Listening and speaking to young American Jews on college campuses
Students at Tel Aviv University 370
(photo credit: Danielle Ziri)
Idealist college students are presented with non-contextual information, which they view through the utopian eyes of youth.
There may be nothing more important to the future of the US-Israel relationship than young American Jews. What are they thinking, to whom do they listen, how far have they strayed from their parents’ and grandparents’ Zionism? This spring, I have been listening and speaking to a broad spectrum of students, including those at Columbia, Vassar, Ithaca, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Binghamton University and the University of Pennsylvania.Nearly all of the students confirmed that most Jewish college students know little about Israel, and worse, care less about it. No doubt there are many young Jews and Gentiles who really do attempt to understand the Middle East and are willing to educate and advocate for Israel, but, sadly, they are a distinct minority.So what makes Young American Millennial Jews tick? Many American Jews seem to define their attachment to Judaism through progressive liberal values. Anti-Israel groups have used this to target impressionable young adults. They distort and fabricate a reality that persuades their target audience that Israel is an oppressive and intolerant theocracy.Idealist college students are presented with non-contextual information, which they view through the utopian eyes of youth. Their mantra is “Justice for the Oppressed.” Whoever is perceived as the weaker party is in the right. They side with David against Goliath. This is what resonates. Their professors tell them that Israel was born in sin, as an anachronistic colonial enterprise against an indigenous people. They have transformed Palestinian Arabs into America’s people of color, and identify them as a persecuted minority. The fact that there are 400 million Arabs with endemic hatred for Israel’s six million isolated Jews barely registers. Muslim misogyny and repressive, anti-gay environments are left on the curriculum’s cutting-room floor. They claim that all the Middle East’s problems grew from the transplanted and illegitimate seed of Zionism. There never seems to be time or interest for a fuller discussion of the complexities of the region.Imagine your local pro-Palestinian student organization of your Alma Mata sponsoring a forum critical of Palestinian positions, with Arab speakers demonizing the Palestinian government. Of course, such an event would never happen. However, on a recent spring night at Washington U, Hillel and J Street co-sponsored a one-sided, highly critical event against Israel featuring Breaking the Silence (BtS). BtS is a far-left-wing group of very disgruntled former IDF soldiers who parade themselves around our country as representative of what the IDF routinely does to oppress Palestinians Arabs. To make matters worse, no rebuttal or balanced opposing opinion is tolerated.I recently spoke to Hen Mazzig, a mild-mannered, left-wing Israeli soldier, about the Wash U event. Hen spent his IDF career with COGAT, Coordinator of Government activities in the Territories. COGAT’s mission is to deal with the Palestinians in the territories and to protect them. He is fluent in Arabic and mediated many times between Palestinians and the IDF in the territories. Hen is also a witness to the so-called “non-violent” Palestinian protests that Breaking the Silence defends. His friend and fellow IDF soldier lost an eye, and another soldier broke his jaw during the some of the “non-violent” rock throwing.This experience understandably has influenced his opinion – and it is different from that of BtS.Hen showed me a picture of some of the Wash U. students who attended a different J Street event wearing T-shirts reading, “Resistance Is Not Terrorism.”Hen has been traveling though America for the past 16 months, speaking on college campuses about Israel and the conflict. I asked him why American Jewish students are so critical of Israel.“US Jews were on the front lines of civil rights, fighting for ‘justice.’ Every student is idealistic and falls for words like ‘justice.’ They think that the bravest thing you can do is go against your own people. They were indoctrinated with pro-Israel, and they now want to be anti-establishment.”At Columbia, I spoke to the graduate school of international affairs where I debated the campus “pro Israel, pro-peace” representative. The speaker uncritically defended Palestinian positions and made it clear that Israel was the intransigent party, with little or no Palestinian accountability or complicity for the situation. Sources quoted were only from the far Left that demonized Israel, but were presented as mainstream.What do I discuss with students? In today’s environment, students need some clear guidelines to alert them when anti-Israel rhetoric crosses the line. In honor of David Letterman’s announced retirement, here are my Top 10 tips: 1. Boycotting goods from the territories is wrong. Its goal is to destroy all of Israel. Support of the BDS campaign puts you outside the pro-Israel tent.2. Self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace groups that only criticize Israel are not pro-Israel.3. If someone denies Israel’s right to exist as a homeland of the Jewish people, they are not only out of the tent, they are anti-Semitic, according the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC).4. Applying a different standard to Israel than applied to every other nation is anti-Semitism, according to the European Union.5. If you don’t as vociferously protest the occupation of Cyprus by Turkey, the occupation of Crimea and Georgia by Russia, or the occupation of Tibet by China, then targeting Israel is not only a double standard, it is anti-Semitism, according to the EU.6. Israel’s existence is essential for American foreign policy and national security. Israel is an American strategic asset, not a foreign policy liability.7. International law is on Israel’s side and Israel has shown a willingness to make far-reaching conces-sions for peace.8. Israel, for all its faults, is one of the great democratic wonders of the world.9. Iran is not just an Israeli issue, it is very much an American national security issue.10. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential conflict, not a territorial one.Next semester, I am supposed to speak at Brandeis, unless I too receive the honor of being disinvited The author is founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network.