Pro Israel campus groups are top-down affairs controlled by outside lobbying groups and big time donors. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel work together to train student activists. The agendas are established by groups such as Stand With Us (SWU).
None of this program is new or surprising. But it’s causing a schism over the Iran Deal. According to a Times of Israel op-ed by Tracy Frydberg, titled “Pro-Israel campus groups worry Iran deal debate will end in ‘anti-Semitic hatefest“, a new directive has been given to students to place opposition to the Iran Deal as a primary focus of their campus activism and claims: “there is little room for dissent or even discussion over the merits of supporting the Iran deal”.
And students aren’t happy about it. According to student activist Justin Hayet:
“The Iran deal can’t define Israel activism… The pro-Israel community is increasingly being perceived as [a group of] right-wing fanatics.”
Maybe that’s because a group of right wing fanatics are directing pro Israel advocacy on American campuses? Frydberg, a Hasbara Fellowship member, cites another student activist, Brandon Mond, co-founder of Unify Texas, an anti-BDS (Boycott, divestment and sanctions) group at the University of Texas:
“The way in which we take cues and structure our unity from larger organizations allows for it to be controlled at the top”
Echoing J Street U director Sarah Turbow’s claim:
“[D]onors play a huge role in deciding campus strategy”.
So who is at “the top”? I’m reminded of the excellent (must see) documentary about Jewish Day schools, Between the Lines. In personal testimonies students relate being taught to think critically about every topic except for Israel, emerging with “quivering loyalty toward their community and the State.” Some freshman kids from these schools have entered universities this fall emotionally indoctrinated to protect Israel politically on their campuses, having never even heard the term “occupation” applied to Israel. Others have no idea “Palestinians were kicked out — nothing — you don’t know how to deal with it.”
“Instead of given facts on modern issues, students are given talking points and tools for advocacy …. things that Jewish donors or organizations think are useful for advocacy ” (13:49)
One student (14:29) discussed a student seminar she attended at her school intending to prepare students for anti-Israel sentiment on campuses based on Alan Dershowitz’s book The Case for Israel. Dershowitz’s book states a criticism at the beginning of every chapter, and then lays out all the reasons the criticism is false. The students come to class, the teacher states the claim and students practice refuting it, based on Dershowitz’s refutations “without breaking down where those critiques were coming from. ”
Frydberg mentions Dershowitz and his new book, The Case Against the Iran Deal: How Can We Now Stop Iran from Getting Nukes? and quotes him in a recent Times of Israel interview:
“A better way to use resources is to persuade students that the Iran deal is dangerous, not to oppose Congress.”
According to Dershowitz, Netanyahu has a “right” and a “duty” to seek to change US policy. He doesn’t think it’s fair Israel was “excluded from the negotiations”. In his interview with TOI, cited by Frydberg, Dershowitz suggests:
passing a simple law …[to] preemptively authorize the current and all future US presidents to use military force, without negotiation or warning, to prevent Iran from acquiring a military weapon if it ever sought one.
Dershowitz’s hubris doesn’t end there, he claims this is not “interference in American politics”.
But if this is the pro Israel students’ new assignment on American campuses — it’s a tall order.
This is part of what “the great liberation of the Iran Deal” means. You can’t expect these kids, foot soldiers for Israel, to be robots. With varying views regarding the Iran deal within the American Jewish community, clearly these students are much more comfortable arguing against BDS. In a world where every objection to Israeli policies is rationalized by the emotionally charged “anti semitism” accusation, what happens when an issue like the Iran Deal forces student activists up against American diplomacy and the president?
Dershowitz said the Jewish community should not be moved by fear of alienation or public perception, crediting J Street and its dovish approach with the rise in anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
“It’s a ghetto mentality to think that Jews shouldn’t oppose the president [on the Iran deal],” Dershowitz said.
But StandWithUs’ Brett Cohen predicts that tensions will only increase on campus after the deal is voted on.
“What is dangerous right now,” he said, “is how people who oppose the deal are demonized as unpatriotic. I’m fearful that the victory celebration for supporters is going to spill over into an anti-Semitic hate fest.”
A hate fest? Student advocates for Israel are not taught to examine Israel critically, but emotionally; “beyond the realm of intellectual thought”(Between the Lines 4:28). Hence, when those students encounter facts about Israel, the tools they’ve been trained to use, as evidenced by SWU rep Brett Cohen’s comment about his fears, are primarily in the emotional realm. And no wonder SWU uses an accusatory anti Semitism discourse; students are in familiar territory, a safe place they have confidence they can persuade.
Now that’s just a weak response to a critical debate in a university environment. Yet that’s been the central retreat for these students. The battle against BDS and the Iran Deal on campuses is an emotional one, not a critical discourse based on research on how sanctions and diplomacy are used routinely by governments, including our own. It rests on ideas mentioned in Between the Lines, like “we saw what happened when Jews were boycotted before” = Holocaust.
Someone should unleash these kids and let them think for themselves. Universities are supposed to be places kids stretch and grow up, not follow the agenda of old donors.