Editor’s Notebook: Students With Nothing to Discuss

Editor’s Notebook: Students With Nothing to Discuss

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Now’s the time of year when many high school seniors are deciding where they’ll go to college, which means it’s a nerve-racking time for parents of high school seniors.

The list of considerations in the decision-making process is long, from academic program and cost to distance from home and Jewish life on or near campus. Almost all of those issues are the same as in my college days, albeit with a few more options for majors (urban studies?) and a lot more worry about expenses (at least until Santa Bernie Sanders makes everything free).

But as detailed here, an incident at the University of Georgia on Monday night, Feb. 22, was a reminder of a scary new reality on many campuses: rising anti-Israel sentiment that can erupt in angry confrontations.

It’s something happening around the nation, particularly at state campuses in California; certain parts of the Midwest, such as Oberlin College and the University of Michigan; and the Northeast, where, for example, a Brown University administrator recently appeared with pro-Palestinian demonstrators to be sure that their delicate feelings were protected.

Andy Borans, the national executive director of Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, told a meeting of the Hebrew Order of David a year ago that the threat rises and falls as anti-Israel organizations find instigators at specific campuses.

My older son is finishing up his fourth and final year at UGA, and I can’t remember him mentioning activities by Athens for Justice in Palestine. To the contrary, UGA was noteworthy last year when the student government passed a resolution to expand study-abroad options in Israel, a measure shepherded by Students Supporting Israel.

But AJP seems determined not to go unnoticed while this year’s high school seniors are studying in Athens the next four years. The group disrupted a Dawgs for Israel-sponsored Soldiers’ Stories event, featuring two Israel Defense Forces veterans touring the Southeast with StandWithUs.

The anti-Israel crowd showed up at the event strictly to cause a scene, with no willingness to listen or engage in dialogue — although the student protesters weren’t too principled to feast on free pizza before interrupting a speaker, and they took their plates with them if they weren’t done eating.

The scary part for any parent is the intimidation. The protesters demanded that the university stop allowing pro-Israel speakers, and while they must realize that’s a fruitless quest at UGA, they could hope to scare pro-Israel students into canceling such programs.

If that was the intention, however, the disruption was a failure. Pro-Israel student leaders said the incident has brought several organizations together, starting with the observance of Israel Peace Week at the start of March. The pro-Israel community isn’t going away at UGA; Georgia, after all, is far from California.

Athens for Justice in Palestine does deserve praise for one thing: After a couple of minutes of disruption, the protesters left and let the event continue. At other campuses, demonstrators have shut down lectures.

Sadly, a walkout is the best possible outcome when AJP and similar groups show up. In violation of the spirit of inquiry and discussion at the heart of academic life, they aren’t interested in learning about different views or making the case for their perspective. They aren’t interested in peace; they reject dialogue because they know the outcome they seek, the elimination of Israel, is not achievable through discussion or negotiation.

Let’s hope the pattern Borans described last year plays out at UGA: A few years of increasing disruption will end when the agitators move on. Until then, we all need to offer support to Jewish students and other backers of Israel, through Hillel and other organizations, so they can stand strong.

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