OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Campus wars are now more intense but not new

Demonizers of Israel are no longer led by students from Arab and Muslim countries. White Americans are the leaders, who see Palestinians as “dark-skinned natives being oppressed.”

University of California, Berkeley. Credit: oksana.perkins/Shutterstock.
University of California, Berkeley. Credit: oksana.perkins/Shutterstock.
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.

The demonization of Israel and antisemitism on campus may be more intense than in the past, but it’s not new. This is why it is even more damning that the Jewish community was ineffective in acting before the smoke turned into a blaze.

As early as 1983, I wrote about the propaganda war on campus in the Jewish newspaper in Berkeley, Calif. “We should not let ourselves be intimidated by individuals or crowds,” I wrote. One problem was that “there are very few students on this campus with the knowledge, articulateness and inclination to debate with our antagonists.” Out of 5,000 Jews on campus, only 1% were politically active. “If this is an indication of future Jewish political activity in this country,” I concluded, “then the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel is in jeopardy and that puts the survival of Israel in danger.”

I was cleaning out my office and came across an old file of articles from 2004 to 2006.

In 2004, I wrote, “The prevalence of outspoken anti-Israel professors is the most insidious danger to Israel’s standing on the campus.” One example was a petition signed by 1,500 academics warning of a possible impending crime against humanity—that Israel would expel Palestinians during the fog of the Iraq war. Another example was a Columbia University professor who lectured that “Zionism is a European colonial system based on racist principles to eradicate Palestine and that Zionists are the new Nazis.”

The same year, a Clemson University professor wrote to me that “there are no professors who are sympathetic to Israel who are teaching Middle East studies.”

Gary Rosenblatt wrote in the New York Jewish Week, “Too little attention has been paid to what is taught every day in the classroom by professors who are respected as experts and who will still be teaching their one-sided views of the Mideast conflict long after the current crop of students have graduated and gone out into the world.”

Rosenblatt quotes Emory University Professor Ken Stein, who lamented that Jewish students “have little historical context when they get to campus” and faulted the Jewish community for failing to fulfill the biblical imperative to “teach [these words] diligently to your children.”

The New England Committee to Defend Palestine held its annual conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004 with the theme, “Confronting Zionism; Resistance and the Struggle for a Free Palestine.”

A Bay Area paper quoted a Jewish student at the University of California, Berkeley about to graduate who said he experienced “pinnacles of horror” during his time there. He told the paper he remembered pro-Palestinian protesters saying that Israeli border crossings were as bad as Nazi death camps and the glass door of the Hillel building being shattered by a brick with the words “F**K JEWS.” Four lecture halls, he said, had swastikas painted on the walls with the message, “Die Juden.”

Another Jewish student who ran for student government president reported being called a “conservative Zionist bastard.” He said it is “socially acceptable to be antisemitic on the Berkeley campus.”

He also recalled how, in 2002, dozens of protesters staged a sit-in at Wheeler Hall. Some 80 protesters, including 41 students, were arrested. Students for Justice in Palestine was suspended and, predictably, complained that it was being persecuted because it was pro-Palestinian. Lecturer Hatem Bazian, a founder of SJP, spoke at a rally protesting the arrests. He reportedly said the university caved into pressure.

From whom?

He said the answer could be found in the names on the university’s buildings: Zellerbach, Haas and Moses.

Bazian is still at Berkeley spewing venom. His response to the Oct. 7 massacre? “Palestinians have the right to freedom, dignity and security in their homes, lands and religious sites!”

“It’s an obnoxious Berkeley tradition,” said one professor, “bringing political agendas into the classroom.”

More than 6,000 faculty, students and staff signed a petition calling on Berkeley to divest from businesses that have relations with Israel.

Remember this was 20 years ago. Happy anniversary.

Representative of all the evil ‘isms’

It was also 2004 when a protester threw a pie in Natan Sharansky’s face at Rutgers University. Speaking of his experience visiting American campuses, the former Prisoner of Zion said universities were hothouses for the demonization of Israel and called on Jewish students to fight back.

Haaretz described how Jewish students had to pass through mock checkpoints and walls meant to protest Israel’s security fence. The paper quoted the head of a Palestinian solidarity group at Rutgers who believed that Israel had no right to exist. “I don’t think there is anything antisemitic in opposing racism and apartheid,” she said. “It is manipulative and repulsive to say that this is antisemitism because Zionism is racism, and opposing racism is the same as opposing antisemitism.”

Haaretz also recognized how the demonizers of Israel were no longer led by students from Arab and Muslim countries. Instead, white Americans were the leaders who saw Israel as a representative of all the evil “isms”—colonialism, imperialism, racism—and Palestinians as “dark-skinned natives being oppressed.”

The paper quoted one study that found that 30% of Jewish students said antisemitism was a problem on their campuses. Only 5%, however, said they experienced any.

Douglas Feiden wrote in the New York Daily News that year, “In classrooms, teach-ins, interviews and published works, dozens of academics are said to be promoting an I-hate-Israel agenda, embracing the ugliest of Arab propaganda, and teaching that Zionism is the root of all evil in the Mideast.”

Surprised by recent events at Columbia?

Don’t be.

Feiden quoted a Columbia professor who said that one student a week came to his office to complain about classroom bias. “Students tell me they’ve been browbeaten, humiliated and treated disrespectfully for daring to challenge the idea that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish nation,” he said. “They say they’ve been told Israeli soldiers routinely rape Palestinian women and commit other atrocities, and that Zionism is racism and the root of all evil.”

His article began with a quote from the chair of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department, Hamid Dabashi, who said that Israel is a capital of “thuggery”—a “ghastly state of racism and apartheid”—and it “must be dismantled.”

“Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name ‘Israel’ will pop up in the atrocities,” Dabashi wrote in a 2018 Facebook post.

In 2019, he called ISIS “murderous thugs” and said, “Their Israeli counterparts meanwhile conquered parts of Syria and declared it part of their Zionist settler colony.” Dabashi does see one difference—“ISIS does not have a platoon of clean shaven and well coiffured [sic] columnists at the New York Times propagating the cause of the terrorist outfit as the Zionists columnists do on a regular basis.”

After Oct. 7, he joined the chorus accusing Israel of genocide and wrote: “How Hegel’s racist philosophy informs European Zionism.”

Dabashi has been polluting students’ minds for two decades and continues today.

‘Israel is like spinach to many young Jews’

Haaretz also quoted Gary Tobin, author of a study on faculty that concluded, “Anti-Israelism is a rooted ideology in the education system, and it is crucial to deal with it now.” Tobin said Jews are unaware of what is happening on campus and are not careful about contributing to universities. “The fact that schools and universities can be in such discord to the feelings of the American public, is something that we have to deal with,” he told the paper.

Hillel’s director in 2004, Avraham Infeld, said Jewish students were not more engaged because they were educated to think that involvement with Judaism ends with a bar/bat mitzvah. Jews arrive on campus with no connection to Israel or the Jewish community and consequently have no interest in supporting Israel.

In 2006, pollster Frank Luntz published a study that found, “A large majority of younger Jews seem to know little about Israel, almost nothing about their religion and show little interest in either.”

He diagnosed the problem; I suggested the cause: “Jews are not being taught the aleph-bet of Israel’s political history,” I wrote, “so it is not surprising that they are alienated by the time they get to college and feel unprepared to respond to Israel’s detractors. Jewish leaders are so focused on the highly visible anti-Israel activities that they are largely ignoring the less obvious, but more pernicious problem of Jewish ignorance.”

“Sadly, Israel is like spinach to many young Jews,” I argued. “That’s the real difference from the earlier generations, which saw Israel as meat and potatoes. This identity was ingrained through family, synagogue and Jewish education. Today, all three pillars are tottering.”

“The older generation also had a sense of right and wrong,” I continued. “They could distinguish between real faults in Israel and specious moral equations, such as the one in a recent cartoon that compared settlers to suicide bombers. Students, especially self-described liberals, want to look at the issues in a Tevye-like fashion—on the one hand, Palestinians do terrible things, but, on the other, so do the Israelis—even if the facts are not symmetrical.”

Is it any wonder that young Jews are joining SJP, Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow and other groups demonizing Israel?

For years, many of us sounded the alarm pleading for action. The Jewish community did not insist on a zero-tolerance policy towards antisemitism. We did not call for the dismissal of professors who committed academic malpractice by using their platforms for anti-Israel propaganda. We did not insist on the creation of Israel Studies programs to instruct students about the real Israel rather than the one demonized in Middle East Studies. And we failed to educate our youth about Israeli history and prepare them to be proud Jews who cannot be bullied.

We’re seeing the consequences of that failure today.

Let us not be the generation that stood by while our history was forgotten and our community was threatened. It is time to take a stand and demand change.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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