The American Zionist Movement held a conference in New York in March. The video of a workshop on confronting anti-Israel sentiment on campus was posted two days ago by the Jewish Broadcasting Service.
Andrew Getraer, executive director of Hillel at Rutgers, said the school has the largest Jewish student population on campus in the country, 6,400, and Hillel’s mission is to explain that Jews who don’t like Israel are unhealthy.
We came up with this idea, we are driven by a core belief, that a positive relationship to Israel is essential for a healthy Jewish identity. It’s not about where you are on the political spectrum. It’s not about what party you would vote for or how much you hate Bibi. Which by the way, college students hate Bibi. My sons are in college too, and I’m going to tell you 80 percent of students think that Bibi is a terrible human being. I happen to be the only Likudnik in New Brunswick. So I’m not here to criticize Bibi…
We want to see past that aspect of political Zionism. We want students to have a positive relationship to the state of Israel, because if they don’t they’re not going to be healthy as Jews. People can’t be healthy if they don’t have a good relationship with their family. You can go through life hating your parents or your brother or your sister, but it’s going to be pain for you for the rest of your life. If you’re a Jew and you can’t find that positive relationship to your brothers and sisters in Israel, and the state of Israel, there’s going to be a part of you that’s in pain, even if you ‘re not aware of it, or you’ve rationalized it away, you’re not fully healthy.
Getraer also dismissed the Open Hillel movement as an insignificant effort to delegitimize Hillel’s relationship to Israel.
“It has spread very very poorly. It’s not a significant movement,” Getraer said. The impact of Open Hillel has been “almost completely negligible.”
He said it’s active on seven campuses; that less than 10 students created Open Hillel.
“We sometimes give more credence to IfNotNow, JVP [Jewish Voice for Peace], and Open Hillel, to anti-Zionist groups if you want to call them that that come out of the Jewish community, than is merited by the numbers and the impact they’re having. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned… But we need to remind ourselves, they are not taking over the campuses.”
What is taking over the campuses, he said, is “complete apathy.”
Leonard Saxe, a social psychologist at Brandeis, echoed Getraer’s view that few Jewish students are opposed to Israel, and affirmed that connection to Israel is vital to Jewish identity.
More important for the Jewish community is making sure that our children, that Jewish students, understand something about their history, something about modern Israel. Because if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. I am the first person to say that some of the things that have gone on on campus and some of the Muslim student organizaations, organizations like JVP and IfNotNow have been and say both destructive and horrible and inaccurate things– on the one hand.
On the other hand, we need to have a dialogue with them. And we have to be very careful not to simply hand them a megaphone. That in fact, what they do is intended to drawing the rest of us into their discussion and their framing of the problem, rather than our framing of the problem…
Saxe said most young Jews are highly supportive of Israel. But the trouble comes in influence by their non-Jewish peers.
What’s interesting is that yes, the 75, 80 percent who are liberal or moderate, certainly not conservative… are highly supportive of Israel, feel attached to Israel. At the same time they do get flak from their non-Jewish peers. Young non-Jews are not as supportive of Israel. They’re not against Israel. Many of them know even less than Jewish students do. But it does create an issue for Jewish students on campus.
Saxe also criticized liberal Zionists Peter Beinart and Dov Waxman, who have both written books about the crisis over Zionism in the Jewish community.
There are other critics… One of the things about these two academics is that they came out of South African families. Their frame of reference is
apartheid, and everything they see is filtered by that lens. And I think one of the challenges for us is not only to try to talk to people like this and try to be rational in discourse with them, but it’s also for those of us who are Zionists to get out of some of our own personal experiences.
That is unconvincing. Beinart was born in the U.S. in 1971 to South African immigrant academic parents. Waxman was born in the UK and has had a 25-year academic career in Britain and the U.S. I am told that his family is not South African. (Myself, I was born in Boston but when I went to occupied Palestine in 2006 I saw apartheid before my eyes and promptly asked a South African man I’d met there if I was correct. He said yes. So maybe Beinart’s family is helpful.)
Saxe said that the era of Jewish/Israeli dominance presents a challenge to American Jews to rethink history.
Those of us who grew up as Israel went from a nascent struggling country, to a country with a powerful economy, with an extraordinary culture… The challenge is, How do we change our own understanding of history to confront the new antisemitism which is often cloaked in anti-Israelism, at a time when we are no longer, and Israel is no longer the poor schleppers, the struggling people and we are successful and we are dominant.
The two leaders also discussed Jewish intermarriage rates. Getraer said that many children from intermarried couples are pro-Israel, because it affirms their Jewish identity. “The state of Israel is very often what they can feel attached to.”
Saxe agreed. He has studied Birthright participants, young Jews who take a free trip to Israel for Zionist purposes, and found that kids from intermarriages value Israel.
“What we have learned from 100’s and 100’s of interviews with the children of intermarried parents, is when they got to passport control, and they got that stamp in their passport, they felt legitimated. They felt as if the great bet din [rabbinical court] had made the determination that they were really part of the Jewish people.”
Asked whether the Birthright trip, funded by Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban among others, should allow students to meet Arab students, and get a full perspective on the state of Israel, Getraer dismissed the idea out of hand.
Should Birthright be introducing students to the Palestinian perspectives in dealing with the conflict, on a Birthright trip? I would say, Absolutely not. That’s not what the Birthright trip is designed to do… It’s an introduction to Jewish heritage. And you have a student– who not only, they don’t know where Tel Aviv is. They don’t know that there’s not a temple in Jerusalem. If they knew there ever was a temple in Jerusalem. Or two of them… We’re talking about a trip that is designed to do doing the basic foundational work of introducing young Jews to their history and to their brothers and sisters who now live in our homeland. To go to the most complicated, controversial, difficult issue almost in world politics — this isn’t the trip for that.
Getraer is being openly discriminatory. The population of Israel is about 20 percent non-Jewish. The trip also goes into occupied territories, and the population of the entire land is about half Palestinian, half Jewish.