theocratic forces of the Christian evangelical right-wing, to Arab and Muslim students who are hostile because their sympathies lie with the Palestinians whose land has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war, and whom Jews should support because they too must be “anti-imperialist.” It is, in other words, yet another example of reflexive anti-Western leftism.
Compounding the problem is confusion over the meaning of the First Amendment. Even if some Jewish students are shocked and horrified by the growing anti-Semitism, their belief in free speech as guaranteed in The Bill of Rights leads many to say that opposing events such as Israel Apartheid Week, the disinvestment campaign, or even ads arguing on behalf of Holocaust denial, puts them in a position of standing against a basic American Constitutional right.
In fact, as is the case with the many ads taken in college papers by Holocaust deniers over the past few years, or the ads in favor of disinvestment in Israel, free speech was never in jeopardy. A newspaper has a right to reject any ad submitted to it as inappropriate; the First Amendment does not guarantee the right to have one’s views printed wherever they seek to place it. Supporters of a controversial view have a perfect right to print their own leaflet, distribute it and submit it where they wish, no matter how reprehensible their argument. They have a right to publish and disseminate their own views in their own organ of opinion. Yet some editors readily published ads submitted by Holocaust deniers, out of fear that to reject it would violate First Amendment rights.
Indeed, the left on the campuses managed to suppress ads a few years ago by the conservative activist David Horowitz, who sought unsuccessfully to place full page ads opposed to the then popular campaign among some African-American groups on behalf of reparations for slavery. Yet today, these same groups raise the false issue of freedom of speech when editors of student papers are asked to reject anti-Israel ads. Clearly, their different responses have more to do with their opposition to the anti-reparation campaign and their support for attempts to delegitimize Israel.
One last problem exists, and it is meant by the sponsors of Israel Apartheid Week to sow confusion, especially among liberal Jewish students. Their event, they claim is, not meant to oppose Israel’s existence as a state, or to delegitimize it. They support boycott of Israel, sanctions against the state, and disinvestment, only for the purpose getting Israel to act properly and not as an oppressor. Thus one Dax D’Orazio, leader of the group at Carleton University in Canada, “added that in terms of the diplomatic process, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign… ‘don’t deal with the issue of Israel being a Jewish state, or whether there should be a one-state, or two-state, or three-state solution. What they advocate is boycott, divestment, and sanctions to pressure Israel to abide by international law.'”
The argument by Mr. D’Orazio, of course, is thoroughly disingenuous. Everyone realizes that in fact, what his group is trying to accomplish is nothing but to gather popular sentiment on behalf of the destruction of Israel, and to gather support for an Arab narrative that seeks to isolate Israel and lead to its condemnation by the entire world. But to some students, Jewish and non-Jewish, his argument seems to hold credibility. Who, of course, does not want any nation to act responsibly and respect human rights? Again, the forces opposed to Israel try to paint their program in the most benign way possible, while in reality doing all they can to promote Israel’s isolation and collapse.
Given the well known attempt a few weeks ago to disrupt Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s address at UC-Irvine in California, it is clear that campus authorities have to do more than they are to curb real attempts to suppress free speech by Israel’s opponents, and to protect the rights of those Jewish students who seek through peaceful means to bring a pro-Israel viewpoint to the campus. The tough response by UC-Irvine’s president, who made it clear that his campus will not tolerate such interruptions and blatant anti-Semitism, is a good sign that perhaps others will follow his example. It is certainly about time.