Culture is comprised of beliefs, values and behaviors that are passed down in families from generation to generation.
Sadly, however, at various times throughout American history, those with power and authority have facilitated the cultural destruction of groups of people that were under their control. At the end of the 1800s, for example, the American government created “Indian” boarding schools that promoted the motto “Kill the Indian: Save the Man.”
The government believed that Native Americans were “savages” who needed to be Americanized, and so they took Native American children away from their parents and instituted a policy of forced assimilation. They cut their hair, put them in American clothing, forbade them from speaking their tribal languages and forced them to pray to the Christian god.
Simply put, the children had their Indian-ness stolen from them. The children’s cultural bonds with their parents and ancestors were severed—never to be recovered again.
Today, we are seeing a different type of cultural destruction—a slow and steady attempt to fragment American Jewry and, in turn, dilute its support for the State of Israel. This assault is being led by young, dynamic “progressive” academics in some of the country’s finest colleges and universities, who support the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)—the American chapter of the international BDS movement that calls for the destruction of the State of Israel.
The decision to recruit American academics as the leaders of this assault was well reasoned. Professors, particularly those with tenure, are some of the most privileged and powerful members of American society. They have life-long job security that grants them the freedom to say and write what they believe to be true. They also have access to hundreds of thousands of Jewish adolescents during the latter’s most intellectually formative years.
Indeed, it is at colleges and universities with large percentages of Jewish students that we see some of the most egregious assaults being enacted—Oberlin College, Columbia University and New York University, to name just a few.
Native American children were stripped of their rituals and behaviors as the conduit to the destruction of their peoplehood. The cultural assault we are seeing today is similar in its target: Jewish peoplehood. The goal is to destroy the State of Israel. The method is slightly different as the target of today’s assaults is not Jewish religious rituals, but the feelings and behaviors that link all Jews together and the underlying source of those feelings: the emotional and spiritual connection that all Jews have with their homeland.
It is important to note, however, that in the case of the Jews, the distinction between religious ritual and peoplehood is nominal. The two are inextricably linked. In fact, Jews were a people before the religion took form. Individuals who convert to Judaism are required to say the words, “Your people are my people.” When Jews pray, they face east, toward Jerusalem. Jewish community members comfort their mourners with the words, “May God comfort you with the mourners of Zion.” And when Jews conclude their Passover seders, they say, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Nevertheless, with Jewish peoplehood as their target, these young, seemingly hip professors manipulate the feelings and beliefs of their Jewish students and persuade them that the land they believed was their birthright actually belongs to another—that it was stolen from the Palestinians by racist colonizers—and that it is up to them to see that it is returned. In many cases, they identify themselves as Arab, or people of color from other backgrounds, and skillfully personalize their revisionist accounts of history, making these emotional presentations extremely difficult for Jewish students to challenge.
(On a national level, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) engages in the same practice. Despite being a congresswoman in the most powerful country in the world, she presents herself as a forlorn granddaughter of an old persecuted Palestinian grandmother—one she chose not to visit when granted the opportunity.)
The “scholars” who are engaging in this attack on young American Jews are also adept in exploiting the power structure of the professor-student relationship in which grades and letters of recommendation lie in the balance. They might offer extra credit for attending a lecture by a known anti-Israel activist, like Marc Lamont Hill. They might take students on an anti-Israel propaganda tour through Israel and the West Bank (as is the case with professor Sa’ed Atshan at Swarthmore College). Or, they might present a syllabus with readings by Jasbir Puar and other anti-Israel propagandists and offer no counter-arguments, as was the case when Meredith Raimondo taught courses at Oberlin College, and many others.
To seal the deal, these faculty members then intensify their assault by mentoring student groups like Students for Justice in Palestine—the student arm of the international BDS campaign. Indeed, on campuses across the country, chapters of SJP engage in a relentless campaign to persuade Jewish students that Israel is a “colonial” country built on “stolen” land, and that it is their duty—as Jews who believe in justice—to fight for the right of Palestinians to “return” “home.”
Evidence that students have internalized the core message aimed at destroying American Jewry is ubiquitous. In Vassar College’s student newspaper, after harassing Hen Mazzig as he spoke, SJP students write, “Palestinian activists have articulated their right to live freely in the entirety of their homeland.” (Emphasis added.) In the same article, the SJP protégés argue that it is possible to separate a Jewish person from the Jewish people. They write, “We believe it is both possible and necessary to stand against anti-Semitism and to stand with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the Palestinian fight for freedom.” In other words, we object to swastikas on the door of a Jewish person, but not on the flag of the Jewish people.
In a recent article in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian at the University of Massachusetts, student Anna Ben-Hur echoes the same message and writes, “I reject claims of Judaism having one unanimous voice supporting Israel”; “Israel is not my vision of Jewish liberation,” and “Many Jews at UMass desire a Jewishness that doesn’t come attached to ethno-nationalism.”
In another illustration of the effectiveness of this insidious campaign, I recall speaking to the Jewish parent of a student at Swarthmore College. After taking a course with professor Sa’ed Atshan, her son refused to attend the synagogue in which he was raised because of its close affiliation with Israel. As she explained, the professor had persuaded the young man that Israel was an illegitimate country built on stolen land, and that no good and decent person would support it in any way.
The professors who are engaged in this assault are attacking the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, Judaism and the Jews. The distinctions are meaningless—being made by the perpetrators as an attempt to obfuscate their sinister mission and to avoid accusations of anti-Semitism. Furthermore, their actions are systematic.
It is, therefore, incumbent on all concerned stakeholders in the American Jewish community to familiarize themselves with the professors and institutions that are leading this campaign to harm our children and to initiate legal action against them. If they do not, this assault against the Jewish people may, in fact, succeed in severing a generation of cultural ties—never to be recovered again.
Melissa Landa is a former professor of education at the University of Maryland with a background in cross-cultural competence and anti-bias education. She is the founding director of Alliance for Israel, a Maryland-based nonprofit that opposes BDS activity in schools and communities, and that provides education about Israel’s multi-ethnic society.