This past Monday evening, there was a meeting organized by the Westchester Jewish Council and sponsored by six other “pro-Israel” campus organizations (including Hillel, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League and Jewish National Fund), titled “A Night of Exploring Israel Bias and Anti-Semitism on Campus,” and attempting to equip Jewish college students with the tools necessary to combat “anti-Israel” activity, thereby preserving their “Jewish identity” from attack by proponents of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions).
Unfortunately, it was an indoctrination session rather than a real attempt to discuss the facts on the ground or the dialogue actually occurring on college campuses across the country. Of seven or eight speakers, only the last acknowledged (briefly) Palestinian suffering. There was otherwise virtually no mention of the Palestinians and how they actually live, either within or outside the Green Line, which of course is what the BDS movement is all about.
At the outset of the meeting, the Executive Director of Hillel of Westchester promised that “We do not intended to endorse any point of view” and then, in an attempt to arm students with “the facts” which could be used to defend Israel, immediately showed a video created by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and narrated by then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon of the Yisrael Beiteinu party (headed by right-wing ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s likely new Defense Minister). The video argued that the West Bank is not occupied territory, the settlements are not illegal, the 1967 borders are not borders at all, and that there is and never has been a Palestine or Palestinians!
One had to wonder how far those “facts” are going to get the poor kids who try to argue them on American campuses today. By the way, one of the sources cited by Ayalon was Eugene Rostow. For those of you under 50, Rostow was President Johnson’s Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and a staunch proponent of the Vietnam War, the pre-eminent moral and political issue of my college time, as Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is for American Jewish college students today.
Those of us who vigorously criticized the Vietnam War then were no more “anti-American” than those criticizing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians today are “anti-Israel.” To the cries of “My country right or wrong,” we responded, “My country right or wrong; when it is right, keep it right; when it is wrong, make it right.”
At a time when IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak are warning about the “seeds of fascism” proliferating in Israel, it was truly remarkable (and sad) there was no acknowledgment that Jewish students of good will could disagree about the increasingly right-wing and ultranationalist cast of Israel and its government today. The speakers were content to trot out tired and discredited lines about both historical and current Israel. It was just “us against the BDSers.”
But Jewish and other students on campus today clamoring for Open Hillel, for BDS, for the right to criticize and pressure Israel to align its policies with Jewish moral and religious values — they are “pro-Israel,” not “anti-Israel.” The criticism and pressure they seek to bring to bear on Israel may be “tough love,” but it is not hate. And if it represents a challenge to newly-arrived Jewish students’ identity, so be it. That is what college is for: vigorous debate and argument with those who disagree, researching the facts and figuring out what values you really stand for when push comes to shove. Instead of shutting down the dialogue with “BDS’ers,” Jews who care passionately about Israel and its future should welcome it.