What do Jewish students need most? Courage
The last shot fired in the nasty combat being carried out on America's campuses took place at Florida Atlantic University, where a pro-Palestinian group posted mock “eviction” notices on dorm room doors that contained a laundry list of anti-Israel propaganda points. Their stated intent was to make students identify with the plight of displaced Palestinian Arabs and denied that Jewish students were particularly targeted for “eviction,” a point that defenders of the action highlighted after the fact when the university was forced to apologize for approving the stunt.
But there's little doubt this incident, like many others that have taken place in other venues around the United States, sought to both throw down a challenge and to intimidate pro-Israel students. As is often the case on campuses, the anti-Israel forces are louder and generally more willing to engage in confrontations. They also often have the backing of the faculty and Middle East Studies departments.
Though America remains a place where support for the Jewish state cuts across almost all political, religious and social boundaries, and academia is the exception to the rule. In the classrooms, Jewish students are sometimes forced to face off against not just other students but teachers. On campus common areas where “Israel is apartheid” exhibits are set up, they are subjected to other forms of harassment.
While some stand up and fight back, others keep quiet. Still others take up the cudgels for the Palestinians seeking to distance themselves from an unpopular and, more to the point, unfashionable cause.
What is to be done?
Some hope to foster the creation of departments, courses and professors who are not ideological hostile to Israel. More Jewish education in which young Jews will be reinforced with the facts they need to defend their position in the rough and tumble of campus debate is almost certainly a far better bet. Even more important is the task of getting as many young Jews to visit Israel as possible via the successful Birthright Israel project.
But there is another factor that is more crucial and not just a matter of funding or programming. That element is courage.
It is that quality above all that Jews must cultivate in their leaders as well as in their children. Jews must teach their children not merely the facts about Israel, but also not to be afraid of standing out when they speak up on its behalf. They must learn to have faith in the justice of this cause and to ignore the catcalls of those who claim they are out of step with the liberal intellectual culture of the day.
That is, admittedly, not an easy thing to ask of anyone. It is difficult to swim against the stream or to talk back to teachers. But that is what we must ask of them.
Anti-Zionism is merely the latest variant of an old and persistent virus: anti-Semitism. Anyone who would deny the Jews and their state the same rights and protections they readily grant any other country and who judge it by standards they never apply to others are simply practicing bias that we must not refrain from calling by its right name: Jew hatred.
The youth of this era must re-learn what previous generations came to understand in past struggles for Jewish rights: that those who will not stand up for the Jews will inevitably be asked some day why they did nothing. They must do so not in the name of a mythical perfect Israel as its opponents claim, but on behalf of a living breathing imperfect and at times infuriating country that is judged by a double standard not applied to any other country. They must do so not because they necessarily like its politics or its leaders, but because it has the same right to exist in freedom and security as any other nation.
Without the courage to speak up against this virus of hate, all the knowledge and funding will go for naught. Above all what is needed is a new generation of Jewish students who are not prepared to stand silent while the mob of appeasers and liars howl for Israel's blood.
JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com. He can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TobinCommentary.