By Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Published: October 28th, 2014
The Anti-Defamation League issued an important report on Monday, Oct. 27, finding a dramatic increase in anti-Israel activity, compared to last year. The ADL attributes the increase to the aftermath of the 50-day Gaza war this past summer.
According to the ADL, this fall semester there have already been 75 anti-Israel events reported on U.S. college campuses. In the same period last year, there were only 35 such events.
The problem is even more alarming than the ADL’s report suggests.
It is certain there are more incidents that are either never reported or at least not reported to whatever source the ADL used for its calculations. The “full report” on the ADL website does not explain how the information was gathered or what definitions were used to determine whether certain activity would be included.
When contacted for her reaction to the ADL report, Susan Tuchman, the head of the Zionist Organization of America’s Center for Law and Justice explained that while the numbers mentioned in the ADL press release may not sound enormous, just yesterday she received “phone calls from three different students on three different campuses” with problems serious enough for them to raise with a lawyer.
Tuchman made an even more important point, as well.
Most Jewish college students are fortunately having a positive experience on their campuses. But the ZOA is contacted so frequently by students feeling threatened and harassed on their campuses, that it’s a mistake for any of us to minimize the problem of campus anti-Semitism. What’s particularly troubling is that Jewish students are facing problems on campuses with large Jewish populations, where one would think these problems wouldn’t exist.
And the real takeaway from the ADL report, and from the ever-growing cache of reported incidents is that the wider Jewish community needs to pay attention to the problem.
Tuchman puts her finger on the problem:
If there’s a single Jewish student on any college campus in this country who feels afraid to be openly Jewish and to say that he or she loves and supports Israel, then that’s something all of us need to speak out against and demand that college administrators address. Some administrators are responding appropriately, but many aren’t.
And while this past summer’s conflict undoubtedly provided new content for the anti-Israel activities, it is not as if the anti-Israel organizations and individuals needed an excuse.
William Jacobson, clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and founder and publisher of the excellent blog covering legal matters, especially anti-Israel activity on campuses, Legal Insurrection, made the point:
“It is no real surprise that anti-Israel groups are trying to leverage the summer’s fighting in Gaza to their advantage on campus.
“But that is just the latest excuse for what has been a long-running campus propaganda war against Israel. If it was not Gaza it would have been something else. There are groups always looking for an excuse to attack Israel on campus,” Jacobson explained.
The ADL report catalogues the myriad forms of anti-Israel activities on campuses, and those are alarming.
No longer content to simply protest or leaflet pro-Israel events, there is now a panoply of methods used to intimidate pro-Israel students on campuses.
METHODS OF CAMPUS ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVITIES
Those campus anti-Israel activities include mock “Apartheid Walls” intended to represent Israel’s passive security barrier as a weapon of racism; mock checkpoints in which anti-Israel thugs act out the role of Israeli security forces intimidating, harassing and aggressively demanding identification from hapless and often helpless students who are forced into playing the role of meek and innocent Palestinian Arabs, and fake “die-ins.”
There are also the mock eviction notices slipped under the dorm room doors of students. These notices demand the students leave their rooms, pretending that the evil Israeli empire is confiscating their dwelling space. Although there is (at least now) a line usually at the bottom of the notice, informing the student that the eviction notice is not real, the level of anxiety it creates is real, as is the feeling of students having their private space violated.
These tactics, along with the Israel divestment resolutions (all of purely symbolic value as students cannot vote on how a university’s money is invested, but the platform provided to bash Israel can be deeply upsetting nonetheless) and activities promoting the boycott of, divestment from and sanctions against (BDS) movement have metastasized. In the past few years several large academic organizations have focused a great deal of time and energy on whether to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
As expected from an enormous, mainstream organization, the report seemed just as determined to exude calm, avoiding what might be considered histrionics.
“There has been a dramatic increase in anti-Israel activity reported on campus. But while the activity is intensifying, it is still not widespread,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “As of now the vast majority of Jewish students on campus are not effected and do not encounter these events.”
Daniel Mael, a senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, has been writing about the problem of anti-Israel activities on U.S. campuses at the TruthRevolt site for about six months. Mael was not as sanguine as Foxman about the situation. Mael’s been in the “belly of the beast” for the past four years and the reaction from his front row seat is one to be heeded:
“The furious nature of anti-Israel students has a chilling effect on the campus atmosphere,” Mael responded to The Jewish Press in an email.
“Many students consider the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic behavior that is occurring to be systemic with the university administrations either blind to the problem or worse, emboldening groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine. In BDS hearings a large portion of the students advocating for boycotts present malicious lies and students increasingly feel that the campus atmosphere is intolerable.”
Jacobson, another observer in the front row, agreed with the ADL that most campuses in the U.S. do not experience problems with openly hostile anti-Israel activity. But, Jacobson explains, “that is not for lack of trying. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, often with the assistance and encouragement of anti-Israel faculty, have become more aggressive in the past two years.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn’t Foxman’s approach not that far from what the Jewish leaders in Germany were saying in the early 1930′s?
HOW TO MEASURE WHAT CONSTITUTES ANTI-ISRAEL ACTIVITY
Of course that’s playing the Hitler card where it need not go, some might say. Except that the ADL’s press release has its director, Abe Foxman, saying this:
Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Israel in nature, and not all anti-Israel rhetoric and activity reflect anti-Semitism. However, anti-Israel sentiment increasingly crosses the line to anti-Semitism by invoking anti-Semitic myths of Jewish control and demonic depictions of Israelis or comparing Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Professor Jacobson commented on the dangers of downplaying campus anti-Israel activities.
Not all criticisms of Israel are anti-Semitic, for sure, but that does not mean that the BDS movement is not a form of anti-Semitism. BDS singles out the only majority Jewish state in the world using standards and with an obsessive intensity applied to no other nation, precisely because of Israel’s Jewish national identity.
Negative attributes of Israeli society that are found in every society on earth are treated as if such negatives were peculiar to Israel. Such obsessive and prejudicial singling out of Israel is, as Lawrence Summers, the former President of Harvard University put it, ‘anti-Semitic in their effect if not necessarily in their intent.’”
At a time when many have begun to use a new yardstick for defining anti-Israel activity, parsing out anti-Israel activity from anti-Semitic activity and declaring the first one acceptable seems wrong.
There can certainly be legitimate criticism of Israel, but Natan Sharansky‘s 3 metric: the Ds – Demonization, Delegitimization and Double Standards, to determine whether criticism of Israel crosses the line into simply another form of hatred of Jews – in this case, the Jewish State, qua Jewish, seems more useful.
Turning again to ZOA’s Tuchman, who points out that even the U.S. government uses a standard broader than the one suggested in the ADL report.
Most of the anti-Israelism that’s being reported to us is anti-Semitism. Programs and speakers are demonizing Israel using factual distortions and outright lies. They’re calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. And with all the horrific human rights abuses committed by regimes around the world, the BDS movement on campuses focuses its rage and condemnation on Israel alone. All of this is anti-Semitism, according to the standards that our own government uses.
By whatever standard is used, there is little doubt that the problem of orchestrated anti-Israel activity on U.S. campuses is growing and needs to be taken seriously.
And it is not a new phenomenon. As long ago as 2009, after spending two weeks on a speaking tour of North American colleges, Arab Israeli journalist Khaled abu Toameh had this to say about the anti-Israel climate on those campuses: “there is more sympathy for Hamas there than in Ramallah.”
This article was originally published by the Jewish Press and may be found here.