In the past couple of weeks, there have been several disturbing incidents on colleges and universities nationwide that reflect the ongoing problem of both campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity.
At Emory University, “eviction” notices were posted outside dorm rooms, indicating that the building was slated to be demolished. The notices were reportedly posted by Emory’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter as a means of teaching a lesson about “the destructive policy of Israel, toward Palestinians,” including Israel’s razing of the homes of terrorists and their families.
Meanwhile, at the University of North Carolina, anti-Semitic posters were discovered on library bookshelves and tables. The posters warned of an “evil Jewish plot.”
These are just the latest examples of what has become a seemingly intractable problem — and one that’s on the rise. The ADL tracked 204 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses in 2017, nearly double the number of incidents in 2016.
Even when the issue isn’t outright anti-Semitism, there’s seemingly a growing number of academics supportive of (and vocal about) their disdain for Israel.
My son’s a freshman at a prominent university, and he tells me regularly about his sociology professor’s attacks on Israel. Those assertions include beliefs that Israel regularly breaks international law, kills children, interferes with elections and has no right to be in the Golan Heights. The professor has even shown the class a film by John Pilger, who has made a career out of placing 100 percent of the fault on Israel for any disputes with Palestinians.
Locally, the Swarthmore College Student Government Organization approved a resolution calling for the school to divest itself from companies doing business in Israel’s West Bank.
These kinds of things seem to be happening everywhere.
Much of the problem is often attributed to the boycott, divestments and sanctions movement (BDS) — and not erroneously. We’ve published numerous articles in this space about the corrosive effect BDS has had on campus dialogue and the lives of Jewish college students, and the way that the movement has become a breeding ground for anti- Semitic rhetoric and anti-Israel political maneuvering. There is plenty to be bothered by when it comes to BDS, to be sure.
Yet the insistent focus on it as the cause of campus anti-Semitism may be shortsighted. As Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David N. Wecht suggested in a recent interview with Tablet Magazine, BDS is more of a symptom than a cause.
“Part of the campus problem today lies at the feet of Jewish parents for failing to educate their children to be committed, proud Jews. To be Jews who speak up for themselves, who advocate for Jewish interests and who support the U.S.-Israel relationship,” he said.
“Many of those who attack Israel and express anti-Semitic sentiments on campus are emboldened by the cowardice and the ignorance of Jewish students who are ashamed to be Jewish,” Wecht continued.
Wecht also mentioned what he perceived as cowardice among academic leaders, who seem afraid to name anti-Semitism and call it what it is.
So, what can be done?
One option is for parents to commit to a Jewish education for their children — one that doesn’t stop when the Bar Mitzvah party has ended. Judaism has a rich tradition of debate, and if children have questions or criticisms of Israel, that’s welcome.
But parents must be willing to educate their children about the history and realities of the Jewish state so they are better prepared when the get to campus. A void — easily filled by other voices — is created when Jewish students don’t know how to respond to false or misleading information.
Second, as Wecht noted, we must demand accountability from university officials. They should make it clear that anti-Semitic acts won’t be tolerated and be unafraid to say so.
Finally, Jews need to reassert a proud sense of self. The self-critical Jew has become a familiar trope, often mined for comedy, but it’s not a laughing matter when it fosters disdain of Judaism in others. Jews have successfully conquered adversity for thousands of years in large part because of pride. Parents need to instill that pride once again in their children.
Andy Gotlieb is the managing editor of the Jewish Exponent.