By Harry Stern | Guest Columnist
A number of American college campuses are experiencing well-coordinated anti-Semitic activities that appear to be orchestrated by a nucleus of students augmented by a small contingent of faculty members who espouse similar anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist views.
The college experience is a wonderful time to spread one’s wings, expand horizons, and enjoy exposure to new political and philosophical viewpoints. That four-year stint also offers an opportunity to align with a recalcitrant cohort.
Students who have every right to advocate political positions as they see fit are too often unaware that many anti-Israel demonstrations have an anti-Semitic agenda as well.
During my academic career at Columbia University in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there were endless, tense, sometimes violent campus confrontations. Well-organized supporters of the Black Panthers, extolling the virtues of the Baader-Meinhof Gang, the Red Army Faction of France and other anti-governmental movements, were popular. My student peers and I had no idea what these counterculture groups really stood for, nor did we grasp how their revolutionary changes were to be effected.
Hearing white, middle-class college students chanting “Allahu Akbar” is not novel. I would guess that the great majority of these protesters have not visited the Middle East and would benefit immensely from doing so. Firsthand knowledge would add a helpful perspective.
My family and I lived in Israel for six years. My wife and I had coffee regularly in Tulkarem and Qalqilya, now hotbeds of West Bank terror activity. We often stopped for fresh orange juice in Jericho, which later became a home base for Yasser Arafat. When my parents came to visit, I thought nothing of taking them for a picnic outside Gaza. We often ate in a warm and inviting restaurant just inside ancient Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, having been guided through the kitchen to see what our friend, the Palestinian owner, had prepared that day.
It was never Kumbaya, but there seemed to be hope. Current events in the Middle East have blurred that hope and have contaminated some college campuses with a rabidly anti-Semitic philosophy.
Perhaps most unfathomable is the dearth of energetic college demonstrations reviling the depravity that fills so many newspapers. The New York Times, identifying the subhuman abuse of Boko Haram, wrote: “Forced marriage, slavery and imprisonment are vital institutions for the militants … and casually meted-out death is common.”
Our media constantly report on the barbarism of Islamic State, the assassination of dissenters by Hamas, the storming of a school and the slaying of hundreds of defenseless students by the Taliban. It is mystifying that our college campuses respond with profound silence to women who are unempowered, kidnapped and sold into slavery or forced into marriage, who remain forbidden to drive in select countries, who are victimized by honor killings and inhumanely brutalized by gang rapes.
Unfortunately, Israel’s current government may be an unwitting contributor to many anti-Zionistic campus demonstrations. That country’s inexorable march to the extreme right on many issues, most notably West Bank settlements, creates easy targets for those intent upon besmirching Israel. The fact that Israel is one of America’s staunchest and most powerful allies, and the only democracy within a thousand miles in any direction, is too often brushed aside.
When Israel was a new nation, vulnerable and surrounded by a billion neighbors vowing its extinction, it was the darling of the left. The Six-Day War, during which Israel defeated multiple Arab armies poised to annihilate the country, created a dramatic shift in the left intelligentsia’s perception of Israel. Israel (at 8,000 square miles a tad smaller than New Jersey) then was perceived as a superpower imposing its will on its neighbors.
For all of Israel’s extraordinary achievements, often benefitting those vilifying it — desert farming, water purification, solar energy and a high-tech industry second only to Silicon Valley — anti-Semitism regularly bleeds through the veneer of universal acceptance.
The challenge for ameliorating virulent, well-organized campus anti-Semitism must be met by a variety of concerted actions, such as the formation of a Jewish Peace Corps vetted, trained and educated to counter the demonic hatred of campus anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic propaganda.
In addition to matching campus demonstrations in size, scope and fervor, the corps should encourage ongoing events by offering an opportunity for dialogue on divergent and equally valid viewpoints regarding the Middle East. No side has the “right” answer.
College campuses must become the arena for enlightened, informed and rational dialogue, not one-sided and vehement accusations and threats.
A new Jewish peace corps, to be organized on all American college campuses, will be a step in that direction.