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Opinion

Persecuted American Jewish students should study in Israel instead

The atmosphere on American campuses is toxic, but Jewish students have the opportunity to see how the antisemites do without them.

An anti-Israel "apartheid wall" on display at Columbia University during "Israeli Apartheid Week" in 2017. Source: Facebook.
An anti-Israel "apartheid wall" on display at Columbia University during "Israeli Apartheid Week" in 2017. Source: Facebook.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Almost every week, and sometimes more often than that, this publication reports on the latest incident of campus antisemitism. It is clear from this constant flow of horror stories that the atmosphere at colleges and universities in the United States is toxic for Jewish students.

Driven by anti-Israel and antisemitic hate groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, the pervasive culture of fear and loathing includes everything from Zionist speakers being shouted down to ostracism, intimidation and physical violence. The response from faculty and administration, who largely share the ideology and hatreds of the persecutors, is anemic to nonexistent. The horrible result is that many Jewish students have been forced to conceal their Jewish identity and support for Israel.

This presents Jewish parents with a terrible dilemma: On the one hand, they want their children to retain a strong Jewish identity—of which Israel is an essential part. On the other, they know that a college education is essential to gaining entrance to the American middle class.

How can they ensure that their children are safe from antisemitism while nonetheless providing them with the education they require?

I fear that this question is unanswerable. One or the other must be sacrificed. Either Jewish students will be safe from antisemitism or they will have to run the gamut of hate and persecution.

There is, however, a positive solution to this quandary. So far as I know, it has never been proposed before, but it is workable and easily realized. It is simply this: American Jewish parents should abandon American higher education and send their children to Israeli colleges and universities.

I myself followed this path, partly out of Zionism but also to avoid the then-nascent but palpable atmosphere of antisemitism. I attended and earned an undergraduate degree at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and then a master’s at Tel Aviv University. I found that this had enormous advantages: The education was excellent, the cost relatively low and the experience of living in Israel life-changing.

American Jewish parents naturally want their children to attend the best of American educational institutions, but an Israeli education has much to recommend it: It would allow their children to flourish in an atmosphere not free of controversy but free of antisemitism. Jewish students would not be forced to hide their identity, and their Judaism would become a source of pride and self-esteem. They would also enjoy a sense of solidarity, that their fellow students are with them rather than against them, saving them from the psychological trauma enforced by sadistic campus “activists” and faculty.

In addition, Jewish students would acquire the Hebrew language. Instead of the usually hated “Hebrew school” many had to endure as children, they will learn the ancient tongue, which is in many ways the key to the secret doors of Judaism, by sheer immersion. They would also become familiar with Hebrew-speaking Israeli society and culture, forging a connection with the Jewish state that will last long after they return home.

Furthermore, all this would come at a low cost to American Jewish parents, given the astronomical prices of higher education in the U.S., which dwarf those of Israeli colleges and universities.

An influx of American Jewish students would also have a very positive effect on Israel. It would bring Israeli Jews closer to their American brethren, ensuring another generation defined by solidarity rather than by increasing distance. It would also boost the Israeli economy and provide a boon to Israel’s higher education system in the form of both full tuitions and active and engaged American students, who are usually diligent and hard-working.

However, most American Jewish parents would likely consider this unrealistic due to the language barrier. I can personally testify that this is not in fact the case: Israel is a nation of immigrants from an extraordinary range of countries and cultures. As a result, the educational system is specifically geared to aid non-Hebrew speakers, and faculty and staff are used to students who must be helped to overcome the language barrier.

This is an expression of another positive aspect of Israeli education: American higher education is based on “culling the herd” by eliminating students who cannot “cut it,” but Israel does not have the human capital to waste, and instead works on building up students who would otherwise fall by the wayside, so they can reach their full if initially latent potential.

Both Israel and the American Jewish community could take practical steps to facilitate such an influx of foreign students. I entered Israeli higher education through a year-long study abroad program. Working together, Israel and the American Jewish community could create a program that is not temporary but rather dedicated to funneling such students into the Israeli system, perhaps starting studies in English and then slowly moving into the mainstream Hebrew-language program.

It is very clear that American Jewish students need to be saved. Saved from the abuse of their peers and professors, and saved from the evil demand that they choose between their desire for learning and their Jewish identity. For centuries, Jews had a way to save themselves from such persecution: When it becomes intolerable, leave. In the form of Israeli higher education, today’s persecuted Jewish students thankfully have that option, and it is a positive and creative rather than desperate and dislocating option.

Perhaps most of all, however, a Jewish exodus from American higher education would be a beautiful revenge. Jewish students who choose Israel would deprive the persecutors of their formidable abilities and talents. It would allow them to say, at long last: Let’s see how they do without us.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his writing on Substack and his website. Follow him on Twitter @benj_kerstein.

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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