OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Jews on campus must stand their ground

We must turn to our God-given power to tell a new narrative of our time.

A new billboard put up by the Michigan branch of the Zionist Organization of American near the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is trying to draw attention to campus antisemitism. Credit" Courtesy.
A new billboard put up by the Michigan branch of the Zionist Organization of American near the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is trying to draw attention to campus antisemitism. Credit" Courtesy.
Howard Teich. Credit: Courtesy.
Howard Teich
Howard Teich is a practicing attorney, has held multiple leadership positions in the Jewish community and is the author of HEAR OUR VOICE: One Israel: Standing Up for Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

On May 4, 1970, four students were shot and killed on the Kent State University campus. They were shot by National Guardsmen who were called in by President Richard Nixon at the request of the academic institution, which wanted to control protests on campus as the uproar over the Vietnam War escalated.

Kent State transformed my life. I went from being an apathetic spectator to an activist. As a third-year law student, I was asked to draft and present a strike plan to the entire student body and faculty at Boston University School of Law. Graduation was canceled that year and many of us got involved in politics and activism.

During the current campus unrest, we should look back as we look ahead. In what I believe is an orchestrated, well-funded international effort, anti-Israel protests have broken out on campuses across America. This has led to a campus atmosphere that is hostile to Jewish students. It is challenging to all Jews, as the media has taken the side of the protesters and Jewish leaders have failed to meet the challenge.

The situation is a complex one for those of us who support Israel and also believe in the importance of the university as a place for open dialogue and education. After Kent State, Nixon established the Scranton Commission on Campus Unrest to issue guidelines for the future. What is taking place at Columbia and other campuses is not in accord with those guidelines. Clearly, corrective action is necessary.

Why, however, did Columbia’s rabbi tell Jewish students not to come to classes for their own safety? American Jews must learn from Israel to be warriors on the front line; not with weapons, but with knowledge and passion. Jewish students should remain on campus, not run from it. They should stand their ground, complete the school year with pride and dignity, and demand that their graduation ceremony proceed. This is a first test for the young generation of Jewish leaders. Many of them have studied at universities such as Columbia and I have great confidence in them.

As we look to the future, we must ask more of our leaders. We require leadership that is more interested in advocating for the Jewish community than in political messaging. Jewish elected officials have choices to make. They must ask whether they will make defending their community a priority or bow to their party affiliation. It is their choice, but we should hold them accountable for that choice.

Above all, our message must be clear: Israel’s fight is not only in the Gaza Strip. It is a broader struggle for existence against Iran and its proxies across the Middle East. We need the American Jewish community and our students on campus to amplify this narrative, which strongly impacts U.S. policy towards Israel.

This Passover holiday, we retell the story of our liberation from slavery as if it were happening today. Now, with the future of Israel and world Jewry at stake, the story teaches us that we must not hide, nor depend on government protection. We must turn to our God-given power to tell a new narrative of our time, not of victimhood but of pride and success with a glorious future ahead.

As it is written, upon our departure from Egypt, Moses said to the nation, “Al tira’u! Fear not, stand upright and see God’s salvation, which God will do for you today, for what you saw of Egypt today, you will not continue to see forever. God will do battle on your behalf, and you shall be at peace.”

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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