The conditions faced by Jews at universities has been growing ever worse as the academic left becomes increasingly vociferous in its anti-Israel sentiment and so-called “pro-Palestinian” activists have taken to targeting Jews in their protests and demonstrations. At this year’s Jewish Leadership Conference, the recent college graduates Tamara Berens and Talia Katz spoke about the lessons they drew from their experiences at the frontlines. To Berens, the pivotal moment came after a violent anti-Zionist mob prevented a former Israeli official from giving a talk to the Israel club at King’s College, London. The administration’s response? To tell the Israel club that all future speakers would have to be vetted by the Palestinian club. She comments:
The prevalence of anti-Semitism means that something is rotten in our culture. That the values on which our society is built are decaying. Anti-Semites wish to destroy not just Jews but free societies as a whole. Jeremy Corbyn could succeed in doing this in the UK. And sadly, we are seeing the beginnings of Corbynization in the United States, too.
When the administration at King’s College rewarded violence from the Palestinian society, it forfeited the values of the academy. And having successfully tested their illiberal tactics on Jewish students, the anti-Zionists spread violence elsewhere. They collaborated with a group of militant self-proclaimed “anti-fascists” who wage violence against people they disagree with, and they shut down a debate organized by the Libertarian club. Antifa broke onto campus, set off smoke bombs, and severely injured a security guard who was hospitalized.
Thus, as always, what starts with the Jews does not end with the Jews. How to respond? Berens looks to the Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky’s exhortations that Jews must never sacrifice their pride and dignity, and never allow anti-Semites to dictate the terms of the debate.
For her part, Katz explains how this might be done, urging Jews on campus not to pander to the politically correct mentality by portraying themselves, or the Jewish state, as the true victims:
Let’s suppose Jewish students “win” [a battle] and defeat a resolution to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. That short-term win ensures subsequent defeats because that victory rips away the victimhood status that they’ve claimed. Although this victimhood Olympics can seem like the only option, Jews need instead to take a stand and say, “I’m not going to play this game.” It is worth taking the gamble and being counter-cultural, because going with the status quo will never get the long-term results necessary for Jews to thrive on campuses.
Second, we are at a great turning point in Jewish demography. Intermarriage coupled with a general abandonment of traditional religiosity will result in the self-elimination of the Jewish community. Do you think constantly playing the victim card will make people think that remaining Jewish is an attractive prospect? If your entire identity becomes focused on how certain people hate Jews or hate the Jewish homeland, not only will you sabotage yourself and make your relationship to Judaism toxic, but you will dissuade your peers from preserving their Jewish identity and contributing to your local and the global Jewish community.
When I was a freshman, I accumulated free stickers and pins from my campus Hillel and Chabad house. At first, I tacked them onto my backpack. After taking a class about Israeli history with an anti-Semitic professor, I quietly took them off and stuffed them in my bag. Do not do that. It severs your own relationship to Judaism while eliminating an opportunity to be a model and show the true nature of a Jewish young adult.
Read more on Tikvah: https://tikvahfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Jews-on-Campus-Speeches-from-JLC-2019.pdf