OpinionSchools & Higher Education

If Israeli teens can fight, why can’t Americans?

We are now paying for our decades of failure to teach students Jewish history, advocacy tools and the art of protest.

A rally at Tulane University in New Orleans got violent after a pro-Palestinian supporter hit a Jewish student in the face on Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Bali Levine.
A rally at Tulane University in New Orleans got violent after a pro-Palestinian supporter hit a Jewish student in the face on Oct. 26, 2023. Photo by Bali Levine.
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.

I don’t know how many of you remember the movie “Network,” but there is a famous line that is appropriate for this moment: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

I try to keep track of anti-Israel and antisemitic events on campus, but the number has become so great that it’s nearly impossible right now. Look at the headlines:

“Israeli Students at MIT Terrified as Pro-Hamas Protesters Chant ‘Intifada’ and ‘One Solution.’ ”

“Cornell student groups blame Israel for Hamas attacks.”

“Israeli Student Assaulted on Columbia University Campus.”

“Stanford students demand university condemn Israel.”

“Hundreds participate in walkout [at Princeton] in support of Palestine, dozens join counterprotest.”

“Controversy at Harvard over groups’ statement blaming violence on ‘Israeli regime.’ ”

It’s happening seemingly everywhere. The examples above are from the “elite” schools where, frighteningly, the next generation of leaders is being minted in a cauldron of Jew-hatred.

The silence and tepid responses of many universities have shown much of our higher education system to be morally bankrupt and a breeding ground for antisemites.

wrote back in 2005 that the only place in America where antisemitism is tolerated is on college campuses, and now that is apparent to all. The years of looking the other way, of making academic freedom and First Amendment excuses, refusing to accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and ignoring that anti-Zionism is a call for genocide has opened the floodgates for students and faculty to openly and unapologetically express their hatred of Jews.

Jewish students are understandably scared. How else is a Jew at Cornell supposed to react when they read a post that says:

If I see a pig male jew I will stab you and slit your throat. If I see another pig female jew I will drag you away and rape you and throw you off a cliff. If I see another pig baby jew I will behead you in front of your parents. If I see another synagogue another rally for the zionistt etc I will bring an assault rifle to campus and shoot all you pig jews. Jews are human animals and deserve a pigs death. Liberation by any means. … Glory to Allah.

Students were warned to stay away from Cornell’s kosher dining hall on Sunday after an anonymous post threatened to “shoot up” the building.

No one expects Jewish students to ignore such threats. But this is an extreme example. Right now, 18-year-old Israelis (and my 26-year-old) are risking their lives to defend Israel, while for the last several years, our children have been told to be afraid of being called names and that they need safe spaces to be insulated from reality. Is it any surprise that they are now unprepared for the challenges they face?

Can you imagine today’s college students, who are afraid of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) bullies, enlisting to fight the Nazis like their grandparents did?

Alums are finally being aroused from their slumber. Where are their kids?

As Felicia Herman wrote in a brilliant essay in Sapir, “you either condemn evil or you abet it.” Her reprimand of parents applies to college students: “How dare we say it’s okay for our friends’ children to die in battle, or be beheaded or burned alive, but, you know, it’s kind of uncomfortable for me to say something about Israel in mixed company?”

One student group that shows courage is Students Supporting Israel (SSI), but they also exemplify the pitiful condition of Israel advocacy on campus. They sent an email justifiably taking pride in organizing 20 student leaders to show up in front of 1,000-plus Hamas supporters at the University of Michigan.

Sadly, however, this proved my “Rule of 20,” which states that no matter the size of the Jewish population on campus, you rarely can get more than 20 students to be pro-Israel activists. There are 6,500 Jews at Michigan. The antisemites mobilized 50 times as many students.

Where are all the students who got free trips to Israel from Birthright?

Where are all the activists trained by campus organizations?

Israelis are in the fight of their lives, and American Jews cannot be scared to support them on campus. Some students and organizations are standing up for Israel. Besides SSI, there are some Hillels, AIPAC groups, StandWithUs fellows, AEPi brothers and others who are unafraid. Unfortunately, they are vastly outnumbered.

We are now paying for our decades of failure to teach students Israeli history, advocacy tools and the art of protest. We talk. The other side acts. We are bringing legal briefs to a knife fight.

After decades of telling Jewish students to build coalitions, we see how badly that strategy has failed. The organizations they thought were their friends, who shared their commitment to social justice, turn out to believe that Hamas massacring Jews was “justice” as Secretary-General António Guterres of the United Nations suggested for “56 years of suffering occupation.”

Hillels ought to be showing the film the Israel Defense Forces provided to journalists with the footage from the videos taken by Hamas. Students need to know the difference between harassers shouting, “From the river to the sea … ” and what was done to the Jews in kibbutzim in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

They need to be told about the heroic female and male soldiers who lost their lives holding off the terrorist onslaught at one base, saving 30 recruits and preventing the murderers from going to another target. They should hear about the people who, miles away from the border, left their families, grabbed their guns and raced alone to the kibbutzim to help liberate them despite being outnumbered and outgunned.

If that doesn’t rouse them to action, then American Jewry has no future.

Stop making excuses for Jewish apathy and cowardice. Students don’t need to be rallying at the same time as the antisemites and challenging them to fistfights, but they need to be demonstrating. They must demand action—not by whining, but by occupying buildings and demanding that SJP be kicked off campus for supporting terrorism and incitement.

Instead of threatening, donors need to stop contributing to universities. Jewish alumni need to pressure their alma maters to fire university presidents who can’t muster the courage to condemn the massacre of Jews and faculty who feel “exhilarated” by such barbarity.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, which has long been a problematic campus, a Jewish student organized a group for parents that quickly attracted 500 members who began to speak out about the conditions on that campus.

Universities care about two things: money and publicity. Start hitting them in the pocketbook and bury them in negative press for their inaction and tolerance of antisemitism. It’s hard to do that with a place like Harvard, which has more money than some countries, but even there, the anger of donors and bad publicity forced the president to make a third statement after two inadequate ones, where she admitted, “Antisemitism has a very long and shameful history at Harvard. For years, this university has done too little to confront its continuing presence.” Now, she promised this would change. We’ll see.

More than 100 colleges and universities—but no Ivy League schools—have joined a coalition to support Israel and condemn Hamas. Students, parents, alums, trustees and donors must pressure every university to join the coalition. Putting their name on a statement is necessary but insufficient. They must also act against antisemitic faculty and students, and change the campus culture so that everyone understands antisemitism (including anti-Zionism) will not be tolerated.

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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