Opinion

An anti-Israel center for Israel studies

Can we blame people for not taking antisemitism seriously when our own leaders and academics minimize it?

IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Source: IfNotNow via Facebook.
IfNotNow supporters at a rally in New York City. Source: IfNotNow via Facebook.
Brandy Shufutinsky
Brandy Shufutinsky, Ph.D., is the director of education and community engagement with the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values.

UCLA’s Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies is screening a film featuring the co-founder of the anti-Israel group If Not Now (INN), Simone Zimmerman. The film claims to be a documentary and portrays what it describes as a generational divide. Young American Jews, it asserts, no longer see Israel as central to their identity. Instead, they see it through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—with Israel, of course, as the villain.

Why would a center for Israel studies elevate an ideology that lives on the fringes of American Jewry? Perhaps that is a question better asked of the center’s director and donors.

INN is a movement that falsely claims that Israel engages in apartheid and the displacement of Palestinians. The group conveniently ignores the facts on the ground, such as that Israeli Arabs have full citizenship rights. Palestinians living under the rule of the terrorist group Hamas, on the other hand, suffer from the brutality of a regime that does not recognize human rights like freedom of speech and religion or gender equality. The Palestinian Authority also subjects its citizens to inhumane treatment. 

In the film, Zimmerman likens displays of Jewish pride to celebrations of terrorism, falsely conflating Jewish institutions that respect members of Israel’s military with summer camps in Gaza run by terrorists that indoctrinate children.

The documentary strongly criticizes the education of Jewish children about Jewish history and Israel. It appears that the filmmakers would prefer Jewish children to be ignorant of the story of their people and instead engage in self-flagellating performative acts of social justice. This brainwashes young American Jews and manipulates them into believing they should be ashamed of the Jews who have stood up, fought and died for our people to have a nation. 

This is why institutions like the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies can be dangerous. Their complicity in spreading anti-Jewish and anti-Israel lies and tropes normalizes Jew-hatred.

No credible institution of higher learning would support the screening of a film so rife with lies and defamation if it were directed at any other minority. Imagine if the Department of African American Studies at UCLA hosted a screening of the infamously racist 1915 film Birth of a Nation and hosted a discussion with its director. 

Yes, academic freedom allows for even the most controversial topics to be discussed and debated. That should not change. However, one would not expect a center for Israel studies to engage in activities that are arguably anti-Israel. What’s next? Will the Center host a rally endorsing BDS? 

This is less of stretch than one might imagine. For example, the Center’s director and Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Chair in Israel Studies, Prof. Dov Waxman, recently appeared on MSNBC and claimed that a CUNY School of Law commencement speaker who delivered a viciously anti-Israel and antisemitic screed was not motivated by antisemitism.

Although it took CUNY a few weeks to denounce the speaker, its Board of Trustees eventually condemned the oration as “hate speech.” Unfortunately, Prof. Waxman cannot bring himself to do even that. 

Jewish students deserve better. At UCLA, as at institutions of higher learning across the country, these students have borne the brunt of antisemitism on college campuses. Like other Jewish students, they must also face university administrators who do not take antisemitism seriously.

Can we blame these administrators? If our own community leaders and academics minimize the link between anti-Israel rhetoric and antisemitism, how can we expect non-Jewish leaders to understand what is happening on campus and elsewhere? 

If the Center for Israel Studies insists on sponsoring events with anti-Israel groups like If Not Now, why not also host groups that are unapologetically Zionist? The question answers itself. If the goal of such institutions is to convince the next generation of American Jews to be self-hating and anti-Israel, the UCLA Center for Israel Studies is certainly leading the way.

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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